Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Size of defense budget best measure of national security

What does Gary Hart stand for?
One thing we learned from George W. Bush was that when it comes to keeping America safe, a true leader goes with his gut.   On the other end of the spectrum, you have politicians like Gary Hart who are inclined to pose a lot of challenging questions before deciding whether to bomb another country.

But that's not the worst of Gary Hart's leadership defects.   James Fallows writes on his blog at the Atlantic: 
I am biased in favor of Gary Hart. I met him when researching my book National Defense back at the dawn of the Reagan Administration. At the time, as a first-term Senator in his early 40s, he was a genuine pioneer in pushing the concept of "defense reform" -- the then-radical idea that we should judge our military policies on grounds more complicated than "spend more" versus "spend less." Defense reform is a radical idea still, but that's another topic. 
What Hart -- and by the sounds of it Fallows too -- don't understand is that there is good reason for evaluating the efficacy of the defense policy of the United States on  the size of the defense budget.  Today it is widely understood that the more the US spends on defense, the more national security we have.  And that's a good thing.   The more money Americans spend on defense, the more conscious Americans can be made of the gravity of the threats this country faces.   Some defense spending, of course, goes toward publicizing threats; making the American people aware of the fact we live in a dangerous world.  A strong defense sector supports quality advertising and a news media well-attuned to highlighting national security risks.

Imagine living in a country where your only source of information was the equivalent of NPR, and you couldn't tune into Fox News or listen to Rush.  A place like that exists.  It's called Europe.  Relative to America, Europeans spend very little on defense.   As a result, the populations of European countries think they have less reason to be afraid. Indeed, Europeans are less fearful.  Europeans never feared Communist Russia in their bones, the way Americans did, right up until the end of the Cold War.   Europeans did not show sufficient fear of Saddam Hussein prior to the Second Iraq War.    Even today, except for a few of our allies in Holland and England, Europeans generally do not have sufficient fear of terrorism.  Also, Europeans seem indifferent to the outcome of the war in Afghanistan and oblivious to the threat now posed by Iran.

If Europeans spent more on defense, they would spend more time contemplating such threats.  The defense sector wants to advertise, it wants to spread public awareness of various dangers, but it needs to be properly funded.

Defense spending is the tried and proven measure of American security in our dangerous world.  Yet some people don't get it.

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Dr. Rebecca Wolf
Undersecretary for Community and New Media
United States Department of Fear