- - Sunday, March 6, 2016


Now that the Republican field has been winnowed down to the final four, it’s time to judge what they’re saying about how to repair our nation’s military and intelligence community. To do that, we have to measure how well they meet the standard established by Ronald Reagan.

Each year the Reagan administration did a study that resulted in the “Defense Guidance” report. In simplest terms, Defense Guidance took the best intelligence information available and determined the threats that our military had to deter or defeat. Then, on the basis of a stated national defense strategy, it derived a defense budget to meet those threats.

On the surface, there appears to be very little difference among the defense plans offered by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. They just want to throw money at the Pentagon to expand our forces. (John Kasich calls himself a “cheap hawk,” about which more later.) Simply put, none of the four meets the Reagan standard.

Under President Obama, our intelligence agencies have been substantially weakened. In the absence of current, accurate intelligence and expert analysis, policymaking is mere guesswork. Despite this, none of the four candidates has said why or how the capabilities of our intelligence community must be restored, modernized and better integrated.

Of the four, Donald Trump has said the least about rebuilding the military. He’s said, “I will make our military so big, powerful and strong that no one will mess with us,” adding that he’d get rid of ISIS quickly. How he would achieve that is left to our imagination.

Mr. Trump evidences no knowledge of and gives no opinion analyzing the threats America faces or what means we need to deter or defeat them. His worldview, at least what we know of it, is not reassuring. Take the apparent mutual admiration he shares with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

When Mr. Putin praised Mr. Trump highly as, “a very bright and talented man” and “the absolute leader of the presidential race,” Mr. Trump said Mr. Putin was a strong leader and brushed off questions about Mr. Putin murdering reporters and opponents. He apparently believes, like George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton, that he can do business with Mr. Putin and desires closer relations with Russia.

Mr. Trump also has said that while he supports Israel, he doesn’t want to take sides between Israel and the Palestinians because he wants to try to negotiate a settlement between them. Good luck with that.

Ted Cruz says we need an Army of at least 525,000 “trained and fully equipped” soldiers, a Navy with 12 carrier strike groups and at least 350 ships (now about 273), an Air Force of at least 6,000 warplanes (about a 50 percent increase) including at least 1,500 tactical fighters, a rebuilt nuclear force and an increase in unmanned aircraft. Mr. Cruz would have a total force of 1.4 million people.

But why 525,000 troops rather than 400,000? Why 12 carrier strike groups instead of 10 or 15? There’s no threat analysis or strategy behind those numbers, no rationale to support them. Without threat analysis and strategy, Mr. Cruz’s numbers are meaningless.

Mr. Cruz’s position paper does go into some of the threats we face and says we need to partner with our Israeli and South Korean allies to develop and deploy better missile defenses. He wants a new cyberwar strategy to anticipate and thwart those threats. He’d pay for all of this with an increase in defense spending to 4.1% of GDP, which isn’t going to be enough unless our GDP grows at a high rate for several years.

Marco Rubio’s position is less detailed. Mr. Rubio’s plan says our military ” needs a serious program of reinvestment and modernization — boosting the size of our forces to do the jobs we ask them to do, and modernizing them to meet the threats they will face so that when efforts to deter conflict fail, they are never sent into a fair fight.”

To accomplish this, Mr. Rubio would do many of the same things Mr. Cruz would do. He’d begin building Navy combatants to reach 323 ships by 2024. He’d build two attack submarines a year, accelerate the Air Force’s purchase of the F-35 fighter (which can’t win dogfights against 40-year old F-16s and has software that is so problem-prone that the aircraft can’t perform its principal missions), and increase our troop strength significantly.

But just like Mr. Cruz’s conclusions, Mr. Rubio’s are equally unsupported by the facts necessary to validate them.

Mr. Rubio’s exceeds Mr. Cruz’s thinking on some matters. He would restore troop concentrations to Europe to deter Russian aggression, overhaul the Pentagon’s weapon system acquisition system (which is so slow and complicated it now counts as a threat to national security) and invest in the Air Forces’ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities at the theater and strategic levels.

“Cheap Hawk” John Kasich is the odd man out. He proposes $102 billion in additional defense spending over the next eight years for a total of $5.2 trillion. (Where did the $102 billion come from? He doesn’t say.) He wants to defeat ISIS by forming a coalition with local allies (who have battled Bashar Assad but have refused to commit forces for the ISIS fight). He would reposition troops in Europe and Asia to attempt to deter Russia and China.

Mr. Kasich is sometimes a loose cannon. When in Congress, he and hyperliberal Rep. Ron Dellums, California Republican, led the fight against the B-2 bomber, succeeding in limiting that force to 21 aircraft.

Mr. Kasich, however, recognizes something that the others evidently don’t: that our military strength can’t be rebuilt and sustained without a strong and growing economy.

Mr. Reagan knew that and acted on it. Any of the others would, if elected, have to discover that the hard way.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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