National Defense: An Unaffordable Luxury

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

National Defense: An Unaffordable Luxury

Amid economic woes, America’s military cutbacks will have nasty consequences.

Amid economic turmoil, governments worldwide are talking about tightening the belt, eliminating waste, increasing efficiency.

In America, this talk isn’t generating a lot of action. The Obama administration is hardly earning a reputation for frugality. Between January 2009 and June 2010, the federal government amassed $2.1 trillion in new debt. During the current presidency, foreigners have come to hold an average of $56 billion more every single month.

The Census Bureau now tells us that last year, federal domestic spending swelled a record 16 percent, to $3.2 trillion. That’s what happens when you approve $787 billion in stimulus spending and $50 billion on a “second stimulus”; when you expand unemployment benefits to $86 billion and increase food stamps and other programs for needy families to $68 billion; and when, in order to “address budget shortfalls,” you launch a national health care venture.

Among all the department heads reporting to President Obama, so far there is one—that’s right, only one—doing his part to trim federal spending. That is Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

“We must be mindful of the difficult economic and fiscal situation facing our nation,” Secretary Gates explained last month. The Defense Department had already made plans to cut $100 billion over the next five years. It had dropped plans for a long-range bomber. It had cut the F-22 program. It had agreed to reduce its nuclear stockpiles by 30 percent and to halve the missiles, subs and bombers used to deliver them. In August, Gates announced further cutbacks: eliminating the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk (purging nearly 6,000 jobs); killing two Pentagon agencies; and thinning out the ranks of admirals and generals, among other things. The U.S. Second Fleet, which trains all strike groups before deployment, will likely be axed.

The U.S. has closed 411 bases in Iraq and brought over 80,000 troops home. Withdrawal from Afghanistan is supposed to begin in 10 months.

Under this administration, don’t expect cutbacks in public entitlement programs that increase people’s government dependency. Military spending, however, is another matter.

Last December, when President Obama ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, he emphasized the need for a limited operation. Why? Economic constraints. He rejected establishing a mission with “goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost.” Speaking of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president said, “[W]e can’t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars. … Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military.”

These are true statements. Of course, it is equally true that America can’t simply afford to ignore the price of federal welfare programs—yet somehow this president manages to do that without compunction.

Nevertheless, the fact is that America is broke, and this most certainly will affect its military capability and foreign policy in general. The trimming of defense spending thus far, though relatively minor (it has represented a slowing of the normal growth of the defense budget, not a shrinking of the budget), highlights an extraordinary break from the past.

America—and the world—is entering a new, untested era.

“For almost seven decades following the outbreak of World War ii, in deciding what policies to pursue beyond their own borders Americans almost never asked themselves the first question that every other country had to address: How much will this cost?” Michael Mandelbaum writes in his new book The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era. “The United States was the billionaire among the world’s countries and, unlike the others, operated free of the need to distinguish carefully between necessities and luxuries.” Whatever the U.S. needed, or believed its allies needed, it opened its wallet for.

“[T]he foreign policies that this freedom made possible did a great deal to shape the world of the 21st century,” Mandelbaum continues. “That era is now ending. In the future the United States will behave more like an ordinary country.”

Being a superpower is incredibly expensive. Just ask Britain. During its glory days of empire, it was ridiculously wealthy, the master of global trade. The picture dramatically changed with World Wars i and ii, which bled Britain of its finest men and the lion’s share of its treasure. These wars left Britain bankrupt, unable to sustain the operating costs of empire—particularly maintaining a military that could protect resource-supplying countries. The United States then took over as the world’s greatest power, and today Britain languishes in irrelevance.

Now, though, it’s America’s turn to find itself priced out of the superpower market. As the president said, our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. And the loss of that prosperity is hastening the loss of America’s power.

What America’s leadership does not recognize is the source of that prosperity—and the reason it is now evaporating. “Why?” asked Herbert W. Armstrong in his most popular book. “There is a reason! It is bound up with history and divine promises pertaining to Israel.”

But now, he continued, “the American nation is slated to go down even more suddenly [than Great Britain] to utter ignominy and loss of all national wealth, greatness and power!”

Just as Herbert Armstrong warned, America’s financial predominance is about to disappear—and with it, its military predominance. And because the nation does not see how it gained its global financial dominance to start with, it will be unable to turn it around.

As Mandelbaum argues in his book, this weakening is going to create massive problems worldwide. “[T]he scope of America’s international activities will contract in the years ahead because the American government will have far less money with which to conduct the nation’s foreign policy,” he wrote in the New Republic. “Because that foreign policy underwrites global stability and prosperity, the contraction of American power will adversely affect countries everywhere, even those that complain about the way the United States uses its power. The world will learn in the years ahead that one thing worse than an America that is too strong is an America that is too weak.”

To learn the little-known reason for America’s prior prosperity, read Mr. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. This book also thoroughly explains why that prosperity is fast disappearing. Abraham Lincoln put it succinctly in 1863 when he proclaimed “that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”