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Public Statements

Real Clear World - Obama's National Security Deficit

Op-Ed

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By Rick Santorum

On Aug. 27, 2010, President Obama's then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said our national debt is "[t]he most significant threat to our national security." He then went on to point out that the interest on that debt in 2012 will approach the equivalent of the entire defense budget for a year. Apparently, as his new National Defense Strategy suggests, the president put those two ideas together and concluded that cutting the defense budget is the best way to eliminate the debt threat.

Moreover, President Obama's philosophy of leading from behind ignores the primary constitutional responsibility of the federal government - our national defense. In 1958, national defense spending was nearly 60 percent of the total federal budget. Today, it is just under 20 percent. The president is trying to convince you that military spending is the problem with our deficit, but clearly it is not.

In contrast, I have committed to cut $5 trillion over five years in the areas that are the real problems for our national debt: non-defense related federal spending, including the much needed reform of entitlements like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

What the president is proposing would amount to defense cuts totaling $1 trillion over the next decade, including the "automatic" cuts that he already successfully pushed through Congress. But many, including Senator John McCain, have pointed out that these cuts will leave us with the smallest military force since 1940 (when we were unprepared for World War II), the smallest navy since 1915 (when we were unprepared for World War I), and the smallest Air Force since it became a separate military branch in 1947.

What President Obama fails to understand is that his defense policy essentially takes one deficit and adds another, only exacerbating the problem. It's like the fisherman whose boat springs a leak while out on the water who drills a hole in the hull to let the water drain out.

The fact is a depleted military force invites additional threats to our national security on top of those already out there. Sadly, this president refuses to even take seriously the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs; China's acquisition of a blue water navy, bullying of its neighbors in an effort to control energy resources in the South China Sea and cutting one-sided deals in Africa to control rare earth minerals; and instability and the growing influence of Radical Islam in the Middle East and around the world, just to name a few.

President Ronald Reagan understood that the best way of maintaining our security was his concept of "peace through strength." For example, Reagan had the foresight to see the need for a comprehensive missile defense system, a steadfast belief in the ingenuity of a free people to develop the capability to deploy such a system and the moral fortitude to decry the policy of mutually assured destruction. He argued that our freedoms were safer when our military might was dominant and we were not in a perpetual stand-off with our enemies.

Reagan's confidence in America's unique capabilities and his realistic vision of her role in the world were at the core of his belief in American exceptionalism and our unique contributions to the world. This is a belief that is evidently missing in the current administration's thinking, as demonstrated by their willingness to lead from behind, if at all. The United States was the primary impetus for the international system of relations between states that developed after World War II. We became the primary guarantor of that system not to be altruistic, but to protect our freedom, values and interests. We also did so to limit the shed blood or our sons and now daughters on the battlefields of freedom.

The idea of America retreating from the world as a way to save money has been tried before and, ultimately, ended up costing us more. The argument that the best way to strengthen our nation is to ignore the threats it faces has also been tried before and failed.Most recently, the brave passengers and crew on United Airlines Flight 93 ended up being the tip of the spear in the battle for freedom on one blue sky filled day back in 2001, with many other Americans lost as well. The reality is that vacuums are always filled, and only question is with what.

Without U.S. leadership the Soviet Union may still exist and Israel may stand entirely alone. Without the leadership and commitment to freedom of the United States, countries around the globe will be left to fend for themselves. In such an environment, concepts such as the rule of law and respect for human rights including freedom of conscience and the equality of women will also take a back seat to expediency and self-interest or the perversions of radical Islam.

In China, the world's second largest economy, human rights advocates are routinely imprisoned for speaking out for religious freedom or freedom of speech - as are their attorneys. The Chinese one-child policy, "fully" understood by Vice President Biden, forces parents to abort their children and makes "it's a girl" produce tragedy rather than joy for millions of Chinese families. Are these the values that are going to promote our interests, save us money and strengthen the resolve of our allies?

Whether we like it or not, the absence of American military and global political leadership will only result in Thucydides' description of "justice' around 400 BC, "the right of the strong to rule" or, to put it more succinctly, "might makes right." That is anathema to what this country has stood for since its inception.

President Obama rightly takes pride in the service of our troops, but then cuts their funding and lays thousands of them off rather than controlling and cutting excessive non-defense related federal spending and addressing the need for entitlement reform. Instead he explodes government through ObamaCare and a binge of government spending. His spending priorities stimulate the left rather than our national security or economy.

The primary responsibility of the Federal government and the Commander-in-Chief is to keep our country safe. In fact, it's one of the few functions that the federal government must oversee. But cutting our military does not keep us safe, nor does it promote our interests around the world. President Obama and the left want to have a military to showcase on occasion, but they do not want to stand strong for our interests around the world.

This is a deficit that both our allies and our enemies see. History shows us that we always end up paying the interest on this deficit at some point. There will be serious consequences from the radical Islamists heading the Iranian Regime and its leftist partners in Latin American. We have even seen a resurgence of Communist China promoting its interests abroad.

As a result of President Obama's deficit in the whole idea and vision of the United States, his defense policies are creating a deficit in American military strength. While the national debt certainly is a critical area worthy of concern, it is vital that the cure not be worse than the disease. As any doctor will tell you, the first rule of medicine is "first, do no harm."

President Obama's defense strategy, though, has done much harm.

I have been challenging the despots and radicals in Iran and Syria for a decade; President Obama is still undermining our security and interests and deciding his course. America is hungry for leadership, our allies across the world are hoping for it and our troops deserve it. Let's deal with the real deficit, and not create a new one for America's interests and values around the world.


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