Again evidencing his masterful skill at generating idiotic policies, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Monday suggested that President Trump's planned increases to the U.S. defense budget be instead used to pay for free public colleges.
At a time when the U.S. already spends more on the military than the next 10 countries combined, Trump is proposing an $861 billion increase in base defense spending over 10 years.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 11, 2019
For the same cost, we could make public colleges and universities tuition-free for a decade.
But, before I get into why that tweet is idiotic, let me address one reason defense spending is immediately higher than that of other nations: the greater benefits packages that U.S. service personnel receive compared to their foreign counterparts.
That said, the basic stupidity underpinning Sanders' argument is his assumption of a zero-sum game. Sanders seems to believe much lower defense spending would not damage national security. That is manifestly untrue.
While it is certainly true that the Pentagon, and Congress, could use the defense budget more wisely, the U.S. is the instrumental linchpin of international security. That security serves our interests because it preserves a condition of global trade, freedom, and rule-of-law that makes our lives safer and wealthier. Yes, our allies can and must do more to support this security, but American leadership is unavoidable.
Yet, were we to neglect defense spending in the manner Sanders suggests, we would undercut the military's three-pronged means of preserving our positive international order. First, assurance to allies that we will fight alongside them, which makes allies want to trade and work with us, not China or Russia. Second, the deterrence of adversaries. Third, the ability to defeat adversaries across the range of war from unconventional, to conventional, to nuclear.
All three of those elements suffered under former President Barack Obama by vice of his under-investment in military capability, his absence of strategic vision, and his visible hesitation to use force even where he had warned he would do so.
Under Trump, however, reforms led by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have realigned the military towards countering Chinese and Russian threats. Trump's 2020 budget follows that course by investing more in the most high-value defense capabilities such as long-range missiles, advanced air defense systems, drones, submarines, and new research.
Sanders' approach would jeopardize all those elements. He would thus allow the Russians to threaten U.S. interests in Europe, and the Chinese to replace our international system with a feudal imperialist system of their own — one that would make us poorer, less free, and less safe.
I choose President Trump's pursuit of strategic overmatch in every necessary field of conflict. Or, as Mattis put it back in 2018, the enemy's compelled awareness that war with America will bring their "longest and worse day."