Kyl for the defense

James Carafano Director, Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
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When it comes to defending defense, the “right” may be getting its mojo back.

Just a few months ago, pundits were predicting the tea party was more than willing to throw Pentagon funding overboard, along with the rest of the federal budget. Republican proposals looked as anemic as those of the president. Isolationism was all the rage.

My, how things have changed.

Conservative budget proposals in the House and the Senate now call for reinvesting in defense — keeping boots, buying more planes and ships, beefing up missile defense and our nuclear deterrent rather than gutting military capabilities in accordance with the Obama Doctrine.

No congressional leader helped turn the herd more than Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Even as he heads out the door after a 25-year run in Congress, Kyl is reminding conservatives what defense means to conservatives … and our nation.

Yesterday Kyl delivered the annual Jesse Helms Lecture at The Heritage Foundation. He offered three lessons to be kept in mind during all defense budget negotiations.

Lesson #1: Don’t accept imprudent defense cuts or tax hikes. Kyl warned conservatives against letting themselves get trapped into having to choose between slashing the military capabilities needed to defend us or raising taxes. One is bad for national security, the other a disaster for the economy. The problem with Mr. Obama’s plan to balance the budget by strangling defense, Kyl warned, is that “we don’t always have the luxury of deciding where and when we will have to confront evil in the world.” Instead, Kyl promoted an approach that would offset steep budget cuts to the armed forces — slated to take effect automatically — with reductions in other federal spending.

Lesson #2: You can’t run away from your enemies. Kyl acknowledged that Americans are tired of war, but he cautioned against premature withdrawal from theaters like Afghanistan lest we give America’s enemies an opportunity to get back in the game. “If our sovereignty is priceless,” Kyl argued, “shouldn’t we pay the price to preserve it?”

Lesson #3: Stop using false threats of compromising privacy to hamstring counterterrorism measures. There are bad people out there tying to kill us and our government needs to be serious about trying to stop them. Of course, this can be done without compromising our constitutional liberties. But some of the hysterical sky-is-falling harping that greets most every proposal — reasonable as well as extreme — just makes it hard to take commonsense steps to improve security.

Kyl also threw in a robust pitch for missile defense, saying it was time to forget about trying to reassure Moscow that our planned defenses aren’t focused on protecting us from Russian missiles. He pointed out that Washington never asked the Kremlin for assurances that its new generation of missiles and nuclear weapons weren’t a threat to the U.S. or China.

The U.S. should be unperturbed by Russian threats to bomb proposed missile defense installations, Kyl said. “If the Russians want another arms race, fine,” he declared, noting it “didn’t work out for them so well the first time.”

Kyl concluded with a rallying cry for a strong defense: “The world will be safer with another American century, and so will Americans.”

James Jay Carafano is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).