"Freedom isn't free." We usually hear this on occasions such as
Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. It's meant to remind us of the brave
American troops who put their lives on the line daily to protect our
liberty and preserve our security.
But that phrase also applies to matters of money. It takes dollars
and cents to field a world-class military. Equipping and training the
best soldiers, and providing them with the best vehicles and weapons, is
expensive. So why are we preparing to slash the amount we spend to
ensure that our defense remains as capable as possible?
For make no mistake: That's the upshot of what Defense Secretary
Leon Panetta was talking about recently when he previewed the cuts to
come under the Obama administration's latest budget request. They
A smaller Army and Marine corps. The Army would go from 562,000 now
to 490,000. The Marines, meanwhile, would drop from 202,000 to 182,000.
It would cut the number of U.S. combat brigades as well. Two would come
out of Europe, where our allies would realize they can't rely on us to
assist in keeping the peace. So much for defending what our troops once
shed blood to achieve.
Fewer Navy ships. Under President Obama's budget, the Navy would
give seven cruisers and two amphibious ships an early retirement. It
also would delay or cut back on efforts to buy a variety of important
vessels, including certain types of submarines and combat ships that
help keep vital international waterways safe.
A shrinking Air Force. Six tactical fighter squadrons would be
broken up. The pace at which the Air Force is acquiring the F-35 (Joint
Strike Fighter) would be slowed down. This will make the ones we do buy
Scaled-back missile defense. Secretary Panetta didn't get specific
here. He merely noted, as Heritage Foundation missile defense expert
Baker Spring put it, that "not all funding was protected in this area."
That sounds ominous, to say the least. The U.S. is already lagging in
its efforts to mount the comprehensive, layered (land, sea and space)
system we need to protect all Americans from the threat of rogue
missiles aimed at our soil from nations such as Iran and North
Korea. Worse, the military is right in the crosshairs for cuts beyond
those in the budget that Panetta was outlining. That budget doesn't
account for automatic spending cuts due to hit under last summer's
Budget Control Act. The act, Spring writes, "triggers automatic spending
cuts that could amount to as much as $600 billion from the defense
budget in addition to those already contained in the pending budget."
Have we forgotten what happened in the wake of post-Vietnam budget
cuts? We wound up with a military that simply wasn't combat ready -- a
hollow force. Asking a military that's too small to do too much means it
wears out sooner. Troops and equipment get stretched too thinly.
The result? An embarrassing debacle such as the Iranian hostage
crisis that began in 1979, for one thing. Small wonder that President
Reagan campaigned successfully on a promise to rebuild our military. His
vow resonated with the American people because they were tired of
seeing America's prestige take a beating on the world stage. And they
were genuinely alarmed by the realization that we had become far too
We can't afford to take another holiday from our responsibilities.
The wholesale cuts now on the horizon for our military are irresponsible
and reckless. Or do we have to learn the hard way, yet again, that
"freedom isn't free"?
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).