One of the most dear principles of the conservative ideology is that of “limited government” – namely, a federal government limited to its Constitutional powers. This is what “limited government” means, and this is what all conservatives want (or at least should aspire to).
Unfortunately, a number of libertarians are falsely claiming (and misleading many conservatives into thinking) that providing adequately and generously for a strong military is somehow inconsistent with the Limited Government principle and thus hypocritical and “doublethink.” They furthermore falsely claim that this “hypocrisy” and “inconsistence” damages the GOP’s credibility in the eyes of the public, especially independents and moderates, and that only agreeing to deep defense cuts will restore that supposedly lost credibility and win the GOP new votes.
But this is all rubbish. Read on, and I’ll prove why. We will first deal with the question of whether generous defense investments are inconsistent with the Limited Government Principle, and then we’ll deal with the political aspect – whether Republicans’ traditional pro-defense policy somehow damages the GOP’s credibility.
The “Limited Government Principle” means, very simply, a government limited to the powers and functions assigned to it by the US Constitution (otherwise, a huge unclarity would result: government limited to what? a fixed percent of GDP? SCOTUS rulings?).
The most authoritative source of information on the Constitution’s genuine meaning is the collection of 85 essays known as “The Federalist Papers” and written by the men who wrote the Constitution – most notably Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, although John Jay also contributed 5 essays.
What does the Constitution say about defense issues? Only by that measure can we determine whether providing generously for a strong defense is inconsistent with the Limited Government Principle or not.
The Constitution lists (“enumerates”) all of the federal government’s powers. Powers not listed to the Constitution are off-limits to the federal government. The vast majority of the enumerated powers are listed in the first three articles of the Constitution, which listed the original powers of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches, respectively. Later Amendments gave Congress additional powers to enforce civil and voting rights and (alas) a federal income tax.
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;”
That half of all enumerated powers of Congress listed in Art. I of the Constitution deal with just one area of governance – that of providing for national defense – proves how important it was to the Founding Fathers (as we will also see from their statements below).
But the evidence doesn’t stop there. Art. IV, Sec. 4 of the Constitution makes providing generously for America’s defense OBLIGATORY, not optional. It says:
“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”
And the Preamble to the Constitution makes it clear that one of the chief reasons why the Constitution was adopted, and the federal government created, in the first place, was to “provide for the common defense”. It says:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
“To form a more perfect union”, “establish justice”, “promote general welfare”, and “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” were generalisms – general wishes that the country would generally be better off if the Constitution were ratified.
Providing for the common defense, however, had and has a specific meaning: it meant, and still means, providing for a strong military capable of protecting America against any and all threats.
And – as the Founders would surely agree if they were alive today – protecting each state against “invasion” means more than just protecting them against physical ground invasion by foreigners (e.g. illegal immigrants). It means protecting against any physical threat to the homeland and its inhabitants. Today, these threats include EMP, nuclear, chemical, biological, ballistic and cruise missile, and bomber attacks.
Russia has 251 strategic bombers (Tu-95s, Tu-160s, and Tu-22Ms) capable of flying to the CONUS and delivering their nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and nuclear freefall bombs to US soil. This is not a bygone threat: Russia has, in recent years, repeatedly flown its bombers near and into US airspace, as well as around Guam, probing US air defenses and “practicing attacking the enemy”, as the Russians themselves have explained. Their submarines have, meanwhile, been prowling the Mexican Gulf and the Atlantic Coast, spying on Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
Russia, China, and North Korea also have ICBMs and (except North Korea) SLBMs capable of carrying thousands of warheads to the US. Russia’s ICBM fleet alone can carry 1,684 warheads to the CONUS. Those are just a few examples of direct military threats to the homeland. And if the Founding Fathers were alive today, they would DEMAND that Congress provide for an adequate defense against these.
Nor is protecting America’s treaty allies unconstitutional or a violation of the Limited Government Principle: it is done by treaty agreement, and treaties (on subjects on which Congress may legislate, such as foreign and defense policy) ratified by Presidents with Senate consent are the Law of the Land, second only to the Constitution. Thus, defending allies with whom the US has a treaty – such as America’s stalwart allies Japan and South Korea – is also FULLY CONSISTENT with the Constitution and thus with the Limited Government Principle. (It is also sound foreign policy, as I prove here.)
What the Founding Fathers said
Today, libertarians falsely paint the Founding Fathers as universally isolationist and opposed to standing armies. The truth, however, is that they were far from being unanimous on these issues. But if there was an issue on which they were close to unanimity, it was that the US MUST provide generously for its own defense, even if it were to adopt a position of armed neutrality.
