The supercommittee was bound to fail. Naturally, the Pentagon will be the fall guy.
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The Army, Navy, and Air Force will not be able to sign long term money-saving contracts for anything from healthcare to new ships and aircraft. Contractors will have to wait through the whole campaign year before they will know what the Pentagon can do.
If Republican congressional candidates — and the Republican nominee for president — play their cards uncharacteristically right, they can defeat the Democrats comprehensively. The question will be whether they can distinguish among the defense spending we need, the defense spending we may want, and the defense spending that the Democrats say we can afford.
A preview of this argument is in a new study by MIT’s Cindy Williams, released on 28 October. Entitled “The Future Affordability of U.S. National Security,” Williams finds that defense spending now comprises about 4.7 percent of our GDP, to which she adds another 1.5 percent that is made up of Homeland Security, veterans’ affairs, and intelligence.
Williams says that the affordability of defense spending should be determined on the basis of five factors:
• Public perceptions of the security threat.
• The degree of debt-induced fiscal and economic risk policy makers are willing to run.
• The level of taxation the public is willing to bear.
• Whether and how much the costs of federal entitlement programs, particularly Medicare and Medicaid, can be reined in; and
• How much money is devoted to running the rest of the federal government.
Notice, please, the complete absence of any mention of what threats we expect our national defense establishment to defer or defeat except as the public’s perception of it can be measured. Notice also the preconceptions that pervade this theory.
Williams apparently believes that defense spending cannot be supported without taxation to fund it, that funding defense is an economic risk rather than a national security issue, and that if entitlement programs cannot be reined in, defense must be sacrificed. As nonsensical as what she writes is, it presages the terms of the debate next year.
Williams comes to the conclusion that affordable defense spending would be between 2.1 and 3.4 percent of GDP.
Defense-minded Republicans should study Williams’s paper carefully. Not because she is right on what defense we can afford, but because it poses the issues they should make their top priority next year.
First, what is the public’s perception of the threats we face? The public has been lulled by the constant tides of war since 9/11. Few Americans look beyond Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq and the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan to believe there is a continuing threat from Islamic terrorism. All the Republican candidates’ protestations that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable fall on deaf ears because we’ve heard it all, from Bush and Obama, so often that those protestations are meaningless.
The public is apparently unconcerned with the vulnerabilities we face. Last week’s cyber attack against a water pumping station in Illinois is a very big deal. Has anyone thought about what we’d suffer if some of our military and intelligence satellites were disabled or even turned against us in a similar attack?
Republicans need to think about what the public needs to know in order to understand what the threats really are. They have to step up and lead the public to an understanding that defense spending is not a question of what we can afford. It’s a question of what we need to spend — based on a thorough analysis of the threats — to deter or defeat them.
Defense spending can, perhaps, be cut. But not before we determine what is fat and what is muscle.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?