The future of the Republican approach to foreign policy and national security was on full display during the first presidential debates. The candidates made pledges to take on the Islamic State and to rip up the Iran nuclear deal, but unfortunately, they failed to offer a grand vision or strategy on how to deal with the security challenges of today and the years to come. They also failed to address Pentagon spending and how to reform the Pentagon to be more equipped fiscally and physically to fight the next war.
Instead, many simply reiterated false narratives and stale talking points to justify throwing more money at the military.
Ben Carson, for example, lamented that we have a “weakened” military.
Carson noted that, “Our Navy is at its smallest size since 1917; our Air Force, since 1940.” That may be the case but the comparison has no relevance. One carrier strike group today would easily wipe out the entirety of the U.S. Navy of 1917. And it’s clear that our Air Force of 1940, without the jet engine and other significant technological advances, is no match for today’s.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee joined in. “We’ve reduced the military by 25 percent under President Obama,” he said. “The disaster is that we’ve forgotten why we have a military.”
It’s unclear what Gov. Huckabee is comparing but as noted above, technology advances result in a leaner, meaner military. Moreover, military spending has actually gone up on average under the current administration as compared to the previous one and Obama and the Congress are proposing to blow through the caps on defense spending in this year’s budget.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie agreed with Carson, saying he wants to increase troop levels, and the number of navy ships and aircraft, without saying why this is necessary or how he would pay for those increases.
Before taxpayers are asked to throw more money at the Pentagon, it is important to first figure out how the Pentagon currently spends its money.
While an audit is hopefully forthcoming, we already know there’s rampant waste, fraud and abuse at the Department of Defense (DOD). And, even though Congress claimed to have outlawed earmarks, they still pop up in the DOD appropriations bill. For example, in fiscal year 2015 there were 293 earmarks worth more than $13 billion stuffed into the Pentagon spending bill.
The poster child for throwing money at a project is the F-35, which, in addition to being plagued by mechanical problems and billions in cost overruns, apparently can’t even beat the aging F-16 in a dogfight. And the Littoral Combat Ship has equally failed to live up to expectations at double the proposed cost.
There is one GOP presidential candidate who understands this. Given the temperament of his colleagues onstage last week, it appeared that Ohio Governor John Kasich downplayed his commitment to ridding the Pentagon of waste. “I was a military reformer,” was all he was able to muster about his credentials.
But in other venues, Kasich talks the talk. “You have to figure out a way to keep the pork-barrel politics out of the defense budget,” he said in South Carolina in February. He’s walked the walk too. As a member of Congress, he teamed up with Democrats to lead efforts to kill production of B-2 bombers because of cost and lack of necessity.
But Kasich didn’t offer too much on strategy in last week’s debate either.
The first order of business for all presidential candidates is to acknowledge wasteful and unnecessary spending at DOD. Without any awareness of the problem, there is little hope for reform.
Instead of reform, the Republican presidential candidates will probably talk about how we need to spend more on our military. And when they do, citizens need to ask them exactly how and why we should do that. If their overall strategy is supporting a larger military, candidates still need to answer the question of how it will be paid for with a country that is $18 trillion in debt.
David Williams is the President of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance