Too Soon Old, Too Late Wise

August 1st, 2011 at 12:16 am David Frum | 32 Comments |

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I wish my defense hawk friends at the American Enterprise Institute and the Weekly Standard had discerned before it was too late that a budget framework that calls for: (1) no additional revenues and (2) big cuts in discretionary spending, is not a hospitable climate for a robust defense budget.

The cut-taxes-forever faction of the Republican party knew what it wanted – and got it.

The live-to-fight-another-day Obama administration mostly lost this round, but at least put some points on the board.

But the pro-defense conservatives who cheered and cheered as Tea Party Republicans were awarded veto power over GOP decision-making have completely outfoxed themselves. They are now parties to a deal that targets the defense budget as the main hostage in future budget negotiations.

They went along with a crowd in hope of gaining sway over the crowd. They’ve discovered too late that instead of swaying, they were swayed. Cynicism is not wisdom after all.

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32 Comments so far ↓

  • valkayec

    Jennifer Rubin’s synopsis says that the defense, foreign aid and homeland security budgets are fairly safe regardless. However, the comments section excoriated her for trying to protect those areas of the budget. Seems a lot of Tea party gang want DoD budget cuts too – and to get out of other countries’ internal affairs.

    An old Indian saying: when you try to ride a tiger, sometimes you end up inside the tiger.

    • Grace

      Frum must have been very confident of the APAAC lobby and military-industrial complex’s ability to steamroll or co-opt the teanuts.

      The whole teanut concept was started by Ron Paul fanbois, who were then co-opted by the Dick Army of astroturfers. I never got the sense that even the astroturfers were much interested in protecting the MI contractors — funded by the Kochs, they seemed more interested in shredding the social safety net and of course, getting that Kenyan usurper out of the WH.

      But considering the close alliance with the Paulians, I don’t know how Frum could delude himself that defense spending was a top priority for the teanuts. The Pauls even manage to pull in a few liberal admirers with their anti-war machine stance. Maybe he was counting on the End-Timers’ twisted devotion to Israeli hard-liners bent on hastening Armageddon to get them on board, but I never saw any evidence that they had the upper hand over the black helicopter crowd within the teanut groups.

      Likely even the teanuts can discern that hopping into the NeoCon fail parade would be a losing position. There really is no way to justify defense spending at a level that outpaces the rest of the world combined. They would likely find very willing allies in the progressive caucus, if not broad Dem support, for some pretty signicant defense cuts.

      • Redrabbit

        There seem to be mixed thoughts on the defense cuts in this deal. Redstate, a pretty major teabag site, to say the least, is brimming with angry comments about the defense cuts.

      • JimBob

        You’re few bricks short of a full load

        • lilmanny

          Jim Bob’s comment is like a random, stupid bumper sticker just blowing around in my yard,”You are a few bricks short of a load”. Who knows what the messenger was angry about when he stuck that to his bumper? Probably a lot of things.

  • medinnus

    Of course, the fact that the ruinous failures of the NeoCon wars spent trillions of dollars to no discernable effect is, of course, never mentioned by the NeoCon Frum who supported both wars. The government outspends the rest of the world combined, but we must not touch it! Ever!

    Ludicrous.

  • Churl

    If we had a coherent defense strategy we could rationally plan, staff, and fund to support it. We have no such thing and therefore military funding is a mess. Somewhere among those bazillions of defense dollars are things worth having in the long run, there are probably things ridiculous and useless, and there are certainly some important programs that should be started, but absent any long term thinking, we will never know what they are.

    So the mess will continue because we have no means of prioritizing and therefore no way of controlling budgets.

    • Raskolnik

      Churl +1

      If we really cared about the deficit, we would de-mobilize Europe. Our strategic border is no longer with Russia, and NATO members need to contribute fairly to their own defense.

      • Primrose

        I think I agree with you here. It made sense to stay in early years after the cold war but less so now. My only hesitation might be that some of those bases make it easier reach key problem areas, than directly.

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  • drdredel

    This is another point of curiosity for me.

    I understand which portion of the population makes Medicare a non-starter and which makes Social Security a sacred cow (I’m not against those programs, myself, btw, even though they don’t do anything for me personally, I understand and am happy to support their value to others and society at large), but Defense?! Who gives a crap about defense? If we (totally arbitrarily) spent 1/3 of what we do now (still outspending all other industrial nations), there would STILL be just as few people actively seeking to invade us!
    It can be (rationally) argued that we actually don’t need ANY defense spending at all, since there is no one seeking to invade us, and no one capable of doing it, even if they WERE seeking to do it. We have 2 100% free oceans on either side and 2 100% incompetent (militarily) trading partners north and south. Our defense spending (occasionally) results in interesting inventions that are utilized by the private sector, but I doubt that’s worth the trouble, and if we don’t want to put people out of work (the soldiers) let’s just keep paying them… I suspect we’ll be able to still cut the defense budget by 80% (that’s a total guess, but I bet I’m not far off the mark).
    At the very least, let’s call it an offensive budget! At least then it will work linguistically on both fronts (pardon the pun). It will be honest in that it’s what we pay to attack people AND what we call the portion of the budget that is singly disgusting.

    • Raskolnik

      2 100% free oceans on either side

      I am all about cuts to defense, however, while I don’t imagine there will be any U-Boats attacking our Atlantic shipping lanes any time soon, the Pacific is starting to heat up. Just a few days ago China issued another pompous declaration of “screw everyone who isn’t Han, we OWN the South China Sea.” Well, the fact of the matter is that they do not. So while I am in favor of a greatly reduced “defense” budget, I also tend to agree with Churl that the issue is not how much we spend but rather: do we have a coherent strategy to protect ourselves, our friends, and our interests? I would argue that such a coherent strategy necessitates continued watchfulness in the Pacific, particularly the South China Sea. It’s not like Malaysia or Viet Nam (or Taiwan) can unilaterally stand up to the PRC.

      • ram6968

        the world is a little more complicated than that……we owe china about 1.2 trillion, wonder what our allies owe china……just how big a hit do you think china can take…….to start hostilities, china would have to assure itself a greater return than they stand to lose…not an easy thing in this modern world

    • Redrabbit

      The reality is that no one really cares about defense in the way they do entitlements.

      But Americans have shown themselves to be favorable to warmongering, and often rate the military as the most trusted institution in the country by a very high margin.

      The public can turn on specific wars, but the perception is the Americans are still very pro-militarism in a general sense. Is the perception true? I don’t know. But I would guess that many politicians would rather not test it.

    • Redrabbit

      Plus, this also enters in to regional/district based politics. Remember, military contracts, bases, manufacturing, etc. are very important to a number regions across the country, especially the in ‘red’ states. So, there is a constituency, of sorts, but it is highly regional and generally not seen as a coalition in the same manner as SS/Medicare recipients who are driven to vote on that issue.

      • Raskolnik

        Yes. When people talk about “jobs” often there is an obscure subtext about military vs. other kinds of jobs. What a lot of people don’t realize about our relationship with Israel is that the billions and billions of dollars of aid don’t start coming in until after the end of the Cold War. Aid to Israel was small but constant from 1947 until 1989. It has skyrocketed ever since, and mostly consists of loans that are “unsecured” [aka pay us "whenever"] in exchange for Israeli guarantees to use the money to purchase American-made military equipment.

        Reagan defeated the Soviet Union by exploiting the critical weaknesses of Marxist economic theory. Their attempts to match our military production bankrupted them. However it also had the secondary effect of creating an enormous Keynesian jobs program, because suddenly huge swaths of the population are employed by Raytheon and Halliburton (and other more obscure contractors).

        The bottom line is that RedState’s griping about cuts to defense has more to do with car payments than with national security.

  • rbottoms

    At the very least, let’s call it an offensive budget!

    Nice term. Star Wars and aircraft carriers are useless against 14th century bandits, even with suitcase nukes.

    Radiation detectors, port screening, TSA behavioral monitoring, and cheap specialists flying drones and RPV’s over F-16′s can all be bought by the thousands for the cost of one aircraft carrier.

    Time to stop subsiding Raytheon and why are we still in Germany again? I lived there for 10 years when we had an enemy to fight. Bring what troops home that we can, double the special forces budget and call it a day.

