The challenge we face is brilliantly addressed by Mark Helprin of the Claremont Institute in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books. What he tells us is something we osmotically know simply by looking hard at the scene in the Middle East and staring down into the Axis of Evil pool, where the long shadow of China can, however faintly, be discerned.
What Mr. Helprin reminds us is that in fact we are at war against terrorism and that the appropriate mobilization to fight such a war is a whole dreamland away. Since launching the war in Iraq, we have conquered Baghdad and deposed Saddam. In the 18 months since the war began, we have every day faced what seems an infinite elongation of the task at hand. There are more terrorists today than there were a year ago. The mobilization of terrorist enclaves continues. The looming presence in the Middle East isn't the U.S. military; it is an Iran that seems to be engaged in a contest with North Korea as to which nation can more quickly attain nuclear weaponry.
Mr. Helprin begins with a postulate, which is that the United States has the resources to fight back. But to do this requires a huge investment in military and paramilitary enterprises. The good news is that we have the wherewithal; the discomfiting news, that sacrifices will be needed, and, above all, the will.
Helprin gives us an economic perspective. The United States produces about $11 trillion worth of goods and services annually. We allocate $400 billion to military spending. That amounts to 3.6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
By contrast, during the peacetime years between 1940 and 2000, we spent 5.7 percent of the GDP on defense. In the war years, we spent 13.3 percent on defense. By the last years of World War II, we were spending, on the military, as much as 38.5 percent of the GDP. To put the same level of effort into the war on terrorism that we put into World War II, we would need, for military spending, $4.2 trillion. That's 10 times the existing budget.