Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt remind us that gutting defense to pay for massive domestic spending is nothing new:
In the 1990s, defense cuts helped pay for increased domestic spending, and that is true today. Though Mr. Gates said that his decisions were “almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books,” the broad list of program reductions and terminations suggest otherwise. In fact, he tacitly acknowledged as much by saying the budget plan represented “one of those rare chances to match virtue to necessity” — the “necessity” of course being the administration’s decision to reorder the government’s spending priorities.
The size of the reductions proposed by the Obama administration — from the F-22 to missile defense — is all the more startling given the threats we now face. And, as Max points out, the failure to increase troop strength seems to violate candidate Obama’s own campaign pledge and to ignore a growing bipartisan consensus that our current Army is too small for the demands placed upon it. The president might want to ignore the North Korean rocket, but the threats from that and other rogue states (not to mention regional conflicts and a persistently aggressive Russia) are real. It is one thing to take advantage of a “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War (however shortsighted that may have been); it is quite another to take a meat axe to defense programs when the threats to the U.S. and our allies are expanding and we are still fighting two wars.
Donald Rumsfeld was vilified for trying to fight a war on the “cheap” and for failing to appreciate that it takes more than high-tech wizardry for a successful modern military. Rumsfeld said, against howls of derision: “You go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Well, we shouldn’t go into future wars with the Army (Marines, Air Force, or Navy) we “have,” but with the military we need.
The proper starting point for defense spending is not what number will mesh with the president’s extravagant domestic agenda, but what personnel and programs meet our defense needs. Yes, it’s expensive but that is the price one pays for freedom and security.