Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute has written a long rebuttal to my Monday issue brief, which argued that the Quadrennial Defense Review can never be what conservatives want it to be — a 20 year strategic plan insulated from political and budgetary pressures. I suppose I had this coming, since my brief was written as a critique of a January 4 Heritage Foundation backgrounder on QDR by James Talent and Mackenzie Eaglen. I will let our readers decide whose views are most convincing. I think the track record after conducting four successive quadrennial reviews makes it clear that the exercise cannot ignore fiscal and political conditions.
But I would like to focus on one problem that I consider a blind spot in the thinking of most defense hardliners, whether they call themselves conservatives or not. Proponents of a vigorous defense posture seem to think that the military should be exempted from fiscal discipline, even though they routinely decry expanding entitlements for disadvantaged members of society. They seldom complain about increasing benefits for veterans — even if those veterans never served in a war zone — but the rest of us will just have to wait until security needs are served. At least, that’s what they seem to be saying.
This viewpoint reminds me of a conversation I once had with my brother-in-law, a Georgia state trooper who lives in a rural farming community. He’s a movement conservative and proud of it, but one day as we were driving through the Georgia countryside, he remarked to me, “You know Loren, there’s one area where I’m a liberal — farm policy.” In that one passing comment, you see the core explanation for the federal government’s persistent budget deficits. Everybody seems to have at least one favored area of spending that they think should be exempted from the normal rules. Add all those exemptions up, and you have a prescription for where we are today — spending $4 billion a day we don’t have, and passing on the bill to our kids.
Proponents of more defense spending say that defense is different from other kinds of spending, but of course, that’s what everybody says about their pet projects. My brother-in-law would say nothing is more important than being able to feed the nation by growing crops. My mother, a former schoolteacher, would say that nothing is more important than educating the next generation of citizens. They all are sincere and well intentioned. But they all are contributing to the fiscal collapse of our country. At some point we have to draw a line and say — no more spending! When that day comes, domestic and defense programs alike will have to be cut to restore our nation’s fiscal foundations. If we can’t bring ourselves to do that, then all our military outlays to defeat foreign enemies who seek to destroy us won’t matter, because we will destroy ourselves.
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