A Valentine’s Day Message: From Russia with Love
February 15, 2011, 6:00am

On this Valentine’s Day, leaks from “sources” provide some early insight into the details of the president’s budget submission, while the press also reports on the specifics of the announced $100 billion in budget changes being offered by House Republicans after the Tea Party rebellion.

And as we ponder these cuts in programs; for teachers in our classrooms, education for preschoolers, law enforcement in our communities, fuel assistance for the needy, and the other “gifts” in store for the American people, it strikes me there is a Valentine’s Day message this year of Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday we could receive from Russia with love.

President Reagan is often credited with the defining plan to end communist rule in the Soviet Union.

Ronald Hilton, a Stanford University professor, and founder of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) described the Reagan strategy. “A central instrument for putting pressure on the Soviet Union was Reagan’s massive defense build-up, which raised defense spending from $134 billion in 1980 to $253 billion in 1989. This raised American defense spending to 7 percent of GDP, dramatically increasing the federal deficit. Yet in its efforts to keep up with the American defense build-up, the Soviet Union was compelled in the first half of the 1980s to raise the share of its defense spending from 22 percent to 27 percent of GDP, while it froze the production of civilian goods at 1980 levels.”

Russia’s competition to succeed militarily at the expense of its domestic economy is cited as a key factor in its demise. In the end it was not a lack of military prowess, but rather economic weakness, that accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Now nearly 20 years later that lesson is seemingly ignored in our economic thinking represented in this year’s budget proposals.

We have chosen to increase America’s military budget, in inflation adjusted dollars, (excluding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) from $407 million 2001 to $553 in 2011; a 1 trillion dollar increase in spending over the decade.

With both President Obama and the House majority advocating Defense Department spending cuts of less than $75 billion over 5 years, one wonders what will be the long term danger for ignoring the necessary action to meet the challenge of Admiral Mullen, the Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff who said, “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.”

President Obama’s focus on the need for investment and competitiveness outlined in his State of the Union “Winning the Future” address cannot be significantly accomplished with either the current or his proposed level of defense spending.

Are we having our own “Russian moment”?

George Will reminded us in his column yesterday, “The United States spends almost as much on military capabilities as the rest of the world spends, and at least six times more than the second-biggest spending nation (China).”

And, ominously, in our country’s case, contrary to Russia’s, our banker is our country’s biggest competitor, China, now holding nearly 1 trillion dollars of Treasury securities and other government debt.

We should learn a lesson from the Japan-China conflict in September over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands, and China’s resulting economic retaliation of withholding the export of needed rare earth metals/minerals and threatening other economic actions for diplomatic aims; that you never want a banker who is an ideologue rather than a fiduciary.

Our budget for defense spending in 2000, the last time we balanced a budget, had a different proportional role. The defense to non-defense discretionary ratio was approximately 48% defense v. 52% non-defense discretionary spending, but over the last decade it has grown to a ratio of 54% defense v. 46% non-defense discretionary spending today.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force sometimes called the Frank-Paul Commission, consisting of policy and business leaders covering the whole political spectrum, recommended cuts in Defense spending of $960 billion from 2011-20.

Senator Tom Coburn, a responsible conservative, has called for a spending freeze until the Defense Department has auditable financial statements.

The Simpson-Bowles National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform proposed nearly $200 billion more in cuts in defense spending by 2015 than the President’s plan.

Providing for the defense of the nation has, and will always be, the responsibility of our national government, but that responsibility cannot exist in a vacuum or without constraints. Spending as much for defense as the rest of the world combined, even while winding down our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, I for one, do not believe is either appropriate, sustainable or the right strategy for America.

Military spending cannot be the new hidden version of stimulus, the core of our export strategy nor America’s economic engine for growth and competitiveness in the 21st century. More importantly, we need to reallocate the money spent on defense to meet human needs and restore fiscal balance in our own country.

As Kori Schake, Hoover Institute Fellow and advisor to McCain-Palin, said, “Conservatives need to hark back to our Eisenhower heritage and develop a defense leadership that understands that military power is fundamentally premised on the solvency of the American government and the vibrancy of the American economy.”

And as John Podesta and Michael Ettinger of the Center for American Progress reminded us, “An overall defense strategy that is fiscally unsustainable will fail every bit as much as a strategy that short changes the military.”

On this Valentine’s Day we should express our love for America by remembering that the best Valentine gift we can give each other is a country that is safe from threats from without and within. Let’s receive the Valentine’s Day message from Russia, with love, and act to ensure a nation where we have students with enough teachers, opportunities for children to learn from birth, health care for those who suffer, seniors with the ability to retire with dignity and security, jobs where hard work pays, and an America where the dreams of our children still come true.

That is my Valentine’s wish.

Happy Valentine’s Day! From America with love!

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