War spending is not frivolous, but essential to a rich future

He witnessed his nation humiliated in war. He vowed it would never happen again.

Carl von Clausewitz served as the young aide-de-camp to Prince August Ferdinand of Prussia. At the battles of Jena-Auerstedt (1806), he stood by as Napoleon’s forces obliterated the once-proud legions of Fredrick the Great.

Branded by defeat, Clausewitz dedicated his career to reforming the Prussian army. He rose to the rank of major general and commanded the war academy. His greatest accomplishment was authoring “On War,” the most widely studied tome on military theory in the Western world.

One of Clausewitz’s most famous maxims was that war was “merely the continuation of politics by other means.” Scholars still debate what he meant by that. All we know for sure is what he did not mean, that leaders should play politics with their wars.

Washington, D.C., is a very un-Clausewitzian place. Politicians want to treat the war in Afghanistan as just another political debate.

That means throwing every argument imaginable in opposition to the war, no matter how nonsensical. The latest show of stupidity is that the United States needs to cut and run in the face of al-Qaida because America can’t afford to fight.

The defense budget is less than 4 percent of gross domestic product, only about half of what America spent on average during the Cold War. Today, Pentagon spending accounts for less than one-fifth of the federal budget

As for total government spending, national defense ranks a distant fourth, trailing financial support for the elderly (through Social Security and Medicare), education funding and means-tested welfare payments.

Within the past year, Congress has eagerly showered checks for hundreds of billions of dollars on dicey financial gambits like the Troubled Asset Relief Program or the demonstrably nonstimulating stimulus package.

At the same time, political leaders are pushing for new multitrillion-dollar health care and cap-and-trade programs.

Compared to those tabs, military spending (including the costs of all the battles in the global war on terrorism) looks pretty darn modest. The way we are going, the federal debt will be $4.8 trillion in just five years. By then, the interest payment on the debt alone will exceed the entire defense budget.

If opponents of winning in Afghanistan were really concerned about pulling our economy back from the abyss, they would address the fiscal irresponsibility in Washington that lets spending run wild and hamstrings Americans with more taxes.

The blunt truth is: The United States needs to win in Afghanistan. Defeating the Taliban and destroying al-Qaida is in our vital interests. It is the price of peace in South Asia. It is the only way to prevent another 9/11.

By dedicating the resources needed to win and by getting our fiscal house in order, we can keep our nation safe, free and prosperous. Any other talk is just politics.

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

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