One picture worth a thousand words is a graph on the U.S. Department of Defense website showing U.S. annual Defense spending as a percentage of GDP, going back to 1953.
Two things jump out.
First, the lowest over the 70-year period was in 1999, at the end of the Clinton administration, when it stood at 2.7%. This is a little more than half the previous low, which stood at 4.5% 20 years earlier, in 1979.
A little over year after this historic low point in defense spending, our nation experienced the worst