This week’s release of the Obama administration budget reveals, not surprisingly, that defense and national security are being shortchanged (again) so that the White House can focus on its real priority — which is not to assert American leadership abroad, but rather to manage American decline and to address domestic concerns.
Of course, you wouldn’t know this from reading or listening to the lapdog legacy media, which uncritically parrots Obama administration talking points. Reuters, for instance, reports that “Obama seeks record $708 billion in defense budget.”
MSNBC agrees: “Obama wants $33 billion more for wars,” it intones — and this “comes on top of [a] record $708-billion request for next year.” Is “Obama a hawk?” asks Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman.
The answer is no, not at all. In fact, as James Jay Carafano points out, Obama “is cutting the defense budget, both in real dollar terms and as a percent of the economy… The average Pentagon budget for the period covering fiscal years 2011 through 2028 will be $50 billion less in real dollars than its current estimate for this fiscal year,” Carafano notes.
Historical perspective and contextual understanding also are required. Obama, remember, inherited two wars, an omnipresent terror threat, and the greatest military in the history of the world. So it is not surprising that as president, and as commander-in-chief, he hasn’t simply and recklessly dismantled and disarmed the U.S. military.
Yet, that seems to be the ridiculous and ahistorical standard against which the media judge the president. And, of course, given this standard (or grading curve), the president looks like a stellar performer and a strong commander-in-chief.
Give Obama credit for not being reckless; he is not. If he were reckless, then he would have foolishly and precipitously withdrawn troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama, however, has not done that; in fact, quite the opposite: He has sent tens upon thousands of more troops to Afghanistan and is adhering, essentially, to the Bush administration’s deliberative, conditions-based plan for troop withdrawals from Iraq.
The president recognizes that a sudden and precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan would be an unmitigated national security disaster for the United States.
But while Obama is not reckless, neither is an internationalist who believes in the importance of American global leadership. Obama’s defense budget, moreover, reflects his unwillingness to exercise U.S. military power.
How else to explain a defense budget that, as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), ranks among the smallest we have seen since before World War II?
How else to explain the refusal to significantly expand the size of our ground forces for this era of persistent military engagement, which requires “boots on the ground”?
How else to explain the failure to seriously modernize a legacy military — and especially our ground forces — for 21st century conflicts?
How else to explain killing key weapon systems — like the Army’s Future Combat Systems and the Air Force’s C-17 jet transport aircraft — which are absolutely essential to today’s conflicts (in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Haiti), as well as likely future contingencies?
No, Obama is doing what he must to avoid being reckless; however, he is not doing what he must to maintain American military preeminence and American global leadership — and he candidly admits this.
“The nation that I’m most interested in building is our own,” he told the West Point cadets during his 1 December 2009 speech. Consequently,
each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs. [But] over the past several years, we have lost that balance. We’ve failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy.
In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills. Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we can’t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.
In other words, in Obama’s mind, investing in national defense and national security is economically counterproductive. It deprives his administration of funds that could otherwise be used to help Americans and to put Americans back to work. But this is a false and dangerous choice.
It is a false choice, because defense spending actually can help to spark economic growth and development here in the United States. That’s why I’ve argued for a “defense stimulus.”
Increased spending on modern weapons systems plays to the central strength of our 21st century economy. That strength involves our ability to harness computer processing power and other information technologies to create new and unprecedented opportunities for individuals — even individual soldiers.
Yet, instead of championing military modernization the Obama administration is busy cutting the defense budget and eliminating key weapon systems — and the stupid Republicans in Congress (most of them anyway) are watching and applauding!
That’s why House GOP leader Rep. John Boehner says that, like his Democratic colleagues, he too is eager to eliminate so-called Pentagon waste. “There’s got to be wasteful spending there, unnecessary spending there. It all ought to be eliminated,” Boehner said Sunday on Meet the Press.
Of course, Boehner doesn’t specify what “wasteful spending” he has in mind. Does Boehner, like Obama, want to eliminate the C-17 jet transport aircraft? Does he want to stop development of an advanced electronic network for our Soldiers and Marines? Does he think the Navy should cease and desist with building littoral combat ships to fight piracy?
Boehner doesn’t say because, like most politicians — Democrats and Republicans alike — he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. In fact, Boehner doesn’t have a clue. He’s simply playing to the media for a cheap applause line with a superficially appealing sound bite.
It’s sad, really: because history doesn’t stop to accommodate American foolishness and stupidity; history marches on. Politicians like Boehner and Obama may be content to ignore the imperatives of international politics and world affairs, but our fighting men and women have no such luxury.
Indeed, whether adequately equipped or not, they will have to respond when duty calls. As it will. As it always has. As it must.
It’s all well and good to say, as the president does (again: witness his West Point speech), that America must look inward. But in an age of instantaneous communication and jet travel, we Americans simply no longer have that luxury. What happens in the far corners of the world can and does affect us dramatically — as we learned to our deep shame and everlasting regret on September 11, 2001.
The reality is that the defense budget is being consumed by the steadily increasing cost of personnel and benefits, especially healthcare. Ongoing operations, likewise, are a major cost driver. Modernization, meanwhile, is the bill payer; it is being sacrificed on the altar of domestic politics to help effect a radical reordering of America’s budgetary priorities.
Those priorities are wrong and seriously mistaken. And if the Republican Party can’t say that — clearly, loudly and emphatically — then what good is the Republican Party?
The first responsibility of government is to provide for the national defense in a dangerous and precarious world. An earlier generation of Democrats and Republicans — Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan — all understood this.
Maybe it’s time to channel their spirit and to field new candidates — in both political parties — to replace the current crowd in Washington. The Boehners and the Obamas — the Tweedledees and the Tweedledums — just don’t get it, and they never will. Enough is enough.