Daniel W. Drezner

Neoconservatives don’t scare me

Max Boot is trying to scare the crap out of me and not succeeding:   Be afraid. Be very afraid. If, like me, you care about the future of American power–if, like me, you believe the United States has been the greatest force for good in the world during the past 100 years and the U.S. armed ...

Max Boot is trying to scare the crap out of me and not succeeding:  

Be afraid. Be very afraid. If, like me, you care about the future of American power–if, like me, you believe the United States has been the greatest force for good in the world during the past 100 years and the U.S. armed forces have been our most effective instrument of power projection–then you should be scared about what is being cooked up among budget negotiators on Capitol Hill.

The so-called Gang of Six–Democratic Senators Kent Conrad, Dick Durbin, and Mark Warner, and Republicans Saxby Chambliss, Mike Crapo, and Tom Coburn—are cooking up what is billed as a bipartisan package that would cut nearly $900 billion from the defense budget during the next decade. That’s more than double the $400 billion in cuts that President Obama unveiled in April. 

Hmm… let me think about this for a second….

It’s hard to deny Boot’s assertion that, over the past century, U.S. military power has been a necessary and successful tool to advance American national interests.  That said, however, if we look only at last decade, the picture darkens considerably.  After Afghanistan and Iraq, is it really possible to claim that the U.S. armed forces have been our most effective instrument of power projection?  Have we purchased more than $1 trillion worth of increased security since 9/11?  No, I don’t think that we have

My opinion doesn’t count all that much, but former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’s opinion should.  While in office, he wasn’t shy in observing that the U.S. military was playing too outsized a role in the crafting of foreign policy

Furthermore, let’s take a look at this graph, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation:

The striking thing about this chart is that we’re spending more on the military now than we did during the peak of Cold War tensions and Reagan’s military build-up in the mid-1980’s — especially since military spending by the rest of the world has fallen dramatically since the end of the Cold War. 

Just to repeat a point I made last fall

I’m about to say something that might be controversial for people under the age of 25, but here goes. You know the threats posed to the United States by a rising China, a nuclear Iran, terrorists and piracy? You could put all of them together and they don’t equal the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And until I see another hostile country in the world that poses a military threat in Europe, the Middle East and Asia at the same time, I’m thinking that current defense spending should be lower than Cold War levels by a fair amount. 

AEI’s latest “Defending Defense” paper doesn’t do it either.  Despite numerous claims about the hollowing out of the U.S. military, I didn’t see a single instance in the report in which American military capabilities were compared to either extant threats or possible security rivals. 

Neoconservatives are going to have to present more reasoned arguments for why defense spending should not be on the chopping block than the scare tactics of Boot — or, for that matter, this whopper from Robert Kagan

[The proposed cuts are] utterly irresponsible and dangerous to national security. Also cowardly, since defense has no domestic constituency, while entitlements — the real source of our fiscal crisis — do.

Spit-take!!  Look, I’m just as scared of the AARP’s political muscle as the next foreign policy wonk, but to claim that there is no domestic interest group support for more defense spending is just as bad as, oh, I don’t know…. writing a whole book pretending to discover that there’s an interest group lobby that supports Israel without defining it properly. 

This critique of Kagan’s assertion is pretty overwrought, but the core point ain’t wrong. 

Question to readers — what is the best logical, empirically grounded argument you can make for not cutting the defense budget?

UPDATE:  For more on this point see Christopher Preble, as well as  Shadow Government’s Kori Schake.  Schake makes a trenchant point — if there are to be serious cuts, defense experts need to start thinking seriously about the best way to do it, rather than simply lopping a certain percentage off the top. 

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