However ill-advised the social issues truce comments were, conservatives should not be so quick to pounce on Mitch Daniels for being willing to consider cuts in defense spending. I’ve argued elsewhere that while national defense is the most important thing the federal government does, conservatives need to stop treating it like it is not a government program.
It really comes down to how the defense budget is cut. We should not leave the country vulnerable to national security threats or fail to purchase essential weapons systems just to save a few bucks. Defense spending has to be driven by security needs and not just budgetary concerns. But you do have to ask real questions about what we need, whether spending is actually advancing our security, how appropriate certain spending is in light of the threats we currently face as opposed to just leftovers from the Cold War, and what military interventions are genuinely in the national interest. We also need to realize as we do with every other form of government spending that we cannot live in a 100 percent risk-free society. Some level of cost-benefit analysis needs to be applied. And even if we do decide to maintain all our commitments, there is as much waste in the defense budget as anywhere else in Washington.
Cutting defense spending indiscriminately, as has sometimes been done in the past, would be foolish. Defense isn’t as big a contributor to our fiscal crisis as entitlements and is a necessary, constitutionally legitimate function of the federal government. But you also can’t just rule out 25 percent of the federal budget when trying to cut spending. Especially when there is plenty to ask questions about or cut.