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Reverse the Defense Cuts
Even Jimmy Carter understood the vital importance of a strong military.

Flight operations aboard USS George Washington. (Photo: Mass Communication Seaman Brian H. Abel)

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On January 23, 1980, Jimmy Carter delivered his final State of the Union address. It was a difficult time: Iran held American diplomats captive, and the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan. “As we meet tonight,” the president told the assembled members of Congress, “it has never been more clear that the state of our Union depends on the state of the world.”

Carter, who had devoted the first part of his presidency to domestic reforms and arms control, was now prepared to act decisively; his eyes had been opened by the Russian move into Afghanistan, which he described as a “radical and aggressive step.” He imposed a number of stiff economic sanctions on the USSR, from denying fishing rights to shutting down access to high-technology equipment, and asked the Europeans not to “replace our embargoed items.” He articulated a “Carter Doctrine,” asserting that the United States would not countenance disproportionate Russian influence in the Middle East. But most of all, he moved to swiftly rebuild U.S. military strength, creating the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, the precursor to today’s U.S. Central Command, and proposing a 5 percent annual increase in defense spending — the precursor to the Reagan-era buildup.

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But where Carter moved to restore the sinews of America’s weakened armed forces, today we adhere to the constraints of a Budget Control Act that is steadily eviscerating a battle-tested professional force. Carter, in the final year of what would prove to be a single term as president, took steps to create new options for future commanders-in-chief. Barack Obama, with three years left, appears resolutely committed to foreclosing American military options.

However, thanks to the constitutional separation of powers and the competition of our political parties, the president’s weaknesses need not be the final word on such matters. It is the duty of Congress “to raise and support Armies,” “to provide and maintain a Navy,” and to provide for the common defense. And it is the duty of the loyal opposition to make the arguments that might correct the course of failing policies.

To put it plainly: Congress should immediately restore the defense-budget cuts imposed under the Budget Control Act — not just the sequestration provision but the reductions included in the “baseline” law — through an “emergency” supplemental appropriation that avoids the delays and deals that would accompany any attempt to “pay for” the changes with offsetting cuts elsewhere. The Republican party has a further obligation to offer a more complete alternative: If the GOP takes the Senate in the fall and keeps its House majority, it can reshape budget legislation that not only tries to restore fiscal responsibility but remembers the federal government’s responsibility to defend the nation and the nation’s global-security interests. And the next Republican presidential candidate must articulate the need for American power and a plan for comprehensive rearmament to preserve the increasingly fragile peace.

That’s because while Putin’s aggression in Europe is the proximate motivation for slowing the pace of American disarmament, there are other motivations as well, in the Middle East and East Asia. And so, while targeted reinvestments keyed specifically to the Russian threat — in nuclear deterrence, missile defense, increasing U.S. forces in Europe, and building up the forces of front-line European states — are necessary, they are hardly sufficient.

Republicans, in particular, should remember the wisdom of the Reagan buildup, a whole that was bigger than the sum of its parts. Its ultimate strategic importance did not depend on any one element of military power but lay in the fact that it denied the Soviet Union any clear advantage: The naval contest was a lopsided one that forced the Russian fleet to stay in its home waters; investments in land forces and tactical aircraft redressed the conventional balance along the Central Front in Germany; the modernization and expansion of nuclear capabilities, notably intermediate-range forces in Europe, offset decades of Soviet effort; the Strategic Defense Initiative helped convince Moscow that there was little point in continuing the competition.

This is a moment filled with possibility, one in which America might awake from the befuddlement of the post–Cold War era and the hangover of Iraq. Alas, President Obama seems more likely to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. It is up to the other branch of government and the opposition party to do what they can — start the process of rearmament — when the commander-in-chief will not.

— Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt co-direct the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.


Dispatches: February 2014
The men and women of the United States armed forces conduct combat and security operations across the globe every day. Here's a look at some current deployments. Pictured, an AH-64 Apache helicopter with the Army 101st Airborne Division lands at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. (Photo: Chief Warrant Officer 2 George Chino)
MARINES: Lance Corporal Adam Devalk, Combat Logistics Battalion Seven, Transportation Services Company, Second Platoon, coaches fellow Marines from the turret of an MRAP vehicle at Camp Leatherneck. (Photo: Lance Corporal Darien J. Bjorndal)
Lance Corporal Tyler McCabe, India Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment, provides security during a downed-vehicle recovery in Now Zad district, Helmand Province. (Photo: Corporal Sean Searfus)
Marines with Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan shoot rounds downrange during a live-fire range exercise at Camp Leatherneck. (Photo: Sergeant Jessica Ostroska)
Captain James Covey, Headquarters and Service Company, Third Battalion, Sevnth Marine Regiment, fires an M500 12-gauge shotgun at Camp Leatherneck during a shooting competition. (Photo: Corporal James Mast)
A Marine Corps dog handler with Alpha Company, First Battalion, Ninth Marine Regiment, stands watch during a security patrol outside of Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province. (Photo: Eric S. Wilterdink)
A designated marksman team with Third Platoon, Charlie Company, First Battalion, Ninth Marine Regiment, sets up an observation location during a security patrol near Patrol Base Boldak in Helmand Province (Photo: Corporal Cody Haas)
First Sergeant Michael Grassl, Bravo Company, First Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment, accounts for Marines as they arrive by CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Sea Stallion helicopters at Range 210 during a live-fire exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. (Photo: Corporal Joseph Scanlan)
Marines with Bravo Company, First Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment, prepare to board CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Sea Stallion helicopters during a live-fire exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. (Photo: Corporal Joseph Scanlan)
Corporal Colin Schafer, Weapons Company, First Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment, carries an 81mm mortar tube during exercises at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. (Photo: Corporal Joseph Scanlan)
A Marine with Third Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion carries a Stinger weapon system during exercises at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. (Photo: Corporal Joseph Scanlan)
Marines with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Battalion, Landing Team 1/4, fire an M777 howitzer during a battery defense battle drill at the Arta Range in Djibouti. (Photo: Staff Sergeant Staci Miller)
Marines with Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepare to conduct live night fire aboard USS Boxer. (Photo: Gunnery Sergeant Ajiboye Magbagbeola)
Marines with Third Reconnaissance Battalion, Third Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, and Headquarters Battalion, Third Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, evacuate the area as an MV-22B Osprey comes into land at Hat Yao, Thailand, during Exercise Cobra Gold 2014. (Photo: Corporal Zachary W Scanlon)
An MV-22 Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (the “Dragons”), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, takes off from the flight deck of USS Bonhomme Richard. (Photo: Corporal Henry Antenor)
Lance Corporal Ryan Lee M. Castro, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (the “Dragons), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, holds the tail of an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter aboard USS Denver. (Photo: Sergeant Paul Robbins Jr.)
Lance Corporal Jake Slack, Battalion Landing Team, First Battalion, Sixth Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, sights in on his target aboard USS Bataan. (Photo: Lance Corporal Caleb McDonald)
Marines with Company F, Battalion Landing Team, Second Battalion, Fifth Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct launch-and-recovery operations with Combat Rubber Raiding Craft from the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Denver. (PhotO: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Todd C. Behrman)
A landing craft air cushion with Assault Craft Unit Four carries equipment for the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit towards the well deck of USS Bataan. (Photo: Lance Corporal Caleb McDonald)
Marines in Lash Kar Gah, Afghanistan, enter a CH-53E Super Stallion from Camp Leatherneck. (Photo: Lance Corporal Darien J. Bjorndal)
AIR FORCE: A B-2 Spirit flies during a training mission over Whiteman Air Force Base in Montana. (Photo: Staff Sergeant Jonathan Snyder)
Two F-16 Fighting Falcons with the 35th Fighter Squadron land in parallel after a training sortie at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea. (Photo: Senior Airman Armando A. Schwier-Morales)
An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. (Photo: Senior Master Sergeant Gary J. Rihn)
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen C. Sztan, former 358th Fighter Squadron commander, taxis his A-10 to the inactivation ceremony at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (Photo: Airman First Class Chris Drzazgowski)
A Combat Controller Team with the 720th Special Tactics Group exits an C-130 H3 during a high-altitude high-opening jump over Niger during Joint Exercise Flintlock. (Photo: Technical Sergeant Eugene Crist)
A Combat Controller Team member with the 720th Special Tactics Group, provides aircraft direction to a C-130 H3 during night airfield operations as part of Joint Exercise Flintlock. (Photo: Technical Sergeant Eugene Crist)
Airman First Class Eric Laplante, 92nd Medical Support Squadron, watches as Airman First Class James Boom-Kelly, 92nd Air Refueling Squadron, guides the fuel boom to a C-17 Globemaster during an incentive refueling flight. (Photo: Staff Sergeant Alexandre Montes)
An F-22 Raptor from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling boom. (Photo: Senior Airman Mary O'Dell)
Colonel Mike Seiler, 376th Expeditionary Operations Group, gives a thumbs-up from the cockpit of a KC-135 Stratotanker after completing the last refueling flight originating from Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: Senior Airman George Goslin)
Lieutenant Colonel Kyle Lindsay, 119th Fighter Squadron, prepares to take off in an F-16D Fighting Falcon at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (Photo: Airman First Class Shane Karp)
ain Thomas Larner (left) and Capt. Matthew Woodruff, 336th Fighter Squadron, prepare an F-15E Strike Eagle at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. (Photo: Airman First Class Shawna L. Keyes)
An F-16C Fighting Falcon assigned to the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker. (Photo: Airman First Class Victor J. Caputo)
Royal Air Force pilot Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols taxies his Marine F-35B Lightning II after completing the first short take-off and vertical landing sortie by a United Kingdom pilot at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Photo: Samuel King Jr.)
A Greek Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies off the wing of a KC-135 Stratotanker during a training mission over the Mediterranean Sea during a two-week NATO training out of Souda Air Base, Greece. (Photo: Staff Sergeant Thomas Trower)
NAVY: Boatswain's Mate Seaman Rodney Wiley, prepares to secure the wheels of an Army MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter aboard USS Gravely during deck landing qualifications for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Adam Austin)
Sailors assigned to the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego and Navy divers assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Three conduct boat operations during testing of NASA's Orion crew module. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist First Class Gary Keen)
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Second Class Christopher O'Neil directs an F/A-18E Super Hornet with Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-105 (the “Gunslingers”) onto a catapult on the flight deck of USS Harry S. Truman, underway in the Gulf of Oman. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Karl Anderson)
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Second Class Ted Casal checks the shot line prior to launching an F/A-18C Hornet with Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-94 (the “Mighty Shrikes”) aboard USS Carl Vinson. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Scott Fenaroli)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet with Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-32 (the “Swordsmen”) launches from USS Harry S. Truman, underway in the Gulf of Oman. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Karl Anderson)
Sailors with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Three fast rope from an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron HSC-15 (the "Red Lions”) onto the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Scott Fenaroli)
Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper prepare to chock-and-chain an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron HSC-26. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist First Class Martin Cuaron)
An MV-22 Osprey lifts off from the flight deck of the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Raymond D. Diaz III)
Master-at-Arms Third Class Jennifer Smith, Coastal Riverine Squadron One, mans an M-240 machine gun on a 34-foot patrol boat during a mission to escort an American ship into the port of Djibouti. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist First Class Eric Dietrich)
Aviation Ordnanceman Second Class Rodolfo Ojeda, Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-105 (the "Gunslingers”), performs maintenance on the 20-mm M61 Vulcan Gatling gun of an F/A-18E Super Hornet in the hangar bay of USS Harry S. Truman. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Pasquale Sena)
Aviation Warfare Specialist First Class Jim Dudgeon, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 26, prepares to lower supplies to coastal patrol ship USS Typhoon during a vertical onboard delivery exercise. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist First Class Martin Cuaron)
Chief Hospital Corpsman Darwin Thomas, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Three, motions for the rigid-hull inflatable boat to back away from the well deck of the amphibious transport ship USS San Diego. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist First Class Gary Keen)
MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22 (the “Sea Knights”) move cargo from USS Harry S. Truman during a replenishment at sea. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Karl Anderson)
From left: The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Roosevelt, guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke, and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea transit the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Scott Barnes)
ARMY: Soldiers from First Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, Second Armored Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, pull security for a UH-60 Black Hawk during Operation Intrepid Centurion in Kuwait. (Photo: Sergeant Harley Jelis)
Soldiers with First Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, Second Armored Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, assault a mock enemy town after an air assault with UH-60 Black Hawks during Operation Intrepid Centurion in Kuwait. (Photo: Sergeant Harley Jelis)
First Lieutenant Adam Bone, Fourth Brigade Combat Team, Tenth Mountain Division, Task Force Patriot, helps secure an improvised helicopter landing zone outside the Kapisa Provincial Governor's Office. (Photo: Specialist Eric Provost)
Soldiers with Company A, First Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, Second Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, provide cover during a live-fire exercise in Ban Dan Lan Hoi, Thailand, during Exercise Cobra Gold 2014. (Photo: Lance Corporal Leah Agler)
Colonel Matt McFarlane, Fourth Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, gathers his equipment after parachuting into Lop Buri, Thailand, during Exercise Cobra Gold 2014. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith)
Soldiers with Second Battalion, 87th Infantry, Third Brigade Combat Team, Tenth Mountain Division, conduct a force-protection patrol outside of DSP McClean in Logar Province, Afghanistan. (Photo: Captain John Goodwill)
Specialists Dalton J. Meenan and Jonas Asamoahboateng, Raptor Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Second Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Second Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Strike, take part in a sling-load operation at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan. (Photo: Specialist Eric Provost)
Command Sergeant Major Ronald Dvorsky, Task Force Thunder, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), scans the ground from inside a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. (Photo: Specialist Joseph Green)
Specialist Lisa Cardenas, Task Force Fighting, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, Tenth Mountain Division, directs an OH-58 Kiowa Helicopter taking off from a refueling point at Bagram Air Field. (Photo: Specialist Joseph Green)
An M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank with Company C, First Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, Second Armored Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, stares off a camel during a bilateral exercise in the US Central Command area of responsibility. (Photo: Sergeant Marcus Fichtl)
An OH-58 Kiowa helicopter pilots prepare to take off from Forward Operating Base Fenty on a night reconnaissance mission. (Photo: Specialist Joseph Green)
Updated: Mar. 05, 2014

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