With the deficit soaring, it might not be the easiest time to make the case for increased defense spending. But the long-term prognosis for the U.S. military isn't good -- we are embroiled in two tough wars, face threats along a spectrum of conflict that is at its widest in history (from cyber to space to terrorism to peer threats), and wholly dependent on a military that's using equipment left over from the Reagan years. So credit to one of the champions of the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin, for saying what must be said:
It takes a lot of resources to maintain the best fighting force in the world – especially at a time when we face financial uncertainty and a mountain of debt that threatens all of our futures. We have a federal government that is spending trillions, and that has nationalized whole sections of our economy: the auto industry, the insurance industry, health care, student loans, the list goes on – all of it at enormous cost to the tax payer. The cost of Obamacare alone is likely to exceed $2.5 trillion dollars. As a result of all these trillion dollar spending bills, America’s going bust in a hurry. By 2020 we may reach debt levels of $20 trillion – twice the debt that we have today! It reminds me of that joke I read the other day: “Please don’t tell Obama what comes after a trillion!” Something has to be done urgently to stop the out of control Obama-Reid-Pelosi spending machine, and no government agency should be immune from budget scrutiny. We must make sure, however, that we do nothing to undermine the effectiveness of our military. If we lose wars, if we lose the ability to deter adversaries, if we lose the ability to provide security for ourselves and for our allies, we risk losing all that makes America great! That is a price we cannot afford to pay.
I've spoken with a few military leaders who, rather dourly, think America is headed down the same road as the British circa the Suez Crisis, where overextension of a strained British armed forces, massive foreign debt, and the draining weight of a new welfare state swiftly unraveled the mightiest empire in history. In the 50s, the British had America on hand to fill the power vacuum. Today there are no benevolent powers to fill the void should America abdicate its unique role in world affairs, only eager and unstable actors like Russia and China, whose belief in their own territorial destiny borders on religious.
Some argue that our military power is directly reliant on our economic power, but the relationship is more symbiotic. Our economy thrives because of the security provided by the U.S. military. That's never been more true than today, a time when our Armed Forces serve as vanguards of realms like space and cyberspace, without which the modern, globalized economy could not exist. The period of Pax Romana was ushered in on the might of Roman legions who controlled the empire's highways, while the peace and prosperity of the Pax Brittanica was derived from the free and safe sea lanes guarded by the Royal Navy. America's security responsibilities are multi-dimensional and far more complex than those of imperial Rome or Britain. Providing the international community with stability and security is a responsibility that we abandon at our own peril. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air encapsulates this succinctly:
Democrats have made a lot of noise of late about reducing the military budget in order to demonstrate fiscal discipline, but Palin reminds her readers that defense is the main Constitutional duty of the federal government. There is certainly room for improvement in efficiency and procurement, which is a morass even in the best of times, but reduction of forces is a bad idea for a nation at war. The Navy appears to be their main target, but our Navy remains the protector of trade routes and the basic extension of American power around the globe. The problem with retreating from that position will be the question of who fills the vacuum — and the answer to that question would almost certainly be China.
Read the whole Palin speech here, and be sure to take a look at Tom Donnelly's (related) piece from THE WEEKLY STANDARD, "The Disarming of America."