George Washington said to the Congress in his very first State of the Union address: “Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. (…) To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of keeping the peace.” In his last SOTU address, he urged the Congress to remember about the need to provide for the common defense and to establish a military academy.
The second President, John Adams, said, “National defense is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman.”
The fourth President, and father of the US Constitution, James Madison, asked in 1788 in one of the Federalist Papers:
“How could a readiness for war in times of peace be safely prohibited, unless we could prohibit, in like manner, the preparations and establishments of every hostile nation?”
And Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist #24 why a standing army was needed to protect America even in the 1780s, in seemingly peaceful times:
“Though a wide ocean separates the United States from Europe, yet there are various considerations that warn us against an excess of confidence or security. On one side of us, and stretching far into our rear, are growing settlements subject to the dominion of Britain. On the other side, and extending to meet the British settlements, are colonies and establishments subject to the dominion of Spain. This situation and the vicinity of the West India Islands, belonging to these two powers create between them, in respect to their American possessions and in relation to us, a common interest. The savage tribes on our Western frontier ought to be regarded as our natural enemies, their natural allies, because they have most to fear from us, and most to hope from them. The improvements in the art of navigation have, as to the facility of communication, rendered distant nations, in a great measure, neighbors. Britain and Spain are among the principal maritime powers of Europe. A future concert of views between these nations ought not to be regarded as improbable. The increasing remoteness of consanguinity is every day diminishing the force of the family compact between France and Spain. And politicians have ever with great reason considered the ties of blood as feeble and precarious links of political connection. These circumstances combined, admonish us not to be too sanguine in considering ourselves as entirely out of the reach of danger.”
Indeed, the Federalists, including Hamilton, supported the creation of a large, well-armed standing army.
And the Navy?
While some Founders, like Elbridge Gerry, were uneasy about a standing ground army, no Founder objected to building a strong navy – they all supported that goal. A few quotes will suffice:
It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.
We ought to begin a naval power, if we mean to carry on our commerce.
See? The Founders believed that without a “decisive naval force” we can do “nothing definitive” nor anything “honorable and glorious” – like protecting American merchant ships, for example. The dependence of America’s economy on overseas trade, and thus the importance of having a strong Navy to protect the US merchant fleet, was also recognized by Thomas Jefferson, who was the first US president to intervene abroad (in Tripoli, i.e. in today’s Libya), and he did so without even consulting the Congress, let alone asking it for authorization.
These were America’s first overseas victories. That’s why the Marines’ Hymn begins with the words “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…” (emphasis mine).
The United States Navy was originally created because Barbary pirates were continually attacking American merchant ships, and the US no longer wanted to pay ransom.
The political aspect
We’re being told by libertarians that the GOP’s support for generous funding for defense (which support, in reality, has recently been lagging) somehow alienates many voters, especially indies and moderates, who, we are being told, would vote Republican if the GOP would endorse deep defense cuts and thus end its supposed “hypocrisy and doublethinking”.
But it’s a blatant lie. Firstly, according to many polls, a majority – and according to some polls, the vast majority – of Americans oppose deep or (according to some polls) ANY defense spending cuts. The only polls (and there are few of them) which purport to show the opposite results are those commissioned by organizations (such as the NPR) which advocate deep defense cuts (and thus, their polls are likely to be rigged).
Attached is a graph showing the results of the latest Pew Poll on the subject. It shows that 73% of Americans oppose any further defense spending cuts, including sequestration. How will adopting a policy that 73% of Americans oppose and only 24% of Americans support help the GOP win future elections?
It won’t – because those who support deep defense cuts are all liberals who will never vote Republican in any event. Endorsing deep defense cuts will not win Republicans a single new vote – but it will alienate millions of defense conservatives who will (rightly) feel betrayed.
Nobody in the US who currently doesn’t vote Republican will somehow start voting Republican if the GOP endorses deep defense cuts. But millions of conservative GOP voters will cease voting Republican.
Just as endorsing amnesty would cost the GOP millions of conservative votes without winning a single new Hispanic vote, so, too, endorsing deep defense cuts would cost the GOP millions of conservative votes without winning a single new vote from anyone.
Better, then, for the GOP to reaffirm its (currently wavering, shaky, and flagging) commitment to a strong defense – which is also a key and inextricable part of conservative philosophy – than to agree to the gutting of America’s defense in pursuit of a mirage called “liberals’ and libertarians’ votes”.
The people who support deep defense cuts will never vote Republican anyway.
America already has one pro-weak-defense party. It does not need a second one.