Victor Davis Hanson: In Defense of Defense

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.]

Two bedrock beliefs of traditional conservatism are fiscal discipline and strong national defense. Likewise, two general rules of budgetary reform in times of economic crisis are, first, to scale back expenditures rather than raise taxes, and, second, to look at defense for some of the deepest cuts. Something therefore will have to give.

In the last two years the United States has piled up record $1.3 trillion annual budget deficits. That red ink has pushed the national debt close to $14 trillion, approaching 98 percent of the nation’s annual gross domestic product, a peacetime record. Worse still, there is no end in sight to this massive borrowing. Trillion-dollar budget deficits are scheduled at least through 2014 and will take our national debt beyond $18 trillion.

These staggering figures have caused near-panic throughout the world, as the Federal Reserve desperately prints $600 billion to monetize some of the huge debt, gold soars to over $1,400 an ounce, and Washington is chastised as profligate by everyone from Germany to China, which worries about the solvency of its massive surplus dollar accounts.

No wonder, then, that the quest for fiscal sanity became the signature of the Tea Party movement and fueled the general Republican political renaissance. But amid the talk of across-the-board budget freezes, radical entitlement reform, and elimination of entire programs, is it fair to spare defense from the anticipated 2011 slashing?..

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