One of the memorable slogans from the Reagan administration was "peace through strength." Reagan believed a strong defense was a safeguard against enemy attacks and the best hope of victory should America go to war.
President Obama is taking the opposite approach. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently announced cuts in defense spending of $487 billion over the next 10 years. Supposedly, these cuts will reduce the federal deficit, but Congress always finds new ways to spend money, so I am not optimistic.
The cuts were announced before critical questions were asked: What is America's role in the world in the 21st century? Where does the military fit into that role? The administration thinks a sleeker, more mobile military -- like SEAL Team Six, which has had recent successes taking out Osama bin Laden and rescuing hostages from Somali pirates -- is the way to go, but even the highly-trained SEALs can't confront, say, a nuclear threat from Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or China's increasing military power. The administration says it will preserve its manpower and weapons systems in the Middle East and shift resources to Asia.
Ships and planes take time to build. If America is not building them to ward off present and future threats, someone else -- like the Chinese -- will. The world does not remain stagnant and threats are not always obvious.
Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, says he is "deeply concerned" by the announced defense reductions, including the elimination of "at least 12 new Navy ships over the next five years and retiring at least nine ships earlier than planned."
Akin also worries about what will happen to the estimated 100,000 soldiers and Marines who will become unemployed in a struggling economy.
According to the website U.S. Government Spending.com, defense spending fluctuated in the last century. It hit a peak of 42 percent of GDP during World War II, declining to 10 percent during the Cold War to about 5 percent today.
Reagan's defense buildup followed cuts during the Carter administration. Reagan increased defense spending from 5.6 percent of GDP in 1979 to 7 percent of GDP by 1986. President George W. Bush's administration increased defense spending from 3.6 percent of GDP near the end of the Clinton administration in 1999, to 6 percent in 2010, to confront Islamic extremism.
The Obama administration, usgovernmentspending.com adds, plans to drop defense spending to 4.6 percent of GDP by 2015.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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