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EDITORIAL: Defense needs must come first

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

If the U.S. military infrastructure that the Obama administration will inherit in January could be compared to racing cars, it would be a collection of clunkers - manned by brilliant and heroic drivers, but nevertheless drivers who can't take their vehicles around the track with any assurance the cars won't break down or run out of gas. Not to mention that the drivers are exhausted from the previous races.

Of course, the metaphor is inspired by recurrent deployments of equipment and manpower in Iraq and Afghanistan, with both the equipment and personnel getting banged up badly, the latter more psychologically than physically (hundreds of thousands of current military have post-traumatic stress syndrome, according to some studies.) Despite a roughly $685 billion military budget that nearly equals all the rest of the world's military budgets combined, the two wars at hand have sucked much of the necessary funding away from other defense needs -- more specialized units to help friendly countries, more littoral combat ships, more ground troops to break the far-too-frequent cycle of deployments, more sealift and airlift capacity, more replenishment of dwindling war stocks, the list goes on.

Military experts are almost unanimous that the nation's current military might is terribly ill-equipped to meet national security challenges. That's not just Iraq and Afghanistan, or al-Qaeda forces elsewhere such as Pakistan, but the potential threats from North Korea, Iran, China, Russia, and smaller unstable countries such as Somalia. Even The New York Times (who would have thought?) editorialized: "To protect the nation, the Obama administration will have to rebuild and significantly reshape the military."

Rebuilding and reshaping must be done prudently, but it must be done, with a clear understanding of our enemies and what's at stake. With many hands and many causes clamoring to get into the public Treasury, and the economy in a tizzy, it is vital to the nation's very survival that the real needs of national defense in this volatile world be first in line. The only real entitlement Americans should expect is the entitlement of living in a free and secure America.