As conservatives wrestle with the question of their movement’s commitment to national security, one young war veteran made the case for a strong national defense and Ronald Reagan’s entreaty that America pursue “peace through strength.” Speaking Thursday morning at CPAC, freshman congressman Tom Cotton of Arkansas tried directly to appeal to those conservatives wary and weary of American wars against radical Islamic terrorists.

“I know there is war weariness among the American people, just like there is war weariness among conservatives, and in this audience, no doubt,” said Cotton. “It’s no surprise, though, that the American people are war weary when their commander in chief is the weariest of them all.”

As a member of a panel entitled “Too Many American Wars? Should We Fight Anywhere and Can We Afford it?,” Cotton attempted to answer those three questions.

“Are we fighting too many wars? I would say, ‘no,’” he said. “We’re fighting one war, and it’s a war against radical Islam and jihad. It’s not a war against terror alone. Terror is a technique or a tactic, as the professor said. It’s a war against specific people, radical Islamic jihadists who are trying to use terror to defeat the United States.”

Cotton criticized President Obama’s approach to “ending” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Our president often says ten years of war are ending,” he said. “Wars are not movies. They do not end. They are won or they are lost. The quickest way to end a war is to lose it. And I don’t intend to let that happen to America on my watch as long as I’m in Washington, D.C.”

On the question of whether America should fight anywhere, Cotton answered in the affirmative, with the caveat that “we should not fight everywhere.” He cited the advances in modern technology and communications that indicate the fight against radical Islam need not always be waged through traditional deployment of troops.

Finally, in a moment when conservatives are focused on the national debt and budget deficits, Cotton argued that military spending is not just affordable but necessary.

“We can afford it, and yes, we must afford it. We certainly have a staggering national debt. Our military is not responsible for that,” Cotton said. Money, he said, is not the deficit that harms our defense efforts.

“We have the national wealth to do so,” Cotton continued. “We have the manpower to win the war. We have the material to win the war. The question is, do we have the most essential element to combat power? Do we have the will to win the war? Our enemies certainly have that will. They question now whether we do.”

Cotton concluded, “We as conservatives must have the will to win.”

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