It is distressing to see so little attention paid to the intersection of the defense budget and defense strategy (especially from the secretary of defense).
But there are some notable exceptions. In his opening statement on defense spending, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said:
Now, the Defense department isn’t immune to waste. There’s room for improvement. Every agency must use taxpayer dollars wisely—especially the Defense department. . . .
That said, national security is a priority. Defense has borne half the burden of deficit reduction. And the President wants to cut even more. This year, the House budget provides the same amount of defense funding the President requested last year. Yet the President opposes our proposal. The President is holding the defense budget hostage for higher taxes and more spending.
Some liberals and libertarians want the United States to act less often, to hardly ever use hard power, to rely more on the United Nations and to reduce overseas bases and personnel. Hawks believe in peace through strength (a robust military) and a forward leaning national strategy that recognizes retreat to the homeland offers no real security, that understands the world is dangerous and that, sometimes, force is unavoidable.
However, what you can’t do is what the president is doing. He wants to pivot toward Asia and help stop China’s encroachment in the China Sea. He says use of chemical weapons is a game changer. He says the military option is on the table for Iran. He now believes in missile defense. But he doesn’t want to pay for it.
For all those policy choices, you must have a robust military with the best, latest technology and you must equip the troops with the best offensive weapons and protection we can. And that costs money. Lots of money.
The president has invented a host of ways of avoiding action. We lack the chain of custody on chemical weapons used in Syria. Sanctions against Iran are working. We can redefine the mission in Afghanistan! Leading from behind worked in Libya!
These positions can get him through a press conference (especially with an under-informed White House press corps), but they don’t make for a strong or realistic national security policy. This might be why so many rogue nations are spinning out of control, the Middle East is a tinderbox, Iran is racing toward a nuclear weapons capability, China is impinging on our democratic allies in the South China Sea and the Syria-Iran partnership is going so swimmingly.