Reconciling great power responsibilities with economic stagnation.
The first duty of the sovereign, therefore, that of defending the society from the violence and injustice of other independent societies, grows gradually more and more expensive, as the society advances in civilization.
—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776
THE GROWING COST OF DEFENSE that Adam Smith foresaw 236 years ago now poses a familiar challenge for American conservatives. The “guns versus butter” debate goes back at least to the Lyndon Johnson era. But then our economy was strong, and our enemy—the Soviet Union—was visible, personified by its odious leaders, and a clear threat.
But now our economy is weak, made so by President Obama’s hyper-expansion of government and debt. It has apparently lost its ability to grow, and without growth there cannot be recovery or prosperity. President Obama’s military build-down has already imposed massive cuts on the Pentagon’s budget, resulting in a significant reduction in our current and future military capabilities. The fiscal realities—with which Congress refuses to deal—make more cuts inevitable.
Our economic weakness comes at a time when the world is highly unstable and when most of our allies refuse to spend what is necessary to provide for our mutual defense. And defense is more expensive than ever, because many of the threats we face are cheap for our adversaries to mount but enormously expensive for us to counter. A state can buy an effective cyberwar capability for very little, but the price to defend against it is enormous. It costs a lot less to launch an ICBM than it does to intercept one before it can deliver its warhead.
Combined with the wrongheaded diplomacy of the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Obama’s military build-down has made us poorer in our ability to defend ourselves and affect world events than we have been at any time since before the Cold War.
We are abandoning our role as a superpower, and we are already unable to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, affect the postwar future of Afghanistan, or even stabilize the most minor of potential conflicts, such as the revived British-Argentinian dispute over the Falkland Islands.
Conservatives thus face two existential questions: First, do we want to resume a global role? Second, what kind of military, intelligence, and diplomatic policies must we undertake to ensure our national defense over the next decade?
GOP leaders such as vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and former Virginia Governor James Gilmore (now head of the Free Congress Foundation) have already charted paths to economic recovery. Some combination of their proposals—and those of a President Romney—will be pursued if President Obama is defeated in November. If Obama is reelected, economic growth will be postponed indefinitely and the pressure on our national security spending will only increase.
A SUPERPOWER IS A NATION that has the ability not only to protect its homeland but also to defend its interests and allies globally. As former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers told me:
The world is looking for some certainty in security, and the U.S. has been the pillar that the world could count on for pretty much all of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century. If we give that up, the question is, what takes our place? Is it going to be the United Nations? Is it going to be some other alliances? I don’t know about this ‘indispensable nation’ notion, but I do know how important the United States has been to world security and stability for a long time.
Myers hit the nail on the head. If the United States shrinks to a regional power, nothing—no nation, no international body such as the United Nations or NATO—will fill our shoes.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) Told me that our leadership isn’t looking out for America’s national security as it should. “We’re already heading in the direction of not being a superpower,” he said. “And our allies and friends have seen that. Our enemies have seen that.”
It’s not possible to separate the concept of economic security—which includes stability in the conditions that permit prosperity—from that of national security, because each is dependent on the other. Today, the threats to U.S. economic and national security are essentially identical. Regardless of whether we choose to continue as a superpower, we must invest in essentially the same intelligence and military capabilities to answer those threats.
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.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?