The annual Conservative Political Action Conference, held in mid-March, is four days of shrill, angry, conservative rants. Christopher Preble was this year’s exception.
On the day the president releases a budget that includes cuts to Social Security, which is not driving the deficit, Preble’s comments are a reminder of where the money is:
Americans want a strong military. The good news is they the finest military in the world, bar none. Sometimes spending too much money on a good thing can be a problem. And conservatives understand that. Leading opponents of spending cuts are also fans of big open-ended nation-building missions. Most Americans are determined to avoid these kinds of missions. As conservatives, we should be especially wary of these situations. We are incapable of feeding the hungry and housing the homeless in this country, we can’t possibly do that 8,000 miles away.
U.S. troops should not be the first responder for every 911 call that comes down. It’s most important that other nations take responsibility for their own defense. This is also a conservative value: self reliance and responsibility.
First some context.
Total military spending, real and inflation-adjusted, remains high by historic standards.
Indeed, from 2011 to 2012, total national-security spending increased by $11 billion. And even under sequestration — the scary sequester — average spending on the base Pentagon budget during the next decade will be $542 billion. That is more than we spent on average during the Cold War.
Spending is not the best measure of military effectiveness. Conservatives should know that. Some still do. “Spending is not caring” explained Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist in a recent interview with the American Conservative. “Spending is what politicians do instead of caring.”
It’s hardly surprising that leaders of defense contractors, the businesses who profit from taxpayer money, want more of it. I understand that. But it doesn’t explain to me why conservatives should be so eager to oblige them.
Conservatives believe the key to turning around the American economy is to free up money for the private sector. Cut taxes, trim the size of government.
So it simply doesn’t make sense that conservatives who wisely oppose most forms of federal spending favor the military kind.
Some conservatives counter that defense is a core function of government, and therefore should not be treated on equal footing with federal spending on education, agriculture, or Obamacare.
This is true. I concede that. The Constitution clearly stipulates a federal role for defense. But our founding document contains no mentions of common learning standards for grade schoolers, a guaranteed price for a bushel of wheat for farmers, agriculture subsidizes, or motorized wheelchairs for senior citizens.
But neither is there anything in the document that says that the United States is responsible for defending countries that can’t defend themselves.
Conservatives who rail against the culture of dependency in this country should appreciate that the United States has created an entire class of dependent countries around the world. And these governments, who should have been attending to their own defense, instead invest in their own welfare state.
The cost of defending (our own) country, the core U.S. national security, could be smaller and less expensive.
After Preble concluded his remarks last month, a member of Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe’s staff challenged his belief in “American Exceptionalism.”
Cato, as it turns out, is the only conservative organization supporting the Obama budget.
Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator.