The Corner

Re: The Folly of Defense Cuts

Kevin D. Williamson makes several excellent points but misunderstands our central argument. Gov. Haley Barbour had it right when he said that one has to be completely ignorant of the Pentagon to think that any cuts in its budget would be harmful to our country’s defense. Cuts can and should be made.

That said, we also recall how the Left tried to use an accounting and public-relations disaster (i.e., the famous $800 hammer) to derail President Reagan’s courageous and warranted military build-up in the 1980s. As the Gipper might say, “They are up to their old tricks again.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has shown tremendous resolve in fighting to eliminate waste and redundancy at the Pentagon. He eliminated entire military commands and reduced the number of general officers. There are too many whose stars represent nothing more than successful empire building rather than actual achievement. All who care about a stronger, more secure America should applaud efforts to streamline where we can, so that every dollar spent on defense makes us more secure.

We have our own qualms about the Libyan mission and how it is being waged. But the fact remains that our troops were put in harm’s way and they need the tools to perform effectively. Our point was that if we cut too drastically now, we will not be able in the future to wage the types of wars necessary to defend our vital interests. A case in point is what has happened in the United Kingdom. While particularly bellicose when it comes to the employment of U.S. troops, Prime Minister Cameron has cut Britain’s defense to the point that, were he called upon, as Margaret Thatcher was in the 1980s, to retain British sovereignty over the Falklands, he would lack the capacity to do so.

We concur with Mr. Williamson that a strong economy is essential to a strong national security. We fail, however, to see how precipitously cutting the very systems that our military is using in Libya (and will undoubtedly use in the future) will strengthen either our fiscal health or our national security. In fact, as in the case of the U.S. Navy and the expensive, sophisticated ships needed to preserve our maritime dominance, drastic cuts will actually threaten our economic vitality. Without a Navy capable of securing the world’s oceans for American commerce, the U.S. economy will suffer enormously.

Besides its extraordinary performance in the Libyan intervention, the U.S. Navy has in recent days demonstrated both the might and the compassion of the United States by responding as fast as it did to the catastrophe that has hit Japan. All but ignored by most of the media, the Navy’s global reach (provided by expensive and advanced ships belittled by both the looney Left and isolationist Right) demonstrated how the armed forces of the United States advance American values and strategic interestssimultaneously. The way to prevent presidents from squandering our military might on questionable adventures is not by reducing the nation’s military capacity, but, as the late James Burnham reminded us, by having a Congress willing to hold such leaders to account and a public prepared to elect more prudent presidents.

— Alvin S. Felzenberg served as spokesman for the 9-11 Commission. He currently lectures at Yale University, where he is researching a book about NR founder William F. Buckley Jr. He also teaches Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and at the George Washington University. Alexander B. Gray has studied at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University and at the War Studies Department of Kings College, London.

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