Republican Convention 2012

Defense Hawks vs. Budget Hawks at the RNC


One of the admirable things about the speech that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gave at the Republican convention last night was his insistence that, contrary to the standard GOP line, cuts in military spending must be part of the effort to address an "explosion of debt" that is "unconscionable and unsustainable":

Republicans and Democrats alike must slay their sacred cows. Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well-spent, and Democrats must admit that domestic welfare and entitlements must be reformed.

By contrast, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party's 2008 presidential nominee, gave a speech exemplifying mindless, money-is-no-object militarism, arguing that cutting the Pentagon's budget would be reckless because it would sacrifice America's ability to "shape world events" with guns and bombs:

Success at home also depends on our leadership in the world. It is our willingness to shape world events for the better that has kept us safe, increased our prosperity, preserved our liberty and transformed human history.

At our best, America has led….

We have led when necessary with the armed might of freedom's defenders, and always we have led from the front, never from behind.

This is what makes America an exceptional nation…. 

We are now being tested by an array of threats that are more complex, more numerous, and just as deeply and deadly as I can recall in my lifetime. We face a consequential choice, and make no mistake, it is a choice. We can choose to follow a declining path toward a future that is dimmer and more dangerous than our past. Or we can choose to reform our failing government, revitalize our ailing economy, and renew the foundations of our power and leadership in the world….

We can't afford another $500 billion in cuts in our defense budget on top of the nearly $500 billion in cuts that the president is already making.

[President Obama's] own secretary of defense has said that cutting our military by nearly $1 trillion would be devastating. And yet, the president is playing no leadership role in preventing this crippling blow to our military. 

The "cuts that the president is already making" let the Defense Department's budget, which has almost doubled in the last decade, continue to rise, albeit at a slower pace. "Another $500 billion in cuts" would bring the Pentagon's base budget all the way down to a level last seen in 2007, when the country was not exactly helpless against its adversaries. The fact that the defense secretary objects to cuts in his own budget (what bureaucrat doesn't?) hardly proves they would be "devastating" or "crippling," especially given the fact that the U.S. currently accounts for more than two-fifths of the world's military spending, about 10 times its share of the world's population.

Unfortunately, the GOP's current presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, is equally opposed to cuts in military spending, which, like most Republicans, he blithely equates with defense spending. McCain quoted Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, who recently remarked that "our fiscal policy and our foreign policy are on a collision course." Ryan meant that "if we fail to put our budget on a sustainable path, then we are choosing decline as a world power." But with so-called defense spending accounting for one-fifth of the federal budget, it is equally true that a sustainable fiscal policy cannot be reconciled with McCain's unbounded view of the American military's role in the world.