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Defense spending vs. entitlement spending

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By Maj. Gen. Jerry R. Curry, U.S. Army, Ret.

Clarity of purpose and definition of what is a winning outcome matters. Both Congressional Democrats and Republicans say they want to avoid, at all costs, the deep Department of Defense spending cuts currently scheduled to begin taking place next year. Both sides say they want to be bipartisan and to strike a fair and acceptable deal.

But wait, aren’t these the same two sides that a few weeks ago said they were working toward striking a deal concerning a government shutdown? Didn’t their efforts end in the Republicans getting nothing and the President and the Democrats getting everything they wanted? Why should the result be different this time?

Just as they did before, Republican leaders have sent word to the White House that they are open to bipartisan negotiations. Naturally the President and the Democrats are open to such negotiations too, so long as it results in the Republicans caving in and the Democrats getting everything they want. This is the customary Democrat definition of bipartisanship.

Next year defense spending is scheduled to be cut by about $20 billion, while entitlement spending is scheduled to remain close to where it is now. Both parties seem to have generally agreed that sufficient money can be made available for defense spending by reducing entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security along with reductions in military spending.

The sticking point is the amount of the reductions and whether taxes will be raised or the budget cut. But the pitting of entitlement spending against spending for military equipment, training and maintenance requirements is absurd.

War is not a zero sum proposition. Just because entitlement spending goes up, doesn’t mandate that defense spending go down. Conversely, just because Defense spending goes up, entitlement spending doesn’t have to go down. Increasing taxes is a separate matter.

Defense spending should not be determined by the size of entitlement spending or savings. Defense spending requirements should be determined by national defense needs. America shouldn’t increase or limit the number of soldiers, aircraft, aircraft carriers and submarines it deploys around the world based on non-military budgetary matters such as entitlement spending. We should deploy the nation’s armed forces for combat based on national defense requirements alone.

First we must determine the size of the military forces required to win, and then match that requirement. If we can’t match it, we shouldn’t be involved in the military action in the first place.

Our soldiers and Marines should never be sent off to war with the nation saying, “We know you need more arms and ammunition to protect yourselves and win and get the job done right, and we know that many of you will be killed because of dangerously reduced readiness levels and because we couldn’t afford to equip and support you properly. But that’s all we can manage to pay for.

“You have our best wishes, and we know that you will do the best you can with the equipment you have and will represent our country to the bet of your ability, considering your shortage of equipment and your reduced level of military preparedness and readiness.”

Our armed forces should never be sent into combat like that, without clarity of purpose and a definition of what is a winning and acceptable outcome and whether it can be achieved. They need to know down to the last soldier in the ranks, that their President and country, because of budget constraints, will not send them to risk their lives or die on some irrelevant foreign battlefield.

Jerry Curry is a retired Army Major General, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Carter administration; Acting Press Secretary to the Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration; and Administrator of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration in the Bush Sr. administration.

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