  • SteveThompson

    The proposed spending cuts over the next 10 years will not even pay for the interest on the current debt. As this posting shows, the interest owing on the federal debt will exceed $450 billion this year, setting a new record:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2011/07/interest-on-united-states-debt.html

    If interest rates increase to historically normal levels as seen in the early 2000s, interest owed on the debt could well rise to $960 billion annually, more than what is spent on Social Security and Medicaid in a year.

    This is, to put it mildly, a rather pitiful deal.

  • sinz54

    We should cut the defense budget.

    Especially our NATO commitments. NATO was originally designed as an alliance to protect Western Europe from the Communist Warsaw Pact alliance. Communism is dead and the Cold War is over. Exactly whom are we protecting Europe from now?

    I say let’s cut those soft, spiteful, effete, socialist Europeans loose. They look down their noses at us anyway so let’s kiss them off and tell them to defend themselves from Iran or whomever. Pull every last American military person out of Europe.

    That would free up more military resources to deal with real threats like Iran and China.

    And one more thing. We could save a lot of money by adopting a new strategy. Our military is not the Peace Corps, to be chasing around the world in costly nation-building ventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, you name it. Nor is it intended to be the world’s 911, racing to natural disasters with lights flashing and sirens screaming. There have been tsunamis and earthquakes, there will be more in the future. Next time a tsunami kills a bunch of people in Asia, let’s just shed some crocodile tears–but NOT send the Navy there. It’s not their job.

    If that sounds harsh to you, remember this:

    No Afghans fought in OUR Civil War.
    And Europeans didn’t send their navies to help us out after the San Francisco Earthquake of 1903 or the Great New England Blizzard of 1978.

    • TerryF98

      Yet you as you have stated you wish to spend a boatload of money killing every man, woman, child and dog in Afghanistan in order to get one man!

      Genocidal killing of millions of people is expensive.

      • Raskolnik

        Terry, please give it a rest. Once upon a time, sinz said something mean. The end.

        • TerryF98

          Nope.

        • Frumplestiltskin

          Sinz literally said we should threaten to nuke Pakistan unless they turned OBL over. That was not mean, it was flat out nuts. I understood Sinz frustration but he simply could have owned up to it as meaningless hyperbole that he did not really mean. He never has once done so, which leads me to think he really meant it which truly is despicable

    • Primrose

      They all did offer to help after Katrina. President Bush (W) refused.

    • ram6968

      a rhino will charge into a camp and stomp on the campfire….because he knows what will happen if it spreads…….

  • LFC

    I’m very disturbed by the number of things I read that mix Social Security / Medicare spending with defense spending. The former have their own dedicated revenue streams. Soc Sec is still in a state of annual surplus. Medicare is not, but Soc Sec + Medicare actually are by a tiny amount.

    Since Soc Sec + Medicare are not contributing to our $1T+ annual deficit, that means that this deficit is structural in nature. The major social insurance programs contribute nothing, nada, zero, zippo to it. Yes, both programs have long term funding issues but that is not the problem we have right now. The only reason to try to balance the rest of our budget with “savings” from these to programs is to once again “borrow” money hand over fist to pay for an unsustainable mix of tax cuts and spending, most obviously defense.

    You want the current (or more) defense spending? Tell me how we’re going to pay for it. Since we already know that stealing from our social insurance programs is dishonest accounting, and we (though obviously not the Tea Party pinheads) know we have to pay our debt, that doesn’t leave a whole heck of a lot to work with without revenue increases. Of course the TPPs could NEVER agree to that.

  • Graychin

    Two points to consider:

    1) The current budget year ends in about 60 days (September 30). Will there be another hostage crisis then, as Boehner threatens a government shutdown unless Democrats appease further Tea Party demands? (Seems likely.)

    2) The Bush tax cuts for high-income taxpayers are on track to expire after 2012. That event will either a) go a long way to bending down the curve of long-term deficits, or b) become the subject of a future hostage-taking by Congressional Republicans. (Obama must hang tough on that one. Off. The. Table.)

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  • mlindroo

    Funny by the way…THE WEEKLY STANDARD does not seem to be in post-default deal “gloat mode” at all:-) Just check Bill Kristol’s latest ruminations on the defense cuts.

    I am sure our old friend John Guardiano is going post a blistering missive any time now.

    MARCU$

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