The Magazine

A Path to Security

Apr 2, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 28 • By GARY SCHMITT and THOMAS DONNELLY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Rep. Paul Ryan calls his budget plan the “Path to Prosperity,” but it could be termed as well a “Path to Security.” In reclaiming more than $200 billion of the nearly $500 billion in military cuts made in last year’s Budget Control Act (BCA), the House Budget Committee chairman takes national security more seriously than does our commander in chief.

Troops

To be sure, these are only first steps toward undoing the damage of the Obama years. In 2009, President Obama’s first year in office—and while ramming an $800 billion “stimulus” bill through Congress—the White House directed $330 billion in defense cuts. The next year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates went looking for “efficiencies” to reinvest in priority programs; thank you, said the president, I’ll take another $100 billion from your budget. And under the 2011 BCA, Obama harvested $487 billion from the Pentagon, charging it with the full bill for cuts needed from all “security” accounts, as the law described them. So Barack Obama has racked up about $920 billion in defense cuts to date.

But the president wants more. Because the congressional “supercommittee” could not agree to the larger savings mandated in the budget control law, the president’s 2013 budget does nothing to keep the sequestration guillotine from coming down on October 1, chopping an automatic $55 billion per year out of defense budgets, allocated across each and every program. That would push the administration’s defense-cut total past $1.4 trillion. Though he commands troops involved in an ongoing war, Obama won’t lift a finger to avoid what his defense secretary has described as a catastrophe, unless taxes are raised. The net effect, as Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said, is that the United States will no longer be a global power.

Gen. Dempsey is being optimistic. Under the president’s new “guidance,” the U.S. military will only be prepared to fight a single major campaign of 21 days while conducting an ongoing irregular campaign limited to 50,000 troops; in other words, the bar has been lowered to Lake Wobegon levels. And if sequestration occurs, the U.S. military won’t even meet that test.

The chairman of the House Budget Committee cannot fulfill the responsibilities of the executive, of the commander in chief. Yet Ryan (along with House Armed Services Committee chairman “Buck” McKeon and Senators Kyl, McCain, Ayotte, Graham, and Rubio) is among a handful of major political figures in either party to take the crisis of declining American military power seriously—at least seriously enough to begin efforts to make up for the savage cuts of previous years.

Just as the Ryan path will take a long time to bring the federal budget into balance, it will take a long time to restore the military strength needed in a dangerous world. And, indeed, Ryan’s plan only reverses the mandated cuts for this coming year—leaving future Congresses to deal with the cuts required by the Budget Control Act in the years ahead.

But let’s be clear: Right now Ryan’s proposal is the only one pointed in the right direction. And it represents a dramatic change from just a year ago, when conservatives, especially those just elected to Congress, were bound and determined to address the problem of government spending by cutting anything and everything they could, regardless of whether the monies being spent were for core federal government responsibilities—such as national security—or not. But to their credit, Ryan and his colleagues, having seen what those cuts entail—a smaller and less capable Army, Navy, and Air Force and a global strategy that leaves our allies in doubt and our competitors emboldened—have taken the first step toward reversing course.

With control of the Senate in the hands of Harry Reid and company and the White House occupied by a president who cares more about funding solar energy and pet domestic projects, it may well be that Paul Ryan’s plan will have to wait until after November’s election to be enacted. In the meantime, it’s a sound alternative platform around which conservatives and the GOP can rally, one that will serve to remind voters that, when it comes to national security and America’s role in the world, they are the party to be trusted.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers