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Should Conservatives Cut a $646-Billion Defense Budget?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In 1989, the year President Ronald Reagan left office and the Berlin Wall came down, total spending by the Department of Defense equaled $468.7 billion in constant 2005 dollars, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

In 2005, when President George W. Bush started his second term, and the U.S. was at war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, DOD spent $473.4 billion in constant 2005 dollars.

This year, under President Barack Obama, DOD will spend $582.5 billion in constant 2005 dollars.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, Obama is spending 23 percent more on defense than Bush did when the United States was fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 24 percent more than Reagan spent when he won the Cold War.

Does that make sense?

In the 1980s, Reagan pursued a strategy designed to bankrupt the Soviet Union, which could not hope to compete with a United States that moved forward aggressively in deploying medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe, building and deploying new state-of-the-art warships, researching and vowing to deploy strategic defenses against ballistic missiles, and arming and supporting anti-Soviet insurgents in Afghanistan without ever sending U.S. forces there to fight.

More than a decade has now passed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The United States has invaded and withdrawn from an Iraq that turned out not to have stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, and Obama -- imprudently -- has given our enemies in Afghanistan a two-year advance notice that the U.S. will be handing over control of what is already an 11-year-old war in that country to an untrustworthy indigenous military force.

In his Second Inaugural Address, President George W. Bush romantically -- and foolishly -- assigned Americans the "ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Seven years later, liberty has not broken out in the regions around Tora Bora, but a pro-American government in Egypt has been replaced by a regime dominated by the Muslim brotherhood.

So, why are we spending more in real money on defense today than we did when we faced down the Soviet Empire?

A Congressional Research Service analysis divides the Defense Department budget into two broad parts: the base budget and the amount spent on "overseas contingency operations" in Afghanistan and Iraq. The base budget primarily includes normal funding for military personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, research and development, military construction and housing for military families. The contingency budget for Afghanistan and Iraq includes the additional costs incurred fighting the wars in those countries.

In fiscal 2008, during Bush's last full year in office, the government spent a total of $663 billion in current dollars on the Department of Defense, according to CRS. That included $470 billion on DOD's base budget, $145 billion on the war in Iraq and $39 billion on the war in Afghanistan.

Since then, we have withdrawn from Iraq but escalated in Afghanistan.

In fiscal 2012, during Obama's presidency, the government is spending a total of $646 billion in current dollars on DOD. That includes $531 billion on the base budget -- or $52 billion more than Bush spent in 2008. It also includes $105 billion on the war in Afghanistan -- or $66 billion more than Bush spent on Afghanistan in 2008.

Obama is additionally spending $10 billion on residual operations in Iraq -- $135 billion less than Bush spent on Iraq in 2008.

When the United States does withdraw from Afghanistan, we will no longer need to spend more than $100 billion a year there fighting the war Obama escalated.

What should a government $16 trillion in debt do with that money?

A true conservative adheres to the U.S. Constitution according to its original meaning. No true conservative, therefore, can doubt what James Madison said in Federalist 45 that the powers of the federal government "are few and defined" and are "exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce."

While the federal government did not have the constitutional authority to create a Social Security program, a Medicare program, a Medicaid program, Obamacare or even a Department of Education that helps fund public schools in Chicago, it does have a definite duty to gather the means necessary to defend from foreign enemies the security, prosperity and liberty of the American people.

But that does not mean Americans should bow down to every ill-thought-out scheme hatched by the politicians we send to Washington, D.C. When it comes to national defense, such schemes not only waste money, they waste human lives.

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