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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Newt Gingrich: U.S. neglecting national security

By: Ryan Jaroncyk, THL Contributor

Former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, made the case for spending more money on national security in front of a crowd of 400 at the World Affairs Council. He made a number of comments worthy of a more detailed analysis.

He stated, "At some point down the road, we are going to get hurt very badly because we are spending too much on welfare and too much on domestic things, and not enough on national security."

The Defense Budget, for Fiscal Year 2010, stands at $680 billion. $534 billion of this amount represents discretionary budget authority, which is more than President Bush's final defense budget of $515 billion (discretionary spending).

The war tab for Afghanistan and Iraq now sits at over $1 trillion and counting. And according to a 2007 study sponsored by the Independent Institute, America's foreign policy actually costs about $1 trillion per year.

Therefore, one could argue that national security spending is already at dizzying levels, especially considering that we're running $1.4 trillion budget deficits and approaching $12 trillion in national debt.

Critics may counter that if domestic spending was significantly reduced, then the military budget would be much more reasonable. However, recent history demonstrates that such a scenario is wishful thinking.

During the Bush administration and a largely Republican Congress, domestic spending exploded in areas such as education and prescription drugs, at the same time the defense budget grew by leaps and bounds.

Gingrich does make a valid point regarding reducing wasteful, welfare spending at home, but welfare extends to foreign policy as well. One could make the argument that maintaining tens of thousands of troops and a missile defense shield in Japan and South Korea is the epitome of welfare.

After all, these highly advanced, affluent nations possess the technological and fiscal capability to easily provide their own defense. One could argue that tens of thousands of US troops stationed in Germany is a clear cut case of welfare, considering that Germany is an economic giant in the EU.

One could argue that providing a nation like Egypt with billions of dollars in foreign aid is highly questionable due to its dismal human rights record. These are only a few examples.

In principle, I agree with Gingrich that national security should be our nation's top priority. After all, this is the most critical, enumerated power of the Federal Government as delineated in the Constitution.

However, I would argue that national security spending should reflect quality, not quantity. Defense spending should target efficiency, effectiveness, and fiscal discipline, just like any other aspect of the federal budget.

Gingrich stated, "Afghanistan is a skirmish in a long war."

In theory, I would agree. I believe George Will's and the Cato Institute's prescription for a more limited, focused, and cost-effective mission in Afghanistan would reduce our efforts to
contain Al-Qaeda to a mere "skirmish".

However, in practice, Gingrich's support of further escalation in Afghanistan may in fact lead to a much longer, open-ended war. In fact, we've already been at war for eight long years with no end in sight.

It is imperative that we make a clear distinction between fighting Islamic terrorism and engaging in open-ended wars in third world theaters. America will always be forced to remain vigilant in combating terrorism, but this task can be accomplished for far less blood and treasure.

Without a doubt, America can deter terrorist attacks without spending trillions of dollars and losing thousands of lives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

If America does not begin to seriously consider this distinction, budget deficits will continue to explode, the national debt will continue to skyrocket, the US Dollar will continue to fall, and casualty rates will remain elevated for years to come.

In addition, the record suicide rates and spiking PTSD figures plaguing our military will only worsen as repeated, overseas deployments continue unabated.

Gingrich said Afghanistan has three needs: as many paved roads as possible to ensure access in and out, wireless connectivity to link youths to the rest of the world, and a huge increase in the Afghanistan police force with a strict crackdown on corruption.

Just this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American infrastructure a D ranking. Perhaps America should focus on restoring its own infrastructure first before worrying about Afghan roads.

Wireless connectivity is an admirable goal, but realistically, Afghanistan is hundreds of years behind in technological innovation. A huge increase in the Afghanistan police force is a valid goal to attain self-sufficiency, but consider this.

Afghanistan already possesses 94,000 troops and 90,000 police forces. Despite an increasing number of security forces, Afghan security has actually destabilized. Again, quality trumps quantity.

And regarding a crackdown on corruption, it's no secret that America is propping up a highly corrupt leader in Hamid Karzai, as witnessed in the recent, fraudulent elections. If anything, our long-term presence has fostered a corrupt, ineffective government in Kabul.

Gingrich advised Obama to approach the situation as George Washinton would, and that the answer to Afghanistan was not to withdraw.

But, George Washington's foreign policy advice appears to directly contradict that of Newt Gingrich. Washington was an explicit advocate of avoiding overseas entanglements and pursuing a non-interventionist foreign policy.

In addition, Washington staged multiple, tactical withdrawals (think New York and Philadelphia) in order to win the greater, strategic War. I'm not personally advocating a full-scale withdrawal from Afghanistan, but some would argue that a partial or full-scale withdrawal may be tactically necessary to win the greater War on Terror.

Even Stephen Biddle, a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and member of General Stanley McChrystal's strategic assessment team, stated on CNN's Lou Dobbs, that a withdrawal should at least be considered as a viable option, though he did not personally favor that option.

Gingrich concludes by stating, "Do whatever it takes to...ensure that America is safe...When things don't work out, figure out a better way."

Perhaps there is a better way to keep America safe. Many independents, as well as the libertarian wing of the GOP, are calling for a novel strategy on the War on Terror.

This strategy would closely monitor, disrupt, and dismantle Al-Qaeda & other Islamic terror groups around the world, without committing to long term, open-ended ventures that lead to thousands of troop deaths, tens of thousands of maimings, record suicide rates and a PTSD epidemic in the military, more debt, and a devalued Dollar.

All good policy models make predictions. The current foreign policy model predicted far fewer casualties, far fewer psychological ailments, much briefer occupations, far less resistance, and a much lower economic cost for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The real data has largely contradicted these initial predictions. Therefore, the time has come for developing a new, more effective security model.

The time has come "to figure out a better way."


  1. You may want to watch this about CFR Newt!

  2. Gingrich supported that Margeret Sanger award recipient, Rhino in New York State. That is all I need to know.


  3. There is no logical comparison between defense of country by engaging and killing the terrorists to that of welfare. Those two spending items aren't even close to being equivolent to one another. I just think that Obama should listen to his commanders on the field in Afghanistan and send more troops there.

  4. Teresa,

    Thanks for the comment. Note that I did not identify targeting terrorists as welfare. Instead, I identified subsidizing missile defense & large troop counts in places like Japan, South Korea, and Germany as welfare. These are all nations that possess more than enough money and technological prowess to defend themselves. I also included Egypt, a nation that receives billions in taxpayer dollars despite a poor human rights reputation. Since we are trillions of dollars in debt, it makes economic sense to save money in these areas of the foreign policy budget.

    As far as Obama sending more troops, this is an opinion certainly shared by many in the GOP and some in the Democratic Party. However, sending more troops will have predictable consequences. Casualties will likely increase for an extended period of time, PTSD will likely worsen for our soldiers, the budget deficit and national debt will likely increase substantially, and the timetable for eventual withdrawal will grow even more open-ended. This may be acceptable in your view of achieving long-term victory, but as for me, I'd rather adopt a "Quality vs. Quantity" approach, advocated by several top civilian and military commentators.




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