Lefty blogger Matthew Yglesias has a new post calling for “offsetting decreases in baseline defense spending” to pay for the war in Afghanistan. He touts a study by the left-wing Center for American Progress which argues for $40 billion in defense modernization cuts.
“We do live in a world of limited resources,” Yglesias laments,
and it doesn’t make sense to build every weapons platform that it might be nice to have, or to engage costly and lengthy efforts to stabilize every nation that it might be nice to stabilize. The country’s not going to get out of its long-term fiscal jam until we stop pretending that magical ‘war bonds,’ rather than real resources, pay for these military commitments.
Yes, indeed, let’s stop pretending. Let’s stop pretending that U.S. defense spending is exorbitant or unsustainable — and let’s especially stop pretending that spending on weapons systems is wasteful, unnecessary, redundant, or somehow busting the federal budget.
Yglesias and the Center for American Progress identify $40 billion in cuts to offset the estimated $30 billion that it will cost for the Afghan troop surge. In absolute dollar terms, $30 billion, or $40 billion, is certainly a lot of money; but in relative terms, it doesn’t amount to much.
The $51 billion cost of the [Afghan] war in 2009 is just 1.4% of the $3.5 trillion spent by Washington that year and 2.8% of the $1.4 trillion budget deficit. Even though overall defense spending has grown 81% in real terms since 9/11, it is still responsible for less than 19% of all new spending over that period.
What’s more, the so-called stimulus package cost $787 billion. That’s 20 to 25 times as much as the defense cuts Yglesias champions. Why not, then, cut $40 billion in pork from the so-called stimulus package? Why force cuts on the defense budget? Why now after the Obama administration has just enacted the most significant weapons systems cuts in more than 30 years?
Obama’s cuts included cancelation of Future Combat Systems, elimination of eight new Army combat vehicles types, termination of the F-22 fighter jet, and abandonment of the Transformational Satellite program.
Defense spending, in fact, accounts for just 20 percent of the federal budget; and it consumes between four and five percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Under President Obama, moreover, defense spending is projected to decline to less than three percent of GDP — an historic low at a time of war. And an increasing share of the defense budget is being consumed by pay and benefits, especially healthcare, not weapon systems.
To be sure, America’s long-term fiscal jam is real and worsening — but not because of defense expenditures. The impending fiscal train wreck is attributable solely to runaway entitlement spending. Indeed, as Heritage points out:
The entire cost of military operations in Afghanistan in 2009 was less than the increase in Social Security spending, which grew by $66 billion over the course of the year — from $617 billion in 2008 to $683 billion in 2009. Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlements are also growing faster than tax revenues at an unsustainable rate of around 8% per year.
One year of welfare under Obama eclipses [the] seven-year cost of [the] Iraq War: According to the Congressional Research Service, the cost of the Iraq war through the end of the Bush Administration was around $622 billion. By contrast, annual federal and state means-tested welfare spending will reach $888 billion in FY 2010. Federal welfare spending alone will equal $697 billion in that year.
The Obama administration’s answer to this problem is to make things worse, by enacting a costly new entitlement — healthcare “reform” — that will cost at least $1 trillion and perhaps as much as $4.9 trillion over 20 years.
Health spending and entitlements are the targets against which the fiscal hawks’ ire should be directed — not the defense budget, which is already low in historic terms and dangerously low vis-à-vis our international commitments and obligations.
Again, as Heritage observes:
Paying for World War II cost nearly half of the nation’s economy or gross domestic product (GDP). Fighting the Korean War consumed about 14% of GDP; and the Vietnam War cost about 9%. By contrast, the portion of the defense budget that funds wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is just 1% of GDP in 2009.
President Obama calls Afghanistan and the larger war on terror a war of necessity. Yet his supporters begrudge spending even 1% of the GDP to fight this war – jealous of every nickel that they covet instead to expand the domestic welfare state.
But not only is this war cheap in relative terms — it’s too cheap. The Defense Department — and especially the ground forces (the Army and the Marine Corps), which are fighting this war — have been asked to do too much for too long with too little. That’s why we’ve had soldiers doing three or four deployments in five years; and that’s why we have soldiers riding in combat vehicles that were designed in the 1970s.
The reality is that America needs to significantly increase defense spending. We need a substantially larger Army and Marine Corps; and our troops require more modern gear and equipment.
Our troops are engaged, after all, in a 21st Century conflict; yet they are dependent, in large part, on antiquated weapons systems. The Cold War is over; and a new era of irregular asymmetric warfare has begun. Military modernization is long overdue and urgently needed — now.
You can argue over particular weapon systems, as I have here at FrumForum. For example, I am not entirely convinced that additional F-22 fighter jets would do our military much good. The F-22, after all, has not been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan; and a war with China is highly unlikely in my judgment.
In any case, the United States already has 187 F-22 Raptors. I’d much rather network our ground forces and give our soldiers and Marines a truly modernized, 21st Century ground combat vehicle. Still, the reality is that we don’t know exactly what the future holds. That’s why our military must be prepared to fight any and all potential adversaries.
Who, after all, predicted 9-11 and the war in Afghanistan? Certainly, not the U.S. military nor our intelligence agencies. Indeed, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James Cartwright has observed that, prior to 9-11, not a single Pentagon war plan in the 1980s or ‘90s included Afghanistan as a potential area of operations for the U.S. military.
So while we certainly can argue about the utility of select weapons systems, the reality is that comprehensive military modernization is not a luxury; it is a necessity.
It is a necessity if America wishes to remain militarily dominant and able to effectively project military power abroad in all potential operational contingencies. And it is a necessity if we wish to keep our fighting men and women as safe and free from harm as is humanly possible.
In short, America needs to modernize its military; America can afford to modernize its military; and America must modernize its military — now.
It’s too bad Matthew Yglesias and the Democratic Left don’t understand this. After all, a Democratic president once famously said that, under his leadership, America would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Today’s Democratic president says something quite different. Because of the “economic crisis,” he says, and because of “more fierce” “competition within the global economy,” “we simply can’t afford to ignore the price of these wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests,” he says.
But like it or not, policing the planet is America’s responsibility; and doing so is certainly within our national security interests and well within our (financial) means. The United States, after all, is a global power, with international reach and influence. And if we do not defeat the enemy abroad, then the enemy will come to our shores, as he did on 9-11. And that is a cost no American should have to bear.
Modernize the military — not because we want to, but because we have to. Now.