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Kristol and McCain Lead the Right’s Defense Budget Retreat

Posted on April 30 2010 12:15 pm
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Lady Liberty is weeping over America’s unilateral defense budget retreat.

I’m glad that the Weekly Standard has rediscovered the defense budget and is now urging conservatives to start paying greater heed to U.S. military requirements. I’ve been making a similar pitch for at least the past year, but with very little conservative support.

So when my friend David Forsmark gently chides me for “picking fights with the Right for no substantive reason,” perhaps now he’ll understand why: because in truth, conservatives still don’t get it. They still don’t get the defense budget and U.S. military requirements.

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt, for instance, have written an article that gets many things right tactically, but which fails strategically.

Kristol and Schmitt note that Obama’s “proposed budgets call for an ever-increasing piece of the federal pie to go to domestic programs and a decreasing amount to national defense.” And they rightly fault Republicans for “lump[ing] defense in with all the other federal programs [that need] to be cut…

Modernized, “state-of-the-art weapons and military platforms,” they explain, “are expensive, and so is the all-volunteer military that uses them with incredible capability.”

Moreover, they add, “in the 1990s, many Republicans were all too willing to let Democrats cut defense spending…”

Quite true, but guess what? The principal Republican who has been “all too willing to let the Democrats cut defense spending” is Sen. John McCain.

McCain, in fact, gave Obama tremendous political cover to enact some of the most significant and ill-advised weapon systems cuts in more than 30 years. Yet, Kristol and Schmitt refuse to take McCain to task. Nonetheless, they warn:

There may be an even more serious problem on the conservative side: the lack of a clear strategic vision.

Right again, but who’s to blame for this lack of strategic vision? Answer: Sen. McCain, who is simply not a serious student of defense and national security issues.

Unfortunately, the Weekly Standard contributes to the Right’s lack of strategic vision. Kristol and Schmitt lament that reserve forces “are far too ‘active’ in their rate of deployment.” In truth, only our ground forces, both active-duty and reserve, deploy too frequently. Yet, Kristol and Schmitt inaccurately suggest that a high operational tempo is a reserve-only problem which afflicts all of the military services. But the problem is not America’s reliance upon the reserves, who want to deploy and contribute. The problem is America’s lack of ground forces, both active duty and reserve.

Indeed, America needs to spend significantly more on our ground forces — both Army and Marine Corps, active-duty and reserve — because 21st Century conflicts are inherently land-based and ground intensive.

Yet, Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard, like most on the Right, seems not to realize this – or care. They’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp in which Air Force bombers, naval vessels and cruise missiles are more important than, or as important as, equipping our grunts on the ground.

Kristol, Schmitt, and McCain are wrong about the defense budget, and the sooner the Right realizes this, the better off it will be.

John R. Guardiano is an Arlington, Virginia-based writer and analyst. You can follow him on Twitter: @Guardian0

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