One thing that any new Republican majority in Congress will have to resist is the siren song to cut defense spending. Unfortunately, that temptation is real and growing.
Which is why three prominent conservative leaders in Washington — the Heritage Foundation’s Ed Feulner, the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, and the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol — took to the Wall Street Journal last week to argue for more robust defense spending.
Feulner, Brooks, and Kristol are absolutely right. They note, for instance, that baseline defense spending — that is, defense spending minus the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — is just 3.6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That’s “significantly less than the Reagan-era peak of 6.2% of the GDP.”
Moreover, they write, if you account for the costs of the wars, defense spending is still less than five percent of the GDP. Left unsaid is that under Obama, defense spending is projected to decline to just three percent of the GDP — a historic low at a time of war.
More ominously, given the types of wars that we must fight in the early 21st century — ground-intensive conflicts that require lots of “boots on the ground” – “our active-duty military is two-thirds its size in the 1980s.”
I disagree somewhat with the rationales that Feulner, Brooks, and Kristol use to justify their call for more robust defense spending.
For example, they’re worried about the Chinese People’s Liberation Army; I’m really not. The Chinese are interested in making money, not war.
Thus, in my estimation, we have much more reason to be concerned about failed and failing states and radical Islamic extremism in crucial places like Pakistan than we do the Chinese military. The Chinese military, after all, isn’t killing our Soldiers and Marines; radical Islamic extremists are.
Nonetheless, Feulner, Brooks, and Kristol issue an important reminder to new Republican congressmen and senators: Don’t balance the budget on the backs of our troops: Because if you do, you’ll shortchange both our troops and American national security.