All told, contended Gingrich: “The threats around the world are real, they are imminent, and they require use as a nation to have a serious adult conversation about reality.”
Yes, let’s do so. That’s certainly not what the Republican Party is offering these days.
First, the percentage of GDP spent on the military is meaningless. The U.S. economy has grown dramatically over the years—today it is more than five times as large, in real terms and despite the recession, than in 1946. In that year total national‐defense outlays, which remained high as the country demobilized after World War II, accounted for 77.3 percent of total federal expenditures and 19.2 percent of GDP. Today military spending consumes “only” 17.3 percent of the budget and 4.8 percent of GDP, yet the actual budget adjusted for inflation is more than one‐third larger.
America is now spending 10 percent more, in real terms, on the military than it did on average during the cold war, when the United States faced a hegemonic antagonist. America currently accounts for roughly half of all military spending on earth. That wasn’t the case during the 1930s. Or during the cold war. America’s international dominance has never been greater. Second, the prospect of an Iranian or North Korean nuclear weapon pales compared to the one‐time prospect of a conventional or nuclear war with the Soviet Union. For some four decades the United States confronted the possibility of continent‐wide combat in Europe. Fighting could have extended around the world, engulfing China, the Koreas, Japan, Taiwan and more. And any conflict could have escalated into nuclear war—full-blown, massive, catastrophic.
Third, deterrence has a proven record of keeping the peace. Preventive war was proposed against both China and the Soviet Union. U.S. policy makers wisely resisted the temptation, even when America had an overwhelming military advantage. In contrast, one small preventive operation, against Iraq, has wrecked another nation, ensnared America’s military and destroyed Washington’s reputation.
Fourth, intervention will become more, not less expensive. Indeed, patrolling the globe ensures more terrorism. Gingrich cites the Cole: it was bombed while visiting Yemen on a political mission. The U.S. forces at the Khobar Towers were part of a military deployment in Saudi Arabia. The bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon—which Gingrich does not mention but others, including former–Vice President Cheney, have pointed to—was prompted by a similar intervention in that country’s vicious, multisided civil war.
Finally, a militarized national‐security state inevitably changes the character of the American Republic—the enormous financial waste of buying unnecessary weapons in a weakened economy; strengthening and expanding the most politicized of American industries; emphasizing secrecy and surveillance and degrading constitutional liberties. There is a serious foreign‐policy debate to be had. The Obama administration is no less interventionist than its predecessor—on many issues the difference is more style than substance. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue; all of America’s alliances remain; the military continues to expand.
Republicans should offer, in Barry Goldwater’s inimitable phrase, “a choice, not an echo.” That would be the “humble” foreign policy that candidate George W. Bush talked about in 2000, a foreign policy more appropriate for a republic. Instead, GOP leaders apparently hope to rebuild their party by inflating threats, ignoring costs and disregarding interests. It is a prescription for failure—for the GOP and, more importantly, the nation. If the Republican Party won’t do any better, it deserves to be in the minority for a very long time.