One of President Trump’s longest-standing political promises has been to rebuilding U.S. military strength. The White House boasts of “historic strides” in this effort, and Trump’s tweet celebrating the passage of this year’s defense appropriations bill boasted of “new planes, ships, missiles, rockets and equipment of every kind, and all made right here in the USA.”

Alas, the president’s claim is more hat than cattle. While the Pentagon’s annual “topline” has crept past the $700 billion mark, it remains the case that about 10% of that amount is in the “Overseas Contingency Operations” account that mostly goes to pay for the continued costs of military deployments in the Middle East and elsewhere. This is not merely a haphazard approach to managing the budget that forestalls longer-term planning, it reflects the fact that the hoped for “Trump Buildup” is, as the saying goes, fake news.

Indeed, the truer measures of national purpose — calculating defense spending as a slice of gross domestic product or of federal spending — reveal that national security continues to diminish as an American priority. Under Trump, the Pentagon budget has dipped to its pre-9/11 low of less than 3% of GDP and 15% of overall federal spending, dwarfed by mandatory and “entitlement” spending (about 62% of federal outlays and 13% of GDP). Servicing the national debt, the most “mandatory” spending of all, accounts for an additional 7% of government expenditures.

Thus the armed services, as they prepare for their upcoming budget requests, are weighing substantial program cuts. Consider the Navy, which Trump promised to expand to 355 warships — it’s now about 300, depending on what the definition of “ship” is — by the end of the decade. Recently, the respected trade publication Defense News reported that the sea service is likely to ax five of 12 planned purchases of its current line of destroyers over the next five years, as well as delaying starts on attack submarine and frigate builds while decommissioning four of its 22 aging Ticonderoga-class cruisers and canceling life-extension refits for others. According to Navy planners, the size of the fleet is likely to drop to 287 ships.

As has been the case since the end of the Cold War, these sorts of reductions are being framed as investments in new technologies and a preference for quality over quantity. And, considering the constantly stagnating pace of U.S. military modernization and the increase in adversary, particularly Chinese, military power, there is a logic in that argument.

Yet the one great — though still unlearned — lesson of the past generation has been the shortfall in capacity rather than capability. In the South China Sea, for example, the problem is not that Chinese ships and other weaponry is superior to that of the United States and its allies, it’s that they’re there and we’re not.

The shifting balance of global military power is, however, less a product of inadequate spending or lagging technological innovation as it is a failure of strategic imagination. American planning remains, as it was against the Soviet Union, driven by the assessment of threats rather than an appreciation of geopolitical interests; we know our adversaries but not ourselves. We have forgotten the fundamental insight of the Truman administration that “domination of the potential power of Eurasia” by a hostile power or coalition “would be strategically and politically unacceptable to the United States.” We can’t remember what our purpose is, what victory means.

Consequently we have been constantly content to redefine our military planning downward. Where we once strove to build to a global, “multiple-and-simultaneous” campaign standard — as early as 1940, Congress passed a “Two-Ocean Navy Act” — we now hope to field a one-war force. But this hope is no method for a global power, let alone a nation that not so long ago considered itself “history’s sole superpower.” The proper question to ask about defense spending is not, “How much is enough?” but rather, “What is sufficient to defend our global interests?”

Those interests have long been defined, both by the nature of international politics and the nature of our American experiment. As both an Atlantic- and Pacific-facing nation, we seek a favorable balance of power across Eurasia. As a trading people, we seek secure access to the commercial “commons” of the seas, skies, space and, nowadays, communications networks. As a free people, we seek to further the natural political rights of humanity — a “balance of power that favors freedom.”

This may — indeed, it will — cost us more than 3 cents of our national dollar. It is the principal purpose of our federal government, not a tertiary purpose. And our failure to pay the cost is, as the headlines daily remind us, a false economy.

Finally, the value of our security, measured in prosperity but most of all by liberty, is incalculable.

Giselle Donnelly is a resident fellow in defense and national security at the American Enterprise Institute. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

(19) comments

barrykissin

It is no wonder that this side of the debate is written by a representative of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which is basically a think tank financed by the Koch brothers, staffed by neo-conservatives, always on the side of more war, a major source of transparent propaganda in support of empire and the military-industrial complex, a malignant influence upon our universities and our pliant mainstream media.

gabrielshorn2013

The Koch Brothers (now brother) are Libertarians, who dont believe in getting entangled in foreign wars. Try again.

hayduke2

But they have financed the far right Republican agenda and their candidates so your statement isn’t exactly correct.

gabrielshorn2013

What agenda items are those hay?

hayduke2

Take a look at where their money is going - https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/recips.php?id=D000000186

DickD

If we leave it up to Trump, the U.S. will never have enough to suit him and his parades.

He almost got us into a shooting war with Iran last week. What will next week bring from the draft dodger.

MD1756

Draft dodging was a primary reason why I never voted for Bill Clinton. I don't think a president needs to have served in the military to make them a good candidate, but they certainly should not have illegally evaded the draft and then be in a position to send other people potentially to their death for a war they don't believe in. I evaded the draft in 1970 legally, but that was because I received a draft notice when I was nine years old.

hayduke2

How does bone spurs fit into your thinking

MD1756

Didn't vote for him nor did I vote for Hillary, but I did vote.

DickD

Gabe college deferments are one thing, but Trump went beyond that in getting false doctor statements.

gabrielshorn2013

Many of the rich got their doctors to write such statements. Others had connections that could pull a few strings. Trump was not unique in this situatio , Dick.

gabrielshorn2013

md1769, I'm not sure you could call college deferments draft dodging. He also had a high draft number. He did sign up for ROTC, but failed to enroll. He later regretted that, and tried to enroll later.

https://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/candidates/democrat/clinton/skeletons/draft.shtml

However, here is a list of others that had deferments. This was common among American elites and rich:

https://www.cheatsheet.com/money-career/its-not-just-donald-trump-these-famous-americans-also-received-draft-deferments.html/

MD1756

Dick, the following website gives a chronology of Clinton (and other's actions on behalf of Clinton) regarding his being rafted. Personally I believe he was a draft dodger in the legal sense not because of all of the influence he and his family pulled, but because he signed a commitment to join the ROTC program at Arkansas which got his draft status changed, then he never went, instead he went back to Oxford. That is where he illegally avoided the draft (again regardless of any other issues). He basically signed a contract and then did not comply with the terms of the contract. Obviously, enforcement of that was never pursued but those actions were enough for me to say he can be governor of any state he wanted, but not be the president of the U.S. where he would be commander-in-chief of the armed forces sending others potentially to their deaths when he illegally avoided serving even in the ROTC program.

MD1756

And I should add that I was not a fan of either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, I probably agreed with more of Bill Clinton's policies than I did with George W Bush's (or as I used to like to call him King George the W) policies.

MD1756

Exactly who is going to attack this country with their military in a conventional war? Ships do not win the hearts and souls of people in foreign nations. America would probably be more secure by investing dollars in improving the quality of life in poor countries rather than putting soldiers there and can probably be done at a fraction of the cost especially if we made those investments contingent on how well the foreign country does in reducing their need for future aide. The military should be about protecting American lives in America from foreign invasion. So for all of out outlays to the military each year, how many American lives in America are saved? As stated in the opinion, the military budget is over $700 billion. Now let's compare that to the U.S. EPA's budget which is just over $6 billion and much of that goes to the states or as grants to communities to help with wastewater or drinking water infrastructure needs. I suspect the tax payers would see a much greater return on their tax dollars if the EPA's (and states' budgets) was doubled while the military's budget was decreased by less than one percent.

DickD

Have you ever been in the military, MD? I have, most of the time is wasted. Anyone that thinks polishing brass or waxing floors helps is ignorant. Still, in the Marine Corp that is how we spent a lot of time. Now we did spend time shooting on the rifle range and after boot camp went to combat training and then advanced combat training, for those that were reservists. Reservists spend time learning to shoot, use of weapons, etc. Regular military spends a lot of wasted time and money. And that is not to say we didn't polish brass, boots, etc. We did, it was discipline training. What irritates me the most is a reservist does not qualify for much of the VA benefits. Yet, when we are full time for six months we are being trained along side regulars that qualify the first day, even though there is no difference in what we do.

MD1756

No, I have not been in the 20th or 21st century military. I considered joining the ROTC program at VA Tech but decided I didn't want to make a career out of killing people in wars that aren't really about defending this country (which is most of the military actions since WWII) Although if I joined the military I'd have liked to have been in an Armored Division. I did however, work at a company that manufactured propellants for the military (mostly army, some navy) for about four years prior to working for the EPA. I have spent time on shooting ranges and did do F&I reenacting for over 20 years (nothing like being in the real military though you do get used to being around firearms). We also used to live fire the 6#er at the fort as demonstrations for the public. That's probably where I got my tinnitus.

gabrielshorn2013

Agreed Dick, and reservists are just as likely to be wounded or killed in action when called up. Therefore, they should be eligible for the same benefits should that happen. Also agreed with the wasted time for enlisted lower level personnel. That is one of the costs of maintaining a standing army. The upside is that they are ready to go when called.

DickD

Yeah, I had no choice. If I had not enlisted, I would have been drafted. It wasn't all that bad.

Before that I went for Aviation Cadets in the Air Force. Took 3.5 days of written tests at Sampson Air Force Base. 150 in the room, taking the test. 15 of us passed. Then1.5 days of physicals. You needed 20/50 correctible to 20/20 in both eyes. I had 20/20 without correction in my right eye, 20/70 correctible to 20/20 in my left eye so they wouldn't take me.

At boot camp anyone with a IQ test over 120 was sent over for fighter pilot training. I went as instructed. Knowing that they wouldn't take me. Anyone wearing glasses was immediately sent back. I went back to the squad bay and the DI asked why I was back. I told him, smiling. He said you are not even upset

I wasn't. I wanted to put my time in and get out.

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