George W. Bush is in the last year of his presidency. Yet the greater war against terrorism will continue long after he’s out of office.
So, as he prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address, he needs to address the requirements for national defense beyond Iraq.
This isn’t to say he shouldn’t mention Iraq. Our progress there in the last year remains a vital issue, and the American people deserve to hear about it. What President Bush must do, though, is tie his explanation of the progress in Iraq to the broader requirements for military preparedness.
First, Bush must remind us this isn’t the time for a "peace dividend." Even if the U.S. achieves a swift military and political victory in Iraq, one that would allow tens of thousands of Americans to leave Iraq, the broader war will continue.
Our country can’t afford to hollow out the military when we need it to win the war against Islamic extremists.
Unfortunately, we’re still rebuilding from the "procurement holiday" forced on the military in the 1990s. Because we didn’t purchase enough weapons systems during that decade, we’re forced to spend more today to buy the equipment the military needs.
This increase must allow the military to recover from the shortfall and put it on the path to sustained investments for new weapons and equipment.
That leaves less available for buying current weapons systems. For example, the Navy has been forced to reduce construction of Virginia-class submarines to one per year — even though constructing two per year could have reduced the unit cost to $2 billion per boat.
The Air Force has been forced to scale back dramatically its purchasing of F-22 Raptor tactical fighters. It’s slated to obtain just 183 F-22s despite its requirement for 381.
The Army has been forced to extend the production time for its Future Combat System by five years.
This president ought to leave a very different military to his successor than Bill Clinton left for him. That, of course, will cost money.
For example, it will cost $8 billion more than is currently planned per year for the Navy to buy the new ships it needs and $3 billion per year for the Marine Corps to recruit and train thousands of necessary new warriors.
How much will the total bill be? Well, military analysts at the American Legion suggest it would take a sustained investment of 5 percent of GDP each year. Experts at The Heritage Foundation think it can be done for 4 percent — slightly more than the 3.9 percent appropriated this year.
Bush should make it clear that our military spending is low compared to what it’s been other times we’ve been at war. And he should point out that we need to invest today to have the military we’ll require in the years ahead.
The president also needs to articulate a sound national security strategy. It ought to be called a "damage limitation" program. This would explain how he intends to protect the American people (as well as friends and allies around the world) from attack.
Such a pro-active stance would be a welcome change from our Cold War policy of accepting vulnerability by relying on a strategy of retaliation (mutually assured destruction) in case of attack.
A damage-limitation strategy would be designed to minimize the likelihood of a successful weapons of mass destruction attack on the U.S. and its friends and allies. After all, other nations are less likely to attempt to acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons — or attempt to use these weapons — if their attack is likely to fail.
Meanwhile, our military needs to field the correct mix of offensive and defensive forces. We must maintain the conventional forces necessary to go after Islamic extremists anywhere in the world, which is an essential component of the damage-limitation strategy’s central goal of providing protection to the American people and allies.
America’s general purpose forces, however, cannot focus on the threat of Islamic extremists alone. There are two other broad requirements of the damage-limitation strategy that can be met only through modernized general purposes forces possessing broader capabilities.
The first is to prevent a major power threat to Europe, eastern Asia or the Persian Gulf. This requires enough conventional military power to counter the organized armed forces of aggressive countries.
The second requirement is to maintain access to vital resources and conduits for global trade. In this case, U.S. general purpose forces must be capable of projecting power to distant regions in order to defend access to those resources.
America’s military must also be capable of protecting vital trade routes, whether at sea, in the air, in space or in cyberspace.
Our recent focus on Iraq is understandable. But it’s time to broaden the nation’s perspective regarding national defense. That’s where the State of the Union speech comes in.
Iraq is a critical battle in a long war, just as Korea and Vietnam were important battles in the Cold War. Sustained investments in the military are urgent and necessary to achieve ultimate victory.
Most importantly, President Bush should use the speech to make a solemn pledge to the American people that the military investments he is advocating are necessary to protect them and their families.
Baker Spring is the F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Allison Center for Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).