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Don’t Forget the Third Leg of Reagan’s Three-Legged Stool

There have been some very lively discussions here at RedState about the ongoing family feud in the Republican party between “fiscal” and “social” conservatives.  As important as this fiscal-versus-social discussion is, however, aren’t we forgetting something?

Recall that Ronald Reagan is remembered as a brilliant politician because he was able to unite the three — not two, but three — strands of conservatism, namely, fiscal, social and national security/defense. Reagan called it a “three-legged stool” — because a three-legged stool cannot stand if even one of the three legs is missing.

Isn’t it a little strange — not to mention, dangerous — for that third leg to be neglected when we are, after all, at war, with “hot” fronts currently in two different countries?

You will not find Victor Davis Hanson neglecting it.  In his recent piece, “In Defense of Defense,” Hanson makes the case that, as we go about the very necessary task of drastically reducing government spending, the defense budget should have some degree of immunity.

The United States has an alarming record of courting danger when it has slashed defense, or even merely been perceived abroad to be pruning its military. In the 1930s the Germans and Japanese did not take the United States seriously as a deterrent power, and understandably so: It was not until 1943 — after tens of thousands of American deaths — that the United States finally deployed planes, armor, and ships that were of rough parity in numbers and quality with those of its Axis enemies.

After World War II ended, America demobilized and returned to its parsimonious military ways. The result: By August 1950 an outnumbered and outclassed American army in South Korea was confined to the tiny Pusan perimeter. For the first six months of hard fighting in Korea, the military’s obsolete tanks, anti-tank weapons, and planes proved no match for Soviet-supplied T-34 tanks and MiG-15 jets.

Three decades later, in April 1980, post-Vietnam budget cuts were the subtext of the humiliating failed mission (Operation Eagle Claw) to rescue the Iranian-held hostages. And the post–Cold War defense cuts of the 1990s may have made it far more difficult to pursue terrorists or fight in Iraq and Afghanistan in the new millennium….

It is almost a given that anytime the post-war United States cuts its military or tires of its global deterrent role, it will soon rue the effort and pay for its laxity with blood and treasure.

Hanson’s argument immediately got my attention, because I remembered that Lt. Col. Allen West — who is, like Hanson, a brilliant military historian — had said recently that everything should be “on the table” for budget cuts — even defense.  As West’s landmark speech about Afghanistan made clear, however, we are wasting a lot of money — and American lives — with our dunderheaded non-strategy in Afghanistan.  We could fight leaner if we would fight smarter.

Not long ago, I read a disturbing novel, a thriller:  John Lescroart’s Betrayal.  The title had multiple meanings in the book, but one of the main ones was the nefarious behavior — including huge-scale embezzlement — of one of the many private contractors working with the U.S. military in Iraq.  Granted, it was only a work of fiction; and granted, Lescroart — though one of my favorite writers — may tend toward the liberal side of politics.  Still, he was describing things that really do happen.  As long as there have been private defense contractors, there have been waste and fraud.  How Allen West, if elected President, will attack this problem remains to be seen — but I’m sure that he saw some things in Iraq that will give him some pretty clear ideas of how and where our mammoth defense budget might be tightened up.

Meanwhile, conservatives should read Hanson’s piece.  The fiscal-versus-social conservatism debate will be moot if we lose in Afghanistan, and give radical Islamists around the world a morale boost that will drastically increase their numbers and their boldness.

hat tip:  Big Peace

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