George Will, easily the best conservative writer out there, penned a great colum at the Washington Post explaining why Republicans need to whining about proposed reductions in defense spending and withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan:
The U.S. defense budget is about 43 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are U.S. allies. Are Republicans really going to warn voters that America will be imperiled if the defense budget is cut 8 percent from projections over the next decade? In 2017, defense spending would still be more than that of the next 10 countries combined.
Do Republicans think it is premature to withdraw as many as 7,000 troops from Europe two decades after the Soviet Union’s death? About 73,000 will remain, most of them in prosperous, pacific, largely unarmed and utterly unthreatened Germany. Why do so many remain?
Since 2001, the United States has waged war in three nations, and some Republicans appear ready to bring the total to five, adding Iran and Syria. (The Weekly Standard, of neoconservative bent, regrets that Obama “is reluctant to intervene to oust Iran’s closest ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”) GOP critics say that Obama’s proposed defense cuts will limit America’s ability to engage in troop-intensive nation-building. Most Americans probably say: Good.
Critics say that defense cuts will limit America’s ability to intervene abroad as it has recently done. Well. Even leaving aside Iraq and Afghanistan, do Americans want defense spending to enable a rump of NATO — principally, Britain and France — to indulge moral ambitions and imperial nostalgia in Libya, and perhaps elsewhere, using U.S. materiel and competence?
And let’s be honest, the defense spending cuts proposed are next to nothing, just under 2% over the next five years. I realize that many Republicans are clamoring for another war, whether it’s with Iran or Syria, but, as Will notes, Americans are war weary after a nearly a decade in Iraq and more than a decade in Afghanistan.
Sooner or later, Republicans are going to have to accept the fact that defense spending will have to be cut, even more than what is on the table. Cuts in non-defense discretionary spending are not nearly enough to deal with projected budget deficits while at the same time keeping taxes at current levels and maintain entitlements (assuming Congress can’t agree on reforms, which seems more unlikely by the day).
In order to hold the high-ground on spending while at the same time keeping taxes low and reducing the deficit, Republicans are going to have to accept real cuts to defense. It can be done, but not if they are going to keep playing politics.