Yes: A modernized military is needed to handle global threats
Many pundits are mystified by Donald Trump’s foreign policy. That’s because they focus too much on what he says ... and even more on what he tweets.
But Trump uses his tweets and off-hand comments to drive the news cycle and poke his critics. They are not meant as policy pronouncements.
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Knowing what the White House is really up to requires looking at the formal proposals and policy statements coming out of the administration.
And when it comes to understanding the totality of the president’s foreign relations policy, the newly released National Security Strategy is a good place to start.
Yes, it’s a different way of reading the tea leaves. While modern presidents have regularly churned out security strategies, analysts have grown accustomed to not taking them very seriously. That’s because most presidents have used them as aspirational manifestos or public relations ploys.
But Trump’s national security strategy is different. For starters, it is much longer and much meatier. It lays out — in as much detail as possible in an unclassified document — exactly how the administration plans to engage the world. It reveals Trump’s worldview and lets both our friends and competitors know exactly where they stand.
The president's critics — convinced that he has no worldview much less a grand strategy — dismissed the document out of hand. In doing so, they missed the boat.
Yes, for a world leader, Trump presents a tremendously unconventional public face. But behind that face is the mind of a serious and systematic man. He possesses a remarkable clarity of vision — one that enabled him to become a business success, a national celebrity and, ultimately, the president of the U.S.
Put another way, Trump likes to know where he is going. And his national security strategy tells us where he wants to go as a world leader.
That strategy, simply put, is to split the difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
While Bush’s aggressive foreign policies made as many problems as they solved, Obama’s timorous, lead-from-behind approach created a leadership void that anti-American regimes rushed to exploit, creating even bigger problems.
Trump looks to stand up for American interests, while not trying to reshape the world in America’s image.
Given the number of serious security challenges facing the U.S. — from North Korea’s Rocket Man to a restive Russia, from rising China to unsteady Iran — this strategy makes sense. But there’s a problem.
For it to work, the U.S. must demonstrate the willingness and the capability to protect America’s interests. In addition to diplomatic skill, this requires a significant military presence in all parts of the world where America is pressed. And, right now, we don’t have that much military.
Under four successive presidents, the U.S. under-invested in its armed forces. Even when spending bumped up under Bush, most of the increase went to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under Obama, it became abundantly clear that America had worn out its military. Yet, he cut the force more and cut defense spending, year after year, even more.
The Heritage Index of U.S. Military Strength objectively grades the level of American military power in each service according to its ability to perform the most critical missions.
Over the last half-decade, the index shows a steady decline in both military capacity and capability. Readiness is lower, equipment isn’t being modernized fast enough, and the military is simply too small to meet its global responsibilities.
Unless Trump can negotiate sustainable budgets that adequately fund the military and rebuild force over time, he won’t have the military he needs to support his strategy.
That’s certainly not the legacy the president envisions for himself. More importantly, failing to replace aging warships, planes and tanks would severely jeopardize both American prosperity and global peace.
A graduate of Georgetown University and West Point, James Jay Carafano is a leading expert on national security and foreign policy issues. Readers may write him at: The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002.
No: Americans should ask themselves why we need a military budget that dwarfs that of China and Russia
On Dec. 12, President Donald Trump signed a mammoth military spending bill. Titled the National Defense Authorization Act, it allocates nearly $700 billion. This is more than even Trump had requested, and more than the Pentagon says it needs.
The new allocation is for Federal Fiscal Year 2018, a twelve-month period we are already in, which ends Sept. 30. The $700 billion figure dwarfs President Barack Obama’s last request, which was for $590 billion.
The increase ignores spending caps Congress set for itself in 2011 — caps aimed at keeping the federal deficit under control.
The cap for Fiscal 2018 is $590 billion. If the caps are exceeded, across-the-board reductions in the military budget automatically kick in.
Congress has yet to correlate the new $700 billion figure with those caps. That still needs to be done to avoid the across-the-board reductions.
Members of Congress are being pushed by the military contractor lobby to these new heights of wasteful spending.
The National Defense Authorization Act includes new billions for helicopters, jet fighters, ships and personnel beyond what the Pentagon sought.
The Navy asked for eight new ships, but it is getting 13, whether it has any use for them or not.
That includes one extra “littoral combat ship,” which means a ship operating close to shore, one extra destroyer and one extra amphibious ship.
The act authorizes 24 Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, 10 more than requested, and 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 20 more than requested.
No one has explained that your local representative knows more about the Pentagon’s needs than the Pentagon itself.
Our military was supposed to be getting more high-tech, therefore needing fewer boots on the ground. But under the act, personnel size is going the other direction. The Army gets 7,500 more active-duty troops, and the Marine Corps 1,000 more. The Air Force is increasing by 4,100, and the Navy by 4,000.
The allocation in the act includes continued work on two more supercarriers like the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is just now coming on line. No one is sure if its revolutionary new system for launching jet fighters from its flight deck will work. What is sure is that each additional supercarrier will cost upward of $13 billion.
The act moves $5 billion from a budget category called “European Defense Initiative” to “base budget.” The reason for the shift, the Senate explained, is that deterring “Russian aggression in Europe” is more than a temporary need. The Senate seems to be institutionalizing a new Cold War.
Russia’s military spending is only about 10 percent of ours, at around $70 billion a year, and Russia plans to reduce that by 8 percent in 2018. Even China, which is the next biggest military spender after the United States, allocates only about $220 billion.
Why we need more fancy weaponry after declaring victory over ISIS in Syria and Iraq is not clear.
Our excess is apparent from comparing with other countries. We now spend more on military than is spent by the next highest 11 countries of the world. We account for nearly 40 percent of total world military expenditures.
Our assertive military posture has sparked concern among our closest allies. They fear new conflicts generated by a president who may not always consider the consequences of his actions.
Trump talked up infrastructure spending when he campaigned. But $700 billion for the military puts Congress in a box when it comes to allocations for dams, highways, bridges and water supply systems.
Military spending must be assessed against the total needs of our country. It should not be driven through the roof by lobbyists. We can’t keep spending money we do not have, especially without a rational assessment of what is truly needed.
John B. Quigley is distinguished professor of law at The Ohio State University. He has a law degree from Harvard and is the author of 11 books on various aspects of international law. Readers may write to him at Moritz College of Law, 55 West 12th St., Columbus, Ohio 43210.