Rebuttal of Jacob Sullum’s lies about defense spending and Mitt Romney

Oh dear, oh dear. Another ReasonMag editor doesn’t understand the huge difference between providing for the common defense and spending on Solyndras.

Yesterday, the pseudoconservative Townhall magazine published a ridiculous screed by Jacob Sullum, one of misnamed “Reason” magazine’s editors. In that  “article”, Sullum makes a number of utterly false claims, most of them on page 2:

“Perhaps recognizing that reality, Romney wants to boost military spending, even though, as Obama noted, we already “spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined.” Romney poses as a fiscal conservative, claiming he wants to eliminate every program “we don’t absolutely have to have.” Yet when it comes to military spending, he is completely unwilling to prioritize, insisting that any “cuts,” even if they only amount to a slower rate of growth, would be “devastating.””

Those claims are blatant lies. Firstly, the defense spending cuts that Obama has programmed under the Budget Control Act – both the First Tier cuts and sequestration – are real cuts, not mere cuts to the rate of growth, contrary to what is often claimed by libertarians and liberals. Under the first tier of the BCA, the base defense budget is to be cut from $535 bn today to $521 bn in 2013 and will not recover until FY2018. Meanwhile, the Afghan war budget is being reduced and will zero out after American troops leave Afghanistan.

If sequestration kicks in, as it is currently scheduled to do (and Obama threatens to veto ANY effort to undo it), the base defense budget will be cut down by $66 bn overnight, all the way down to $469, and not recover to today’s level of $535 bn for at least a decade (if ever). By FY2022, under sequestration it would still be a paltry $493 bn – not even close to enough to protect America (to say nothing of protecting its allies).  See the graph below.

And yes, such deep cuts WOULD be devastating for the military, as documented here. Secretary Panetta has already warned that such deep budgetary cuts would force the DOD to:

  • Cancel the F-35 program completely without replacement, and thus betray foreign program partners (including Israel);
  • Cancel all except the most basic upgrades for F-15s and F-16s while cutting the fighter fleet by 35%;
  • Eliminate the ICBM leg of the nuclear triad completely while cutting the bomber fleet by 2/3 and cancelling the bomber replacement program (also needed for conventional penetration strike);
  • Delay the SSBN replacement program;
  • Cut the USN’s ship fleet to 230 vessels, the smallest size since 1915, and vastly inadequate (independent studies say the Navy needs 346 ships);
  • Forego the deployment of any missile defense system abroad;
  • Cut the Army to its smallest size since 1940;
  • Cancel virtually all Army modernization programs;
  • Cut the Marines down to just 145,000 personnel (which, according to the USMC’s Commandant, would make the USMC “unable to handle even one major contingency”; in other words, if big trouble flares up, don’t bother calling the Marines);
  • Cutting Israeli cooperative missile defense programs;
  • Cut personnel benefits programs to such depth that it would break faith with them (e.g. massive cuts in DOD health programs and retirement benefits), thus discouraging people from joining the military or reenlisting.

Now, why does this matter? Because those weapon systems, units, and troops are needed. For the details, see here.

Anyone who claims that the cuts mandated by the BCA would amount to a mere cut in the rate of growth is LYING. L-Y-I-N-G. The people who spread such lies are children of the Father of Lies himself.

Sullum also lied when he claimed that Mitt Romney opposes all defense spending cuts. Romney has not said that. He said he opposes President Obama’s real and massive defense cuts, which collectively amount to $1 trillion over a decade and would, under sequestration (which was Obama’s idea) bring down defense spending to woefully inadequate levels. THAT is what Romney opposes – and rightly so.

Sullum also lied when he accused Romney of being “unwilling to prioritize”. Prioritization is no solution when defense spending is being cut as deeply as it would be under Obama’s sequestration – because there will not be enough funding for ANY mission of the military. Not training, not maintenance, not procurement, not R&D.

Romney has set priorities for the military, BTW: building up the Navy and speeding up the Air Force’s modernization. Even under a slightly increased budget as proposed by Romney (4% of GDP vs 3.47% of GDP today), something else would have to give to pay for these priorities. In other words, a Romney Administration will inevitably have to set priorities for the DOD and budget on the basis of these priorities.

Sullum’s accusation that

“Romney poses as a fiscal conservative, claiming he wants to eliminate every program “we don’t absolutely have to have.”  Yet when it comes to military spending, he is completely unwilling to prioritize… (…)”

is also patently false. Romney does not merely pose as a fiscal conservative, he IS one. And if he’s President, he and his Defense Secretary (likely to be John Lehman) will review the defense budget line by line and eliminate every unneded program and bureaucracy. At DODBuzz, people are already speculating that on his first day as President, Romney will 1) terminate the Littoral Combat Ship program; 2) fire every admiral involved in the LCS; 3) fire more admirals to put the fear of God into them; 4) fire even more admirals until the ratio of admirals to ships gets down to 1:15. 🙂

Sullum also falsely claimed that

“The grotesquely bloated military budget that Romney supports is not necessary for defense, unless you define that function so broadly that it requires policing the planet.”

That is a blatant lie. The military budget is not bloated at all. Not by any honest measure. Not even if the military’s sole mission is to defend America and none of her allies.

The entire military budget (including base defense spending, the DOE’s nuclear programs, and the Afghan war budget) currently amounts to just 4.22% of GDP and less than 17% of total federal spending. These are the lowest shares of GDP and the federal budget consumed by federal spending since FY1948, if you exclude the late 1990s and the early Bush years.

The current base defense budget ($535 bn, i.e. 3.47% of GDP, even less than what was spent in FY1948, or indeed at any point during the last 70 years except the late 1990s) is the minimum amount needed to protect America.

Defending America cannot be done on the cheap. Providing for America’s defense needs alone – to say nothing of America’s allies – requires, among other things:

  • Providing air superiority to control the airspace over America itself (and Canada), which requires a large number of advanced 5th generation aircraft to defeat incoming enemy aircraft (including bombers and their escort fighters);
  • Providing a large ground army to protect America’s land borders, or at least, the long border with Mexico, where a full-scale war with drug cartels is already ongoing (don’t take my word for it – visit Arizona);
  • Patrolling America’s long coasts: the two vast ocean costs and the Gulf Coast (where the Russians sometimes sent Akula class subs), and protecting the undersea resources and fishing areas in US territorial waters;
  • Providing a large, modern, survivable nuclear deterrent (which requires a large, survivable, modern nuclear triad and a large nuclear stockpile);
  • Providing a multi-layered missile defense system to protect the homeland;
  • Providing the human, space-, air-, sea-, and ground-based intelligence capabilities to collect all pertinent intel data about America’s enemies and making informed decisions about national security issues;
  • Providing the administrative support required;
  • Providing the healthcare, retirement, housing, and family support programs for the military’s members;
  • Providing a military judicial system; and
  • Other national security requirements.

This is not cheap.

Sullum also falsely claims that:

“Republicans are supposed to be skeptical of government’s competence and wary of unintended consequences. Unfortunately, that skepticism stops at the border.”

He sees no difference whatsoever between providing for the common defense – which is the federal government’s #1 Constitutional DUTY – on the one hand, and spending money on Solyndras, teachers, Education Departments, farm subsidies, bridges to nowhere, and electric cars on the other hand. Someone needs to tell him that the former is the federal government’s highest Constitutional DUTY, while the latter things are utterly unconstitutional.

In short, Sullum’s screed is a litany of blatant lies. Shame on Townhall for publishing it.


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