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Defense spending cuts — a “paradox” for the left; a conundrum for the right

The Washington Post reports that the defense cuts mandated by the sequester are proving to be a “paradox” for the left. Keith Ellison, the ultra-leftist congressman from Minnesota, says he “feels torn” by the cuts because they further his goal of reducing the money available to the military, but contradict his goal of maximizing government spending.

When in doubt, the left these days will tend to opt for government spending, even if it means strengthening America’s defense. Ellison is no exception. He says:

The bottom line is military spending is government spending, and in the absence of any sort of other stimulus for the private sector, we need to get it where we can.

This, then, is a paradox, defined as a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory proposition that may actually be true. For the left, opposing cuts to defense spending is absurd if the money is to be spent for its normal purpose — improving, or even maintaining, our military capacity. But if the purpose of the spending is government spending for stimulative purposes, then opposing a slash in defense spending becomes (against all odds) acceptable.

Meanwhile, defense spending presents most conservatives with a conundrum, defined as a confusing or difficult problem — in other words, a paradox minus the absurdity. Most conservatives want a strong defense and recognize that cutting military spending is antithetical to that goal. Sure, plenty of defense spending is wasteful. But it is fanciful to suppose that defense cuts will eliminate only (or even mostly) waste.

At the same time, most conservatives would like to see major cuts in government spending. And we recognize that, as a matter of practical politics, deep spending cuts cannot be achieved without significant cuts in defense spending.

How do we resolve this conundrum? I don’t know. But one way to think about it is to note that, whether we like it or not, America’s defense/military aspirations have been sharply, and probably permanently, reduced.

Historically, our goal has been to be able to fight and win two full-scale wars simultaneously, if necessary. But these days, America probably lacks the will to fight even one full-scale war at a time. Certainly that’s the sentiment among Democrats. Republicans might be willing to fight one full-scale war under certain circumstances, but no more than that, I believe.

Thus, to the extent that our level of military spending is commensurate with a “two war” — or even a “war-and-a-half” — strategy, it is excessive, measured against what America is willing to do.

Public sentifment could shift, to be sure. And it would be tragic if, in that event, our preparedness were to come up short.

But it’s difficult to see public sentiment shifting all the way back to where it was when the prevailing design of our military/defense structure was developed. Thus, those of us who oppose a serious rethinking of the appropriate level of preparedness are probably fighting a losing battle in the long run.

For now, though, we may be holding a winning hand. If Keith Ellison wants more military spending because, hey, it’s a form of government spending, who are we to disagree?

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