Max Boot: Overspending the Peace Dividend

Roundup: Historians' Take

Max Boot is a contributing editor to Opinion and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This essay is adapted from an article in the current issue of Commentary.

In unveiling a new strategic review Thursday, President Obama warned that "we can't afford to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past — after World War II, after Vietnam — when our military was left ill-prepared for the future."

"As commander in chief," he vowed, "I will not let that happen again. Not on my watch."

Actually, it is already happening again on his watch. Last summer, defense spending was slashed by $487 billion over 10 years. Then, right before Thanksgiving, a special committee of Congress failed to agree on $1.2 trillion in alternative cuts, which opened the way to another $500 billion or so in defense cuts. Hundreds of billions more in so-called emergency funding will be gone as we wind down operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all, the defense budget could shrink by 31% over the next decade, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. That compares with cuts of 53% after the Korean War, 26% after the Vietnam War and 34% after the Cold War.

Some might argue that there is nothing wrong or damaging in this; that we always downsize our military after the conclusion of hostilities. But is it so wise to repeat history? Leave aside the fact that we are not really at peace — troops are in combat every day in Afghanistan — and simply consider the consequences of past drawdowns....

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