Mazzuca: A matter of priorities when it comes to military spending
I don’t get carried away when politicians shade the truth because, after all, they are politicians; besides, sooner or later everything comes out in the wash. I didn’t get too upset when former President Obama told us we could keep our doctors, and I’m not going to get overly agitated about Trump saying the two-year budget deal was a “… another big victory for our great military,” which it was not.
In an April 2017 commentary titled “Trump’s Inheritance,” I chronicled numerous general officers decrying the sad state of our military after eight years of inadequate funding by the previous administration.
One quote from Major General Paul Vallely was particularly indicting, “He (Obama) is intentionally weakening and gutting our military… and reducing us as a superpower, and anyone in the ranks who disagrees or speaks out is being purged.” (Note, the Obama administration purged nearly 200 senior officers suspected of “disloyalty or disagreement” during its first five years.)
Meanwhile, President Trump realizes the United States is no longer powerful or wealthy enough underwrite the security of the West on its own. He also knows we can no longer assume sole enforcement of the rules and protocols of the global order, which is one of the reasons he lambasted NATO for not living up to its monetary commitments.
No one should question the president’s commitment to national security. And as noted in the Wall Street Journal, history will remember the Trump administration’s defense policy for helping to repair military readiness, but not for rebuilding and modernizing the military as President Reagan did.
So while his budget deal will help strengthen our armed forces it was not the “big win” the president would have us believe because it does not adequately fund the Department of Defense’s budget.
The National Defense Strategy directs the U.S. military to regain its edge against China and Russia, to deter Iran and North Korea and keep jihadist terrorists at bay. But as the WSJ opines, the budget deal falls short in carrying out that strategy with confidence.
The independent, bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission stated the requirements for force structure, readiness and modernization includes growing the Navy from its current 290 to 355 ships; the Air Force from 312 to 386 squadrons, and the army from a force of 478,000 to 540,000 while “aggressively modernizing its equipment after several high profile failures.”
Now the Pentagon will have to make a choice; increase the size of our armed forces or begin modernizing them quickly, because the president didn’t get enough money in the budget deal to do both.
Some will argue the president’s chief budget negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, should have held out for more military funding. But by compromising, a budget squabble in an election year was avoided; nonetheless, the president gets at least one Pinocchio for saying it was a “big win.”
So exactly how much would it cost to close the strategy-budget gap? Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs testified along with former Secretary of Defense Mattis, that “matching strategy to budget” would require an additional $40-$100 billion in real growth above the levels Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin agreed to in the budget deal.
Now I’m not going to accuse the president of putting lipstick on a pig, because while the military will receive less than what Generals Dunford and Mattis felt essential, the deal goes a long way towards restoring a military that was eviscerated during the Obama administration.
Interestingly, and somewhat ironically, while Dunford and Mattis stated we have a $40-$100 billion shortfall in necessary military funding; earlier this summer I detailed in a column how illegal immigration costs the American taxpayer a very similar amount, i.e., between $54 billion and $116 billion per year.
Which brings me full circle. Can anyone tell me what sense it makes for a nation already deeply in debt to borrow billions of dollars to support people living here illegally when the same amount of money could be used to rebuild and modernize a seriously depleted military?
Quote of the day: “What goes around, comes around” — an American idiom.
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.