U.S. Virgin Islands -- We arrived at a tiny outpost on St. Thomas on Oct. 26. As we stepped ashore, the gentleman beside me said, "28 years ago at this very minute, I was lining up my 'thirsty' A-7 to land on the deck of the USS Independence (CV-62) not far from here. It was day two of Operation Urgent Fury. We were flying nonstop close air support missions for troops in contact on the island of Grenada."
The retired naval aviator went on to describe his admiration for the then commander in chief, who boldly ordered more than 5,000 American troops ashore to prevent the 800 medical students and staff members from being taken hostage by the Cuban-supported communists who had seized control on the island. He added: "It was a high-risk decision, the right thing to do and the 'beginning of the end' of the Soviet empire. President Reagan knew who our enemies were, knew what needed to be done -- and did it." My interlocutor then asked a question I could not answer: "Are there any Ronald Reagan Republicans running for president?"
"There do not seem to be," was all I could reply. Anyone paying attention can see that President Barack Obama is taking us down the path of massive defense cuts and unilateral disarmament. Unfortunately, none of the leading GOP candidates has addressed our national security risks or set forth a plan to defend us.
"Well, there's a lot more at stake in this election than just the economy," the former attack pilot said. As we shook hands and parted, he added: "If the Republicans don't realize we still have enemies in this world and fail to come up with a plan to defend us, we're finished. It won't matter what they do about 'Obamacare' and all these entitlements."
Unfortunately, the old Navy pilot is right. Republican candidates are busily defending competing tax and spending plans, alternative health care policies and strategies for Social Security. But other than Newt Gingrich, none has articulated a strategy for defending Americans and our way of life.
It ought to be apparent where the O-Team is taking us. As Jimmy Carter was more than 30 years ago, Obama and his allies in Congress are on course to unilaterally disarm. On Oct. 21, in the midst of euphoria over the demise of Moammar Gadhafi, Obama was lauded for announcing that the war in Mesopotamia was over and "the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year."
The decision to withdraw more than 40,000 U.S. military personnel from Iraq by Dec. 31 means massive quantities of valuable mission-essential gear -- armored vehicles, heavy generators, engineer equipment, trucks, aviation support materiel and even air defense and communications infrastructure -- must be left behind. According to officers on the ground, the Iraqis lack the logistics systems and training necessary to maintain most of the gear our troops will not bring home. In a matter of months, most of it will be inoperable -- or, as it's described by our military, "deadlined."
Former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter says, "The price tag for this hasty withdrawal and no residual 'base rights' goes well beyond the cost of abandoning this gear." Units returning to home bases in the U.S. will remain "combat-ineffective" for months or years to come because we are not buying replacement equipment necessary for the next fight.
Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who served as a deputy undersecretary of defense during the George W. Bush administration, warns that "the inevitable loss of unit readiness will provide a rationale for the White House and Congress to make even further cuts in U.S. Army and Marine ground combat and combat support units for years to come."
Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely notes: "We're making the same mistakes we made at the end of the Vietnam War. After a decade of fighting, cutting defense is popular, but it emboldens our enemies, and whether the politicians know it or not, we do have enemies."
These experts are spot on. The ayatollahs in Iran, intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, and radical Islamists, such as those grasping for power in Egypt and Libya, are the immediate beneficiaries of the "Obama Doctrine" and the O-Team's already-announced cuts in defense. In Asia, Japanese, South Korean, Australian and Taiwanese defense officials have told anyone who will listen that Beijing is building offensive capabilities to fill the vacuum created by "America's withdrawal from the Pacific."
Today's U.S. military is smaller than it was in 1938. We now have fewer combatant ships at sea and carrier battle groups able to project power than we had at the start of World War II. Jimmy Carter believed his cuts were a risk we could afford to take. Ronald Reagan disagreed, and he beat Carter by promising "peace through strength." In rebuilding our military, he created millions of new jobs, restored American credibility and brought down the "Evil Empire."
Will any of today's Republican presidential candidates follow the Reagan model and replace the current occupant of the Oval Office? We should hope so.