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Resisting the Urge to Cut the Defense Budget

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates issued a powerful warning in his Notre Dame commencement address against excessively cutting defense spending:

The ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power—the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military. Beyond the current wars, our military credibility, commitment, and presence are required to sustain alliances, to protect trade routes and energy supplies, and to deter would-be adversaries from making the kind of miscalculations that so often lead to war. All of these things happen mostly out of sight and out of mind to the average American, and thus are taken for granted. But they all depend on a properly armed, trained and funded American military, which cannot be taken for granted.

Gates was not explicit about why adequate funding for the military can no longer be “taken for granted,” but obviously the reason is the budget-cutting mood in Washington—exemplified by his boss, President Obama, who has spelled out a reckless plan for $400 billion in defense cuts over the next decade. Gates has already cut from the Pentagon budget, and he did not rule out more cuts in the future, but he did wisely cite “historian Donald Kagan’s observation that the preservation of peace depends upon those states seeking that goal having both the preponderant power and the will to accept the burdens and responsibilities required to achieve it.”

Make no mistake: If fully implemented, Obama’s envisioned defense budget would imperil the peace and our global standing, for as Gates noted, “If America declines to lead in the world, others will not.”

I hope that Republican presidential candidates are listening. They should resist the urge to propose their own cuts to the defense budget. Instead they should make defense of our national defense a major part of their platform. Given that two of the potential candidates who have expressed the strongest skepticism about an internationalist foreign policy—Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour—aren’t running, the odds are greater that this will happen. Both Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, who must now count as the front-runners, have been stalwarts on defense and foreign policy. That’s good news from the Republican perspective, for the GOP will be in deep trouble if it ever loses the reputation as the “strong on defense” party.


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