SEND IN THE CLOWNS – AT 7:56 A.M. ET: In a penetrating piece that is must reading, Max Boot, one of our best defense analysts, raises alarms about reports that the Republican Party is willing to trash its legacy as the national defense party in order to make a budget deal. The alarms are really being sounded on this. From the Weekly Standard:
Opinion polls consistently show that the U.S. military is the most trusted institution in America. Republicans have benefited indirectly from that hard-won reputation because since the 1970s they have been seen as the strong, hawkish party, while Democrats have had to fight the stigma that they are weak and dovish. Republicans wouldn’t throw away that aura—one of their strongest electoral assets—just to reach a budget deal with President Obama. Or would they?
There are persistent and worrisome reports that they might. The Hill newspaper, for instance, claims that Republican budget negotiators have been discussing cutting defense by $600 billion to $700 billion—considerably more than the already indefensible $400 billion in cuts that Obama has said he would like to see over the next decade.
Obama’s proposed cuts are bad enough; as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates implicitly warned before leaving office, such deep reductions would seriously impair the military’s ability to meet its global commitments. Going beyond what Obama has proposed is simply suicidal—on both substantive and political grounds.
It's bad enough that the Dems want to gut the defense budget. Ever since the late 60s, when the party betrayed its traditional pro-defense policies, the dominant Democratic wing has regarded defense as a right-wing thing, to be loathed and cut. One of the reasons for the growth and ascendancy of the GOP was that it shook off its old isolationism and took the lead as the party of a strong defense and traditional American values. That legacy, if reports are correct, is now in danger. The Republicans may well become the party of green eyeshades again. If it happens, they will lose a large chunk of their hard-won support.
Cutting defense won’t solve our budget woes. The “core” defense budget, $553 billion, is small as a percentage of GDP (3.7 percent) and of the federal budget (15 percent). Nor is it the reason why we are piling up so much debt. To reduce the deficit, lawmakers will have to do something about out-of-control entitlement programs.
If Republicans acquiesce in ruinous cuts to the defense budget, they will cease to be known as Ronald Reagan’s heirs. Instead they will be remembered as the party of William E. Borah, Hamilton Fish III, and Gerald Nye. Remember those GOP giants of the 1930s? They thought a strong defense was unaffordable and unnecessary. But their reputations collapsed on December 7, 1941, when we learned (not for the last time) the price of unreadiness. That is a lesson today’s Republicans should remember as they negotiate over the budget.
COMMENT: Absolutely dead-on. Ronald Reagan's defense buildup of the 1980s was one of the decisive factors in our winning the Cold War without firing a shot.
President Eisenhower warned, as he was leaving office in 1961, that modern war does not give us the luxury of building up neglected forces once the conflict begins.
At one time I thought we were the one nation that had learned the lessons of the 20th century. Now I'm not so sure.
July 11, 2011