Just as England believed that postwar international institutions could keep the peace, so too America in the 1990s thought it could reap the “peace dividend” delivered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Defense spending in the decade between 1990 and 2000 remained virtually static, which taking inflation into account meant nearly a $100 billion reduction. For many, the justification of such reductions included the need to redirect revenues from defense to social welfare programs: as one Congressman put it in 1990, “Our Nation’s strength depends not only on a sturdy defense, but in meeting the needs of our people so that they can contribute to the growth of a healthy society and a robust economy.” Unfortunately, throughout this same decade a new aggressor was attacking our interests and security in the series of terrorist attacks that culminated on 9/11. That devastating attack laid bare the folly of thinking that we could minimize the jihadist threat on the cheap with police work and cruise missiles, in a region of the world vital to our security and economy.
And so we come to the present, when the same mistakes are being made. Ten years after 9/11, the jihadist threat is still potent: Al Qaeda has not been neutralized, the outcome of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is still in doubt, Iran continues to nurture terrorism and pursue nuclear weapons, and revolutions are roiling most of the Middle East, their outcomes uncertain. And let’s not forget China and its drive to increase its military power and dominate the Far East. Moreover, the collapse of the Soviet Union did not end, but rather increased our global responsibilities, another factor ignored by Athens and England in their neglect of military spending. Athens’ security and trade depended on controlling the seas, particularly the eastern Aegean and the sea-route for the grain it had to import from the Black Sea region. England had a global empire to protect, as well as patrolling the sea-routes upon which the globalized economy depended. And America has inherited England’s role as the global “sheriff” needed to keep order and ensure the free movement of trade, especially the transit of oil, most of which originates in a region disordered by Islamic jihadist aggression.
Yet facing a debt crisis brought on not by excessive defense spending, but by run-away entitlement costs, Obama and the Democrats would rather weaken our security than alienate their political clients by reforming Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, even though those programs, along with Obamacare, if unreformed will devour all tax revenues by 2049. Indeed, according to The Heritage Foundation, completely eliminating defense spending would not prevent those entitlements from bankrupting the country. Meanwhile, Democrats are keeping the $1 trillion (and counting) Obamacare entitlement off the budget-cutting table, and the President continues to demand “investments we need to win the future”––Democratese for federal pork like “green jobs” subsidies––even as the defense budget is reduced not because of strategic assessments of threats to our interests and security, but because of the need to “spread the wealth around” and achieve “social justice” through income redistribution via entitlements.
As history shows, cutting back on defense spending to fund expanding domestic social welfare programs is a luxury a global power can’t afford. In the next few years we’ll see if American democracy can avoid going down the same dangerous road previous democracies have trod.
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