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.