“Conservatives” who think we can get a handle on out of control spending and cut into our massive budget deficits without cutting defense, which contributes substantially to both, are deluding themselves. While interventionist “conservatives” will often concede that they do not want America “policing the world” and readily admit that they wish the many countries that free load off of America’s military expenditures would start carrying more of their own weight, they are loath to consider defense cuts. America must be armed to the teeth, they warn, in order to counter the many threats they perceive (“Islamofascists,” China, a resurgent Russia) and future threats that are bound to arise. As the story goes, if America shows any weakness and lack of resolve, meaning cutting defense spending, withdrawing troops, opting out of defense agreements, etc., then the international bad guys will quickly perceive this loss of will and move to exploit it.
One problem with countering this mindset is that it is not falsifiable. The fact of America’s continued existence is seen as proof the strategy is working. According to this narrative, while the war in Iraq may not be going as well as we hoped, we are much better off than we would have been had we not taken care of the incipient threat that was Saddam. You know, now Saddam would actually have and be ready to use all those WMDs he allegedly had before. An alternative strategy of non-intervention can’t be tried because “we know” what happens when America withdraws and “let’s her guard down.” Insert here sneering remarks about Chamberlain and appeasement and dire references to Hitler, Japan, Pearl Harbor, etc.
These defense hawks often invoke the much vaunted Reaganesq Cold War concept of “peace through strength” to justify ever increasing defense expenditures. By implication, spending means peace and defense cuts mean war. So who in their right mind could support defense cuts? As if these defenses spendthrifts were all a bunch of Quakers. The problem with this, however, is that what the defense hawk interventionists are advocating is not really “peace through strength.” What they really advocate would be more accurately formulated as “security through preventative aggression.”
A case can be made for peace through strength. An adequate defense may well deter aggression. But modern peace through strength advocates do not seek peace, certainly not in the short term. While some may foresee a long term benign pax Americana brought about by America stamping out bad guys around the globe, in the short term they counsel chest beating and preventative aggression against perceived threats. Military intervention must always be “on the table,” remember, and diplomacy is for sissies. Witness the hysteria among the interventionists over Obama and Iran. For them negotiating essentially means presenting ultimatums. Do what we say or we’ll bomb you. Again, all this has much to do with strength but nothing whatsoever to do with peace, so can we please drop the pretense.