In guns vs. butter, butter is winning the challenge

H. Rowan Gaither Jr. advised the great men of his era. He helped found RAND, the original U.S. think tank. He headed the Ford Foundation and served on numerous presidential committees. Ultimately, President Dwight Eisenhower would tab him to chair an independent assessment of America’s national security needs.

For once, Ike got more than he asked for.

The Gaither report argued for an astronomical increase in defense spending to fight the Cold War. As if to underscore its recommendations, the Soviets launched Sputnik just weeks before Gaither delivered his report to the Oval Office.

After watching the Soviets win the “space race,” many Americans believed Moscow’s military power might soon overtake that of the United States.

Gaither’s report galvanized calls for checkbook warfare.

But Ike balked. “You can’t win a war by bankrupting yourself,” he said. Eisenhower understood that the art of great power strategy required balancing economic vitality with sound security.

Today’s White House would have Americans believe they are upholding Ike’s legacy. They are not.

This administration presents cuts in missile defense as providing “cost-effective and proven missile defense,” rather than calling them what they are: cuts. When it pulls back on commitments in Afghanistan, White House officials say they’re simply ensuring that we are “pursuing the right strategy,” rather than admit that they’re setting the stage for a cut-and-run. When they cancel the purchase of F-22 fighter aircraft, they claim they’re “not buying outdated Cold War weapons.” In reality, they’re just not buying the planes we need.

White House plans for the Pentagon seem driven not by the desire to spend smartly, but by the imperative to just spend less on defense — even though they seem quite content to spend hundreds of billions of dollars we don’t have on all kinds of “stimulus” projects like accordion festivals in San Antonio. So much for priorities.

The justification offered for cutting corners on defense is that we face tough economic times. Tough choices have to be made. But the White House is making all the wrong tough calls.

Cutting defense won’t keep Washington, D.C., from bankrupting the nation. The savage truth is that defense spending is far — very far — down the list of government spending priorities.

When Ike was in the White House, military spending was 50 percent of the federal budget. (No wonder he was reluctant to spend more.) Today, defense spending is less than one-fifth of the federal budget, and it’s going down.

National defense now ranks fourth in overall government spending priorities, falling behind the combined cost of Social Security and Medicare, public education and means-tested welfare aid. A recent report by Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation shows how welfare spending has leapfrogged the Pentagon’s budget. In 10 years, he said, our state and federal governments will shell out $10.3 trillion on welfare programs (and that’s not counting the trillion-dollar-plus increase in federal health spending proposed in Congress).

Thirty-plus years into the war on poverty, some 40 million Americans are still mired in poverty. The Great Society model is obviously not getting the job done. The war on poverty has become a spending quagmire. Indeed, the White House calls for spending more on welfare in one year than President George W. Bush spent on the entire Iraq war.

The preamble of the Constitution stipulates that the federal government must provide for the common defense for a reason: It is job No. 1 for Washington, D.C.

Ike was right in asserting that sound fiscal policies are part of providing national security. But taking shortcuts on defense is not the answer. And pouring ever-increasing sums of money into ineffective public programs is not the greater good. Expanding domestic programs that consume the nation’s wealth at an unsustainable pace neither grows the economy nor keeps the homeland safe.

James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).

Op Edsop-edOpinion

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A health care worker receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Tuesday Dec. 15, 2020. (Courtesy SFgov)
SF to open three large sites for COVID-19 vaccinations

Breed: ‘We need more doses. We are asking for more doses’

Tongo Eisen-Martin, a Bernal Heights resident, named San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Tongo Eisen-Martin becomes San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate

Bernal Heights resident Tongo Eisen-Martin has become San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate.… Continue reading

Homeless people's tents can be seen on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/S.F. Examiner)
Statewide business tax could bring new funds to combat homelessness

San Francisco could get more than $100 million a year for housing, rental assistance, shelter beds

The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco (a mural by artist Jamie Treacy is pictued) has a lineup of free online programming including activities for youngsters scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18. (Courtesy Demetri Broxton/Museum of the African Diaspora)
Stanford, Museum of the African Diaspora host MLK Day activities

Online offerings include films, music, discussion

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presides the US House of Representatives vote on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol, January 13, 2021, in Washington, DC. - The Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives on January 13 opened debate on a historic second impeachment of President Donald Trump over his supporters' attack of the Capitol that left five dead. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
House votes 232-197 to impeach Trump a second time

Focus shifts to Senate, where McConnell has signaled he may not stand by president

Most Read