Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sarah Palin & Defense Spending

There's a story up at the Washington Post by Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin called, "Palin makes exception for military spending." Rogin writes that Sarah Palin is trying to prevent the tea party movement from supporting deep cuts in defense spending.
Sarah Palin is waging a battle inside the "tea party" movement to exempt defense spending from the group's small-government, anti-deficit fervor. ... There's growing concern among Republicans ... that national security spending ... could fall victim to the tea party's anti-establishment, anti-spending agenda.
When I saw the title of the story, my first thought was, why shouldn't she make an exception for military spending? National defense is one of the primary, and arguably the preeminent, functions of the federal government. There's no reason to automatically lump defense spending in with other far less justifiable government expenditures. On the other hand, if your goal is to get the deficit under control, let alone begin to slash the federal debt, there's no way you can exempt the massive military expenditures from potential cuts.

Democrats such as Barney Frank are currently proposing defense cuts. The problem with such proposals, is that Democrats almost always want to cut defense only -- while blowing ever more money on less necessary government expenditures and raising taxes to spend even more. Defense cuts should be on the table, but only as part of across the board reductions in federal spending.

Sarah Palin represents the opposite extreme from the typical Democratic position of cut defense while taxing and spending. Hers appears to be a reflexive and simplistic defense of military spending, regardless of arguments in favor of certain cuts. For example, here's Palin.
"Secretary Gates recently spoke about the future of the U.S. Navy. He said we have to 'ask whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 [billion] to $6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines, and $11 billion carriers.' He went on to ask, 'Do we really need . . . more strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?' " Palin said. "Well, my answer is pretty simple: Yes, we can, and, yes, we do, because we must."
Her answer is simple alright, too simple to consider possible less expensive alternatives. There are naval blogs, such as New Wars, that regularly address such questions, so I'm not going to get into the technical details. But if Sarah Palin is going to address military issues in a substantive way, she needs to get away from knee-jerk defenses of defense systems simply because they are already in place. Big & expensive is not always the best way to go. If we can get more combat power and force projection from a collection of smaller, cheaper vessels than a single nuclear carrier, that type of option should be under consideration. And no vessel in the fleet should be exempt from cost/benefit analysis.

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