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“God Help This Country…”: Defense Strategy & Romney’s Military Spending Plan

October 9, 2012

Mitt Romney won’t release most of his tax returns. Nor will he give voters specifics on how he plans to make his tax cutting plan “revenue neutral.” But when it comes to national defense he has offered voters astonishing specificity. In a policy memo released by the Romney campaign on July 24, the former Massachusetts Governor committed himself—during his first 100 days in office—to “Reverse Obama-era defense spending cuts with the goal of setting a core defense spending floor of 4% of GDP…[and]  put our Navy on the path to increase its shipbuilding rate from nine per year to approximately fifteen per year…[and] maintain a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers.”   Romney spoke on the subject again on Monday at the Virginia Military Institute.

Where is Dwight Eisenhower when we need him?

Many years ago, President Eisenhower’s national security aide, General Andrew Goodpaster, told me that he was standing in the oval office one day when Ike was reviewing the Defense Department’s proposed budget. With red pen in hand the president went through it line by line, crossing out items he deemed unnecessary. Looking up, he paused and said to Goodpaster:

“God help this country when we have a man sitting at this desk who doesn’t know as much about the military as I do.”

Conscious that the service chiefs had larded their budgets, Ike could confidently zero out programs that were ancillary to or inconsistent with the administration’s national security policy. Sure, Eisenhower’s high-level military experience helped. He had the confidence to ask the tough questions and arrive at a clear-eyed evaluation of the responses. But just as important, his administration had conducted a thorough national security review. Known as the “Solarium” process, the president pitted three teams of the country’s leading experts and challenged them to argue, in his presence, different policy approaches to meeting the threat imposed by the Soviet Union and their burgeoning nuclear arsenal.

What makes Romney’s proposal of a defense spending floor of 4% GDP so odd is that this commitment is untethered to any strategic review, nor does it appear to factor in improvements brought about by organizational efficiencies and technological advancements that can open the way for cost reductions. As The New York Times points out, this unexpected windfall would add $2.3 trillion over 10 years to our already inflated 2013 expenditures, which are projected at $525 billion, approximately a 34% increase from 2001 (not including war-related spending). 

Last month, the National Defense University renamed its Industrial College of the Armed Forces. It is now officially The Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy. In addition to unveiling the school seal, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey spoke and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter later gave the keynote address at the event’s seminar. His speech was followed by a panel discussion of generals and other government officials. The message was clear: The United States military expects budget cutbacks and they are adapting to the new fiscal realities. While the times are challenging, they asserted, the military is learning how to live within its means. Several generals evoked the old adage: “We’ve run out of money. So now it’s time to start thinking.” In front of a mostly internal audience, the panelists outlined the impressive steps they are taking to make our nation’s military more effective, efficient, and better organized to defend our country.

All Americans are committed to making sure our warfighters have what they need to do their jobs. And no one would ever stint on the costs associated with making our country genuinely safer. But given the size of the defense budget – about half of all federal discretionary spending – it is inevitable that significant cost savings can be identified. It would be a terrible shame if Romney’s determination to raise defense spending were to wipe out all the gains that have accrued from looking at security and its programs in a new way.

If the GOP ticket feels the need to justify this massive plus up, on Monday the presidential candidate made his case. He told the VMI cadets that the number of ships currently in the U.S. Navy is fewer than at any time since President Woodrow Wilson’s administration in 1916.

As The Washington Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler scoffed: “In his counting of ships, Romney equates gunboats with aircraft carriers and torpedo boats with nuclear-powered submarines. For such an important speech, one would think the candidate would resolve to use the most relevant facts possible.”

One would indeed.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Milton Rhodes permalink
    October 9, 2012 5:12 pm

    I’m not a Republican but I sincerely believe your grandfather was a good president. I wish there were more politicians around today of his caliber and character. I would be happy to see a Republican in the White House if he was of the same stature and decency as Ike.

  2. October 9, 2012 5:17 pm

    Well put, I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Charles Clarkson permalink
    October 9, 2012 5:29 pm

    It’s great!

  4. Laura Nass Rosen permalink
    October 9, 2012 6:14 pm

    Bravo!

  5. Robert Hanfling permalink
    October 9, 2012 8:24 pm

    GREAT message, which I have forwarded to a number of people. WOW!!!

  6. Tony DuPuis permalink
    October 9, 2012 11:54 pm

    TRUTH, TRUTH, TRUTH…..
    Plain and Simple……………….
    TRUTH !!!!!
    Thanks Susan !
    P.S.
    TRUTH !!!!

  7. Jeffrey Frank permalink
    October 10, 2012 9:15 am

    Your recent postings have been just terrific.

  8. Milos Puaca permalink
    October 10, 2012 11:10 am

    Susan, Thank you!

    Your comments were considered and expressed very thoughtfully and sincerely.

    President Eisenhower lived and managed the escalation AND de-escalation of the military capacity of the United States. Subsequent administrations found battlegrounds and funds to lose some of the truth and youth of America.

    Reactionary politicians eliminated the draft in the name of “justice” when they should have eliminated the trigger finger of some in the military-industrial complex. All should serve their country. The draft was not the problem. The way America creates the need for weapons and war is the problem.

    As a veteran, I am concerned with people who increase the volume of war drums and declare enemies when they went to France during the Vietnam War and did not serve themselves. Those who declare Russia as our number 1 enemy do not know foreign OR military affairs.

    We do not need cowards or self-made heroes in the White House. America needs the truth, the leaders, and the efforts of most American citizens – the real ones not the corporate ones.

  9. October 10, 2012 2:19 pm

    Susan: You nailed it.

  10. Theresa Hitchens permalink
    October 10, 2012 4:13 pm

    Susan, really great piece. Hope our paths cross again soon.

  11. David Speedie permalink
    October 10, 2012 4:31 pm

    Susan
    As always, nicely written and logically argued. I sent a letter to the FT today which will probably not see light of day, but which compares Romney’s fudging of inconvenient truth figures to the observation by the 19th.-century Scots poet Andrew Lang: “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts–for support rather than illumination”.

  12. Peter permalink
    October 11, 2012 8:09 am

    The devil is always in the details…..oh those nagging details! Thanks again Susan for the “real” information.

  13. Chaco permalink
    October 12, 2012 10:05 am

    Bravo, Milos! from a proud former Marine.

  14. Chaco permalink
    October 12, 2012 10:09 am

    I wish your Grandfather was still around, Susan. Maybe he could kick some sense into the GOP leadership.

  15. Milos Puaca permalink
    October 12, 2012 4:51 pm

    Thank you very much, Chaco.

    Milos

  16. Tom Marcoux permalink
    October 15, 2012 11:34 am

    Hi,

    You know, President Eisenhower’s wisdom is still around. Susan exudes it.

    The experience with Our President is one we can pay forward. He wins equal pay, he wins VA care, he wins education for no students can go bankrupt from loans, he wins war, he wins tax fairness for 97% of small business people, he wins job recovery, he wins financial market stability, he wins health care for coverage: for choice, for cost, and for sustainability, he wins retirement security, he wins when he has nothing to gain, he wins for us.

    Republican and Democrat statespeople alike get it (e.g., Senators Baker and Kassebaum, Washington Post op-ed, Summer 2011). Our current President ran on a budget-wisdom platform, encountered disaster (pick a big WWII battle?) and won significant ground against abusers and obstructionists. The Simpson-Bowles budget commission of statespeople got it.

    Recovery, with our President’s victories pushing us, is like a dream come true delivering us from a maginot line of financial and legislative intermediaries who try to waste us. This non-farm payroll recovery is faster 39 months after the recession ended than the GOP could muster after a mild 8-month 2001 dip; much better than the challenger could ever hope to deliver with his top-up policy proclivities.

    And now, we just need to get past this one (detail)-less candidate to realize a dream. I think we can do it with wisdom to spare.

  17. Rick Jones permalink
    October 17, 2012 9:42 pm

    Kudos Susan!! As always, another always inciteful “Grand Slam” post. If Willard “Twitt”
    Romney as he claims/thinks that w/drawal from Iraq is a strategic “tragedy”, & in doing so bringing our beloved sons & daughters home to safety & family is foolhardy& dangerous, then,would he PLEASE allow his 5 handsome sons to wear the uniform(s) of the American Military experience (NOT just blue blazers & khaki pants uniform of “prep-school” priviledge), & just hopefully they could be THE LAST 5 SOLDIERS to leave the Iraq “Green Zone”!!!!

  18. Christopher Catherwood permalink
    October 18, 2012 6:43 pm

    Thanks Susan – this was great. And indeed what has happened to the Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower? I think that tragically it has long since departed – and not just the USA but also the world needs it back again…

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