David Frum

03.02.13

I Repeat: Where are the Defense Hawks When They're Needed?

Steve Scalise, head of the Republican Study Committee, an influential House Republican group (ROD LAMKEY JR/AFP/Getty Images) ()

Where are the GOP's defense hawks when our national security needs them? From my National Post column:

Friday was the day that the famous Washington sequester went into effect, slicing 2% from a range of U.S. domestic and defence programs.

The sequester (or “sequestration” if you are a stickler for correct English usage, unlike most D.C. pols and pundits) will cut $42.7-billion from the U.S. defence budget in what remains of the 2013 fiscal year, with more cuts to follow in 2014. (All budget figures in U.S. dollars.)

How much money is $42.7-billion? Given that the total defence budget exceeds $683-billion, you might be tempted to shrug it off. But the cuts will bite harder than you might think.

Pre-sequester, the defence budget was already scheduled for half a trillion in budget cuts over the decade ahead. Among other real-world effects, the U.S. military expects to field 100,000 fewer soldiers, sailors, aircrew and Marines in 2017 than today.

Meanwhile, budget cuts or no budget cuts, the military budget is being hollowed out from within by rising military health costs. Over the past decade, the military’s health-care costs have tripled, surging from $19-billion in 2001 to $53-billion in 2011. Health costs are projected to rise to $63.9-billion by 2015. An additional 6% cut atop those previous problems begins to look like a serious challenge to readiness and effectiveness.

Yet this serious challenge is not being taken seriously by the very people you’d most expect to be concerned. According to a Gallup poll released last week, 80% of self-identified Republicans feel it is very important for the U.S. to have the world’s strongest military. Only 48% of self-identified Democrats think so, as opposed to 51% of Democrats who say military predominance is “not that important.”

In Washington, however, it is the Republicans who are behaving cavalierly about the defence budget.

Read the rest at the National Post.