March 12, 2008 | Commentary on International Conflicts
The headline in my local weekly paper was strikingly
"Ending War through Diplomacy."
The article spoke only of the current war against terrorism. I think we need to remind ourselves exactly who it is we're at war with: terrorist thugs who, well, terrorize. Such evil-minded individuals aren't prone to sit down for a polite discussion.
People forget that we're not at war with Iraq -- we're at war in Iraq. We're not fighting a nation or a government with a designated leader. We're fighting terrorists who scurry among Middle Eastern countries and hide out in caves.
Yes, they get cover and support from rogue dictators and are led by individuals we can identify. But you don't negotiate with mass murderers like Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri. These are fanatics who strap bombs on children, target civilians in neighborhood markets, and burst into universities and seminaries and blow people away. You don't hunt them down to have a chat. You hunt them down so you can rid the world of them and their evil.
Of course, protecting our nation and freedom isn't easy or cheap. As Congress prepares to work on its annual budget blueprint, we need to make sure they include the funds required to train and equip our military to do the job. Our brave men and women deserve better than to be put at risk because we didn't budget enough money.
Polls suggest that many Americans think we already spend too much on defense -- never mind adding more. Others think it makes up the largest part of the federal budget. Quick: How much of gross domestic product do you think we spend on defense?
25 percent of GDP? 50 percent?
The actual number is less than 4 percent. Bet you've never heard that from the establishment media or liberal leaders.
To put the amount in perspective: It's less than the 4.6 percent we spent during the Gulf War, significantly lower than the 11.7 percent we invested during the Korean War, and a fraction of the 34 percent we spent during World War II.
Former Sen. James Talent of Missouri, a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation who served on both the Senate and House armed services committees, recently offered this sobering assessment in a major article for National Review:
"Because of decisions over the last 15 years -- driven more by budgetary than by military considerations -- the Army is too small, the Navy and Marine Corps may well be too small, and much of the equipment in all the services is too old and increasingly unreliable. Without a substantial increase in procurement spending ... the U.S. will be unable to modernize its forces to the degree necessary to preserve its security with the necessary margin of safety."
This is frightening, to say the least. National security, after all, is Job 1 for our elected leaders, and many of them clearly don't get it. Ronald Reagan did, and that's one of the reasons so many Americans admired him. He was willing to spend what it took to ensure our safety. Reagan knew that without "freedom from fear," our other freedoms mean little. He was the one who proved, once and for all, the validity of his policy of "peace through strength." He also understood that the first duty of government is to "provide for the common defense."
Today, far too many politicians seem to think the first role of government is to provide a comfortable way of life for every American. The truth is, the very notion of life in America is at risk without a strong fighting force.
As Heritage experts explain, there are two critical realities which must be addressed now:
We face serious security threats today and can see others on the horizon. "The U.S. needs to fund defense programs that will protect the American people and U.S. friends and allies against the ongoing threats from hostile states (e.g., Iran and North Korea) and looming threats like the one posed by a hostile China," writes Heritage Foundation defense expert Baker Spring in a recent paper.
The coming crisis in entitlement spending threatens to crowd out other priorities. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all have claimed bigger and bigger portions of the federal budget since the 1960s -- and this growth has generally come at the expense of our defense budget. Adequately funding our defense will become impossible if the "Big Three" entitlement programs continue on autopilot. Heritage experts consider 4 percent of GDP adequate to meet tomorrow's military threats.
As Thomas Paine once wrote, "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it." We can't expect to protect ourselves and stand by our allies by pinching defense dollars. It's time to stop pretending that we can.Rebecca Hagelin, a vice president at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of "Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad" and runs the Web site HomeInvasion.org.