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Bush's War Budget

ADVANCE COPY from the February 4,2002 issue: Getting Bush the budget he needs.

4:30 PM, Jan 25, 2002 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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"I'M ONE of the hawks . . . when it comes to defense," says Senator Robert C. Byrd with a straight face. "But I'm becoming a little nervous as I hear that we're going to spend more and more and more on the military." That was Byrd's reaction to the gratifying news that President Bush has decided to seek a $38 billion increase in defense spending for Fiscal Year 2003, with another $10 billion as a "war reserve." Other Senate Democrats are apparently upset, too, and are expressing "heavy skepticism" about the "huge" defense increase. Whether they plan to mount an attack on Bush's proposal remains to be seen. Senate majority leader and presidential candidate Thomas Daschle last week offered this bit of plain speaking: "We recognize that we're in very difficult, national crisis circumstances, and we've got to understand the budgetary implications of that situation."

Maybe this will help, Senator. The "budgetary implications" of the present "situation" are as follows: We are currently engaged in a wide-ranging, open-ended war to defend Western civilization from terrorist groups and nations that want to destroy our people, our cities, and our way of life with weapons of mass destruction. In the coming months and years this war will require the U.S. armed forces to fight wars both big and small in a variety of different theaters--in East Asia and Central Asia, in the Persian Gulf, in the Horn of Africa, and who knows where else--and sometimes in more than one place simultaneously. Victory in the larger war will require not only that the United States rid other countries of dangerous terrorists and the governments that support them, but that we also take on the difficult task of providing long-term security afterward, to allow nation-building to proceed in those countries where terrorists once found haven.

All this will in turn require equipping our armed forces with far more of the precision-guided munitions, aerial drones, and other high-tech weaponry that have given the United States such a decisive, and life-saving, advantage in modern warfare--as well as the support and training that make the U.S. military the envy of the world. It will require increasing the number of men and women under arms. And it will require, even as we wage the present struggle, that we continue pursuing innovations in weaponry and the art of fighting modern war, so that we can be better prepared for the unknown dangers that lurk over the horizon. Meanwhile, the rest of America's international security obligations, in Europe and Asia and the Middle East, remain intact and important.

This all means spending more on the military. If that makes Democrats such as Sen. Byrd nervous, we would make another point about the "budgetary implications" of the current "situation": The shortfalls and inadequacies in the defense budget, all of which President Bush is now hurriedly trying to repair, are the direct consequence of eight years of appalling neglect of our military by the Clinton administration and by the Congress.

Maybe it's too much to expect that some leading Democrats will understand why the war on terrorism requires increases in the defense budget (prominent exceptions are Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Rep. Norman Dicks). But we are confident the American people do understand. And, thankfully, there is a president in the White House willing to lead the way.

President Bush's proposed defense increase may prove to be one of the most significant decisions of his presidency. The increase, in addition to being sorely needed by our busy but depleted armed forces, speaks volumes about the president's commitment to the war on terrorism. Obviously, Bush has rejected the advice of some political advisers that he turn his emphasis away from the war and back to domestic issues.

Obviously, too, the president and his foreign policy team recognize that there's no quick and easy exit from Afghanistan. This past week Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld indicated U.S. troops may remain there for some time, providing essential high-powered security as the difficult task of establishing and strengthening that nation's government and economy goes forward. This is a subtle shift from the get-in and then get-out approach that seemed to be prevailing before. It's a shift that Democrats should welcome, and be willing to pay for.

And then there's the matter of Iraq. There's reason to believe that President Bush's budget proposal is partly designed to pay for Phase 2 of the war. A little-discussed fact is that the Pentagon's stocks of precision-guided munitions, unmanned reconnaissance drones, communications gear, and other weapons and equipment essential to fighting an Afghan-style high-tech war have all been seriously depleted over the past four months. (Again, we can't help pointing out that these shortfalls are the product of years of inadequate funding.) The disturbing truth is that if the president decided to attack Iraq tomorrow, the U.S. military might not have all it needs to carry out the job in the most effective possible way. We're already having to replenish materiel. The new defense budget is aimed at making sure there are no such shortfalls in the future.

And here's a heads-up for Democrats and Republican budget hawks: Bush's latest proposed increase is just the beginning. There is no one-year "bump" that can repair the problems of a decade of underfunding the military. After September 11, no one can any longer doubt that dire threats exist in the world, or deny that a strong American military is the sine qua non for meeting and defeating those threats. What will be required, therefore, is a steady, sustained increase in defense spending, this year, next year, and the year after that.

Last July, Rumsfeld's deputy Paul Wolfowitz boldly warned Congress that it was "reckless to press our luck or gamble with our children's future" by spending so little on defense. He was right. And President Bush is right to propose a defense budget that, for the first time in a decade, sets us on a path to secure that future.

--Robert Kagan and William Kristol