Perhaps the most objectionable aspect of Obama’s speech involves his pledge to gut the defense budget.
“Gut” is not a word I use lightly; but that seems to be precisely what the president has in mind. His so-called debt-reduction plan, after all, has just three parts, the most significant of which involves defense:
- Part I involves “building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week.”
- Part II involves “find[ing] additional savings in our defense budget.”
- Part III involves “reduc[ing] healthcare spending in our budget… by reducing the cost of healthcare itself.”
Parts I and III are phony and fictitious. These are “cuts” that will never materialize, and Obama knows it.
A new report by the Congressional Budget Office, for instance, shows that less than one percent of the $38 billion in “cuts” supposedly agreed to last week are achieved this year. And according to the Associated Press, “many of the cuts come in slow-spending accounts like water-and-sewer grants that don’t have an immediate deficit impact.”
What the supposedly “historic” budget deal does do is begin to reverse the dramatic increases in domestic social-welfare spending effected by Obama during his first two years in office. That’s important, but it doesn’t necessarily or often translate into real cuts.
Obama’s healthcare “savings” are even more fanciful. He proposes absolutely no reform of Medicaid and Medicare. Instead, Obama promises that the same bureaucracy which has mismanaged these financially troubled programs can somehow them more efficient and effective.
That leaves defense as the one area where Obama is prepared to make real cuts. But as Obama himself acknowledged, the Pentagon already has cut some $400 billion from the defense budget in current and future spending. And defense spending as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) already is projected to decline (during a second Obama term) to an historic low at a time of war.
It simply boggles the mind, then, to think that we can make additional cuts to the defense budget. Spending on military pay and benefits, after all, is increasing; and no one from either political party wants to touch or reform that.
The Army hasn’t fielded a new combat vehicle in more than a generation; the Navy is struggling to achieve and maintain even a minimalist 300-ship fleet; and the Air Force is almost half the size that it was when Bill Clinton was president.
As the Heritage Foundation’s Mackenzie Eagle points out:
The military’s equipment is old and therefore unreliable, increasingly out of date technologically, and insufficient in number. Meeting the military’s full modernization requirements will ‘require a substantial and immediate additional investment that is sustained through the long term.’
Moreover, the war in Afghanistan is far from over; troops in Iraq will be needed well beyond 2011; and the United States doesn’t seem to have enough troops to handle even a relatively minor contingency such as Libya. The Iranian menace, meanwhile, looms large in the Middle East. How, then, is Obama gonna cut the defense budget — again?!
Well, to his credit, the president acknowledged how in his speech. Cutting “waste and improv[ing] efficiency and effectiveness,” he admitted, won’t be enough. “We’re going to have to conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.”
In other words, America’s coming home. We’re no longer going to play a lead or dominant role in world affairs. The United States will cease to be “the world’s policeman.”
This may sell well politically, but it would be a disaster for America and for freedom-loving peoples everywhere.
As Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, put it, America is the indispensable nation. Peace and freedom don’t typically happen without our active involvement — and without, oftentimes, our active military involvement. At the very least, the credible threat of American military force and of American military force projection is crucial to the cause of freedom worldwide.
Problem is Obama’s defense budget would limit a U.S. military that already is too limited and too constrained in what it can do. And it would hamstring us militarily at a time when America’s enemies — in Waziristan, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Pyongyang and elsewhere — already have learned to discount American will and American power.
For these reasons, Obama’s speech is fundamentally unserious and unhelpful. “Decline is a choice,” as Charles Krauthammer famously put it. Indeed, it is. But it is a choice that we must resist and reject.