The question is not nearly so binary. I agree completely that we must cut the deficit and the national debt; frankly, I do not know anyone who thinks otherwise. That said, the idea that you can “get” the funds needed to remedy the problem from the defense budget does not make any sense. America has tried to reap a “peace dividend” several times in the past. The desire to stop spending on security and start spending on domestic programs is natural, understandable and unfortunately ill advised. It is more so when we haven’t yet achieved peace. The threat landscape is actually worse today than it was on Sept. 11, 2001.
If our leaders move money from the Defense Department to expand, or at least maintain, domestic entitlements, we end up hollowing out the military, making us ill prepared for the next national security challenge. But we don’t end up fixing the economy. Many Americans might accept the added risk of a diminished military, if it would solve the economic woes. But to accept such risks without fixing the economy is just foolish policy.
There are strong arguments that cutting defense right now will actually hurt the economy by damaging one of the sectors that is actually producing economic benefits. Defense spending should never be considered a “jobs program,” but employment is one of its side effects. Deep cuts would cause profound damage to the defense industrial base, and remember: that means not only defense behemoths, but also hundreds of small and midsize subcontractors.
The bottom line is that today there is a need to fix the deficit problem, but the reflexive response of “take it from defense” is the wrong answer. There are other ways to generate additional savings. We just don’t want to accept them.
First appeared in The New York Times' Room for Debate.