Liberals expose themselves to ridicule when they measure compassion by government spending on social programs. Conservatives make the same mistake when they equate spending on national defense with national defense.
Conservatives and libertarians see eye-to-eye on many things, but we usually part company when it comes to national defense. Defense is a subject I know a little bit about, with 35 years of experience in the industry and a doctoral dissertation on DoD procurement practices and their impact on small businesses.
Propose to cut defense spending and most conservatives will reflexively object, as if our nation’s enemies are deterred by budgets rather than bullets, and appropriations instead of artillery. It is quite unlikely that Al Qaeda knows or cares what percentage of GDP we spend on Defense, and troublemakers closer to home, like Hugo Chavez, do not lose any sleep over the Divisions we have permanently garrisoned in South Korea, Japan, and Germany.
The rational argument can, and should, be made that decades of excessive spending on the defense of other nations has weakened, not strengthened, our own defenses. It is the American defense of Europe that permits them to spend their own resources on expanding their welfare states, promoting world government, and subsidizing exports that cost American jobs.
It is our mutual defense obligations in Asia that have set us on a collision course with North Korea, a puny nation that could not land a missile on our shores if we gave them the submarines to launch from. Our Korean peninsula entanglements allow China to ignore their lunatic next-door neighbor and focus on buying up U.S. assets while we do their dirty work of containment.
The still-hostile Middle East is home to 21 U.S. permanent military bases, not counting the wartime camps in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Navy’s carrier battle groups permanently patrolling off the region’s coasts. You won’t hear me apologizing for Iran’s belligerence and uncivilized posture towards the community of nations, but the paranoia of its leaders is not altogether unreasonable when you look at the map of U.S. troop deployments that surround them.
Spending and necessary spending are two different things. The United States Department of Defense boasts 1.1 million spectacular men and women in uniform and then it adds an astonishing 600,000 civilian employees, whose primary job is to buy bullets, beans, and band-aids for the troops. No CEO would survive a week if his factory had 1,100 people on the assembly line and 600 purchasing agents in cubes.
DoD is one of the most inefficient, bloated bureaucracies on the planet, and anyone who has served, worked, or contracted for it knows this to be true. Its mission is as much about defending its civil-service make-work jobs as it is defending our shores. Are those featherbedded jobs off limits to the budget busters, simply because the Gates House of Glut has five sides? I think not.
From 1990 to 2000, the largest 100 Defense contractors were consolidated through mergers and acquisition down to just five firms – the original too-big-to-fail club. Prime contracts are rarely subjected to true competition; how could they be, when there is only one shipyard capable of building aircraft carriers, and it operates for all practical purposes as a public utility? While it is essential that the United States maintain an industrial base capable of supplying our own military, it is not essential that firms who supply the military are immunized from market forces by arcane procurement practices that make innovation impossible and best practice illegal.
Many libertarians exhibit a pacifists’ aversion to all-things-military, but I am not one of them. While liberty is the natural state of being intended by our Creator, it is not the default setting for governments around the world. Liberty attracts powerful enemies from whom it must be constantly defended. Our Constitution provides for a stout defense; it requires Congress to maintain a Navy, to protect trade routes, to raise armies, to declare wars, to put down insurrections, and to secure U.S. territory against aggression.
But the Constitution does not authorize Congress to fund undeclared military interventions abroad, to establish permanent garrisons around the world, to prop up undemocratic foreign regimes through Foreign Military Sales, to engage in “nation building”, to ignore the 4th amendment based on a color chart, or to enrich a handful of American pseudo-corporations who are totally dependent upon government spending for their existence.
When Congressman Ron Paul called it the warfare/welfare state, the derision conservatives heaped upon him for speaking the truth is shameful. Conservative candidates for office often must “prove” their toughness in terms of supporting a minimum percentage of GDP to be spent on Defense, usually in the 4-5% range.
This totally misses the point; Defense is not GDP insurance, or some derivative of death to be hedged statistically. If Bernanke cranks up GDP by a couple of phony trillions, it does not increase the threat to national security one iota; likewise if we would restate our economic condition honestly, threats would not disappear because the real value of our nation’s output is lower than previously claimed.
Terrorism is real; the potential threat from China is real; the bad intentions of Iran and North Korea are real; piracy is real; and the insurrection at our southern border is real. Cyber-threats are real and more prevalent than most of us would care to believe if we knew the truth. We need a strong and vigorous national defense; our liberty is best preserved by the certain assurance that those foolish enough to attack us will be swiftly and utterly destroyed. Key word: us.
That assurance can be purchased for less than half of what we spend each year on so-called Defense. This is the awkward truth that must be confronted if Republicans are to be taken seriously as deficit hawks. Without eliminating the $375 billion annually that is squandered to defend other nations, fight undeclared wars, reward special interests, and provide lifetime jobs for pencil necks who can’t field-strip a weapon, it is simply not possible to eliminate the deficit without raising taxes.
Defending our own nation is one thing; defending a vague “stable world order” is something quite different. If nations like Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Singapore, Portugal, Qatar, Philippines, Turkey, Kosovo, and Bahrain are deemed so vital to our strategic interest as to warrant permanently basing troops there, then the only limit on our expanding military footprint is fiscal insanity.
And fiscal insanity is right where we find ourselves – borrowing money from China to dole out in military aid to despots in countries whose names we cannot pronounce. Our enemy at the gate is not the Lebanese Navy; it is our crushing debt load.
Cutting Defense spending may drive a wedge between conservatives and strident neo-conservatives, but it will reunite classical conservatives with libertarians and independents to forge an unbeatable coalition of fiscally responsible voters that will easily win the day in 2012. But politics is not the reason to cut Defense spending; national defense is the reason to cut Defense spending.
Our nation will be better defended, our military will be returned to its noble purpose, and the service of all who ever put on the uniform and took the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution will be honored by cutting unnecessary and unconstitutional spending on Defense. And it will fuel the economic recovery that will restore liberty to the nation which claims it as its first principle.
“Moment Of Clarity” is a weekly commentary by Libertarian writer and speaker Tim Nerenz, Ph.D. Visit Tim’s website www.timnerenz.com to find your moment and order his new book, “Tooth Fairy Government.”