With one wary eye on the Tea Party movement and its potentially isolationist policies, representatives of GOP thinktanks sent a simple message today: don't cut Pentagon weapons systems in the belief that the American homeland can be protected without a military that can fight and project power around the globe.
"It is a false choice to believe that you can defend the homeland without projecting power," said Mackenzie Eaglen, defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation. She and two representatives from the conservative American Enterprise Institute pitched their argument that America should spend roughly 4 percent or more of Gross National Product on defense in order to be able to protect, defend and deter around the globe. During the Cold War, the U.S. spent, on average, roughly 7.5 percent of GDP annually on defense.
AEI's Tom Donnelley, a GOP stalwart, said Heritage and his organization came out with their defense budget arguments before the election after noting a large number of efforts by liberal Democrats to attract Tea Party activists. The Democrats were reacting to an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by noted conservative thinker Bill Kristol, Heritage’s Ed Feulner and AEI’s Arthur Brooks which argued against cuts to the defense budget.
Aside from the larger debate about whether the United States should remain a global projection power -- and not one focused on defending its borders -- there is the debate Democrat. Barney Frank and maverick libertarian Ron Paul have sparked about cutting the defense budget since that is, simply, where the money is. As Frank told the press yesterday in a conference call, we are in a "zero sum game," where the deficit must be trimmed and the money must come from somewhere.
The GOP counters that the defense budget is a core constitutional responsibility of the federal government, while entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security are not. And, as Eaglen put it today, "the real money is not in weapons systems. it's everywhere else [in the defense budget]." Defense Secretary Robert Gates and most of the senior Pentagon leadership have made it clear they worry more about the costs of ever-rising healthcare and personnel costs than they do those of weapons systems.
But the real debate about America's global future, and the military it needs to ensure that future, won't happen this election. It will burn bright during the next presidential election, Eaglen predicts. Meanwhile, Heritage is briefing some Tea Party candidates on defense issues and hopes to increase that outreach over the next few months.
AEI's Schmidt actually thanked Frank for helping to spark the debate, calling it "very useful."