Michael Swartz / Sep. 18, 2015

The Incredible Shrinking Military

Two Republicans made a strong case for rebuilding our Armed Forces.

It’s been the victim of both the leftists’ wish for a so-called “peace dividend” and the fiscal conservatives’ desire for addressing persistent deficit spending, but, at Wednesday night’s debate, two Republicans in particular made a strong case for rebuilding a military that’s in the throes of a nearly decade-long decline.

Noting “the most important obligation that the federal government has is to keep this nation safe,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio made it clear that our Armed Forces are overdue for investment. “We are eviscerating our military,” said Rubio. “We have a world that grows increasingly dangerous, and we are eviscerating our military spending and signing deals with Iran.”

His solution: “Rebuild our military so that we don’t deploy people over and over again without the necessary equipment to keep them safe, to send a signal to the world that we’re serious. If we’re going to lead the world, then we need to have the strongest military possible.”

Carly Fiorina lent more specifics in her call for the “strongest military on the face of the planet.” She rattled off her wish list: “[W]e need about 50 Army brigades, we need about 36 Marine battalions, we need somewhere between 300 and 350 naval ships, [and] we need to upgrade every leg of the nuclear triad.” She added that a bolstered Sixth Fleet, along with “rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland,” could do the talking to Vladimir Putin for her.

Naturally, there are doubting Thomases who think the idea of more naval ships is overblown. Yet the Navy’s fleet size is at its smallest in a century, and the concern is that lengthy deployments and an aging fleet risk our longtime dominance of the seas as China and Russia build up their forces.

There’s also the issue of trust, for which Rubio called out Barack Obama’s foreign policy strategies. “The United States military was not built to conduct pinprick attacks,” Rubio argued. “If the United States military is going to be engaged by a commander in chief, it should only be engaged in an endeavor to win. And we’re not going to authorize use of force if you’re not put in a position where they can win. And quite frankly, people don’t trust this president as commander in chief because of that.”

While peace through superior firepower is the objective, the military shouldn’t get a blank check. In the latest of an ongoing investigative series, Arizona Sen. John McCain made an example of the spendthrift Permanent Change of Station moving program, which pays for the relocation of military personnel and their families and costs taxpayers over $4 billion a year. Exact savings can’t be determined, writes McCain, because the Pentagon “can’t track basic cost data and reliably compare it across the services.”

McCain isn’t the only Republican speaking out about reforming military spending. Reworking the procurement system is one key for Gov. Bobby Jindal, who advocates spending at least 4% of GDP on defense. Fellow hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham has called Obama’s sequestration cuts “insane”. This is all a necessary part of the long-term debate.

As it stands, most Republicans favor rebuilding the military, but they may run into the same sort of ginned up sentiment that allowed Obama to cut and run from Iraq and Afghanistan while taking a victory lap for his “success.” (How’d that work out again?) Hillary is surely hoping the electorate doesn’t care what difference it makes.

One lesson we’ve learned in the last decade, however, is that there’s no such thing as a “peace dividend.” It was more of a short-term loan, and now creditors around the world are demanding our payment. We can spend it on deterrence or we can spend it in blood and sacrifice. It’s our choice in November 2016.

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