The Magazine

‘Moral Health and Martial Vigour’

Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Thornberry called attention to the intersection of “military weakness” and “loss of credibility in the world,” and pointed out that “defense spending this year is 17 percent of the federal budget, the lowest since before World War II.” In a break with recent Republican orthodoxy, he called for replacing the defense budget caps in current law with “something more reasonable,” i.e., higher spending levels. And he explained that he is “not willing to accept that we must have a smaller military and a smaller role in the world. Most Republicans and many Democrats are not willing to throw up our hands in retreat and resign ourselves to a smaller military and a smaller role. Because we know that as the United States retreats, others will fill the void, and those others will not move the world toward greater freedom and prosperity.”

Thornberry closed by quoting Tony Blair and Ronald Reagan. Blair: “Don’t worry so much about being loved. Just be strong. .  .  . What the world needs now is for you to be strong.” Reagan: “We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does.”

It’s fair for doubters to note that one speech does not a trend make. But when one takes note of what Senator Ted Cruz has been saying on his trip to Israel and Ukraine, when one sees Republican Senators trying to prevent a bad deal with Iran, when one hears Republicans from Marco Rubio to Mike Pence to Eric Cantor stepping up to make serious statements on defense and foreign policy, one has cause to be heartened.

Reversing Obama’s years of weakness and retreat will be difficult. It will require political courage. It will require a willingness to take on both the alleged “war-weariness” of the public and the all-too-real disdain for American strength of many of our elites.

But the consequences of continued American weakness and retreat are awful to contemplate. For what we see around the world today is, as Winston Churchill said in October 1938, “only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”

It is the task of today’s Republican party to help bring about a recovery of America’s moral health and martial vigor. It’s no easy task. But no great task ever is.



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