To take the true measure of a man,
they say, watch not what he says but what he does.
Here's what President Bush did this week: He opened the festivities for his second inauguration by saluting America's military -- and, in the process, showed what a class act he is. At a time when he could justifiably boast of clear electoral success, of capturing the largest number of popular votes in American history, he graciously took the spotlight off himself and shined it on the people who defend our way of life every day.
Attendees for the event at Washington's MCI Center included thousands of men and women in military uniforms. Young soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, some with missing limbs, were joined by Medal of Honor winners who are 80 years old. They heard from family members who have lost loved ones. They listened as others read letters to home that expressed a love of God, family and country that remains undimmed even amid the heartbreak of war.
President Bush said, "As we prepare to celebrate our nation's 55th presidential inauguration, I can think of no better way to begin than by giving thanks for our freedom and those who make it possible." Hear, hear.
We at The Heritage Foundation recently made our own humble contribution to those brave soldiers who defend us so ably -- and we did it, not surprisingly, using the currency we're most familiar with: ideas. Perhaps the best way we can follow President Bush's lead, and thank our troops, is by advancing practical solutions to the challenges they face in a world beset by violence and fear from terrorist thugs.
A chapter in our new "Mandate for Leadership," by defense experts Jack Spencer and Baker Spring, provides a sensible blueprint for ensuring that the best military the world has ever seen remains exactly that -- the best. Among their recommendations:
Focus on advancing U.S. national interests. That sounds obvious, but plenty of people are only too glad to send "the world's policeman" to every corner of the globe, on every mission imaginable. But even for a nation as capable and generous as the United States, that's not possible. Besides, our forces are already stretched thin right now, Spencer and Spring say. Since the early 1990s, we've spent billions of dollars on non-warfare operations, including several costly peacekeeping missions, and it's taken a toll. We can't become isolationist, but we must pick and choose our battles -- literally.
Safeguard taxpayer money by reducing waste and funding top priorities. It's a delicate balance, but Spencer and Spring underscore the need to do three things simultaneously: 1) sustain our current forces, 2) modernize them appropriately to meet present needs, and 3) invest in the research and development of tomorrow's weapons -- next-generation technologies that will ensure our competitive edge.
Maintain robust defense budgets. Over the next four years, expect certain politicians to exert considerable pressure to cut defense budgets. Yes, defense spending has risen since the post-Cold War defense holiday of the 1990s, but chronic underfunding persists, Spencer and Spring say, on items such as vehicle armor and military construction. "The fact is that the U.S. military is heavily committed," the Heritage experts write. "Unless Congress and the President want to sacrifice the war on terrorism, U.S. commitments to allies, near-term readiness, or the ability to prepare for the future, they must maintain robust defense budgets."
Transform our nuclear force. We won the Cold War, but as Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner often says, there are no permanent victories in Washington. We need to maintain our nuclear arsenal, especially as China proceeds with its nuclear modernization and nations such as Iran and North Korea work to become members of the nuclear club.
As President Bush himself put it earlier this week: "History moves toward freedom because the desire for freedom is written in every human heart. And the cause of freedom is in the best of hands -- the hands of the United States Armed Forces."
Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared on WorldNetDaily.com