America’s national defense is very well worth defending 

In his budget speech last week, President Barack Obama directed Defense Secretary Robert Gates to terminate more than $300 billion in weapons programs, including the F-22 Raptor, the world’s most capable aircraft, and the Army’s Future Combat Systems family of vehicles.

This past year, Gates volunteered $100 billion in Pentagon “efficiencies,” for which the administration rewarded him by slicing off another $78 billion. Now the president proposes to subtract an additional $400 billion from future military budgets.

By every measure, the armed forces of the United States have been “doing more with less” for more than two decades. The number of Americans on active duty has been reduced by one-third. Reservists have helped pick up the burden of repeated deployments. Reagan-era weapons have been refitted with new electronics, new munitions, and employed in innovative ways.

A force built to blunt a Soviet thrust through the Fulda Gap on the north German plain has reinvented itself to master the requirements of persistent irregular warfare and to address the “anti-access” challenges posed by China and Iran. But a nation cannot long secure itself or its interests if its defense “planning” depends upon genius generalship, unending sacrifice by lieutenants, captains, and NCOs, and constant deployment of rapidly aging planes, ships, and vehicles. In war, you usually get what you pay for.

Extremely few Americans — less than 1 percent of us — risk their lives and kill our enemies in our name. The basic compact of the “all- volunteer force” is not simply that people in uniform will be paid decently and their families cared for. It also presumes that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will have the wherewithal to win whatever battle they are sent to fight.

Thus far, the president has relied on the credibility of his defense secretary to soothe fears about defense cuts. In his deficit speech, Obama called on Gates to “do that again,” even though the White House dropped its $400 billion budget bomb on the Pentagon with only 24 hours’ warning.

Meanwhile, congressional Re-publicans are struggling to balance their commitment to a strong defense with their desire to reduce the government overall. Thus Rep. Paul Ryan’s deficit-reduction plan adopted what, until this week, had been Obama’s defense numbers. But now the House leadership will have to decide whether to accept Obama’s new proposed cuts or fight back.

Last August, Gates confessed that his “greatest fear is that in economic tough times people will see the defense budget as the place to solve the nation’s deficit problems, to find money for other parts of the government.” Gates understood that there are consequences to balancing the budget on the backs of our soldiers:

The defense secretary warned, “As I look around the world and see … more failed and failing states, countries that are investing heavily in their militaries … as I look at the new kinds of threats emerging from cyber to precision ballistic and cruise missiles and so on, my greatest worry is that we will do to the defense budget what we have done four times before. And that is, slash it in an effort to find some kind of a dividend to put the money someplace else. I think that would be disastrous in the world environment we see today and what we’re likely to see in the years to come.”

The president Gates serves is charting a course to realize his fears and worries. The United States should choose a different path.

This article appeared in The Weekly Standard.

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Thomas Donnelly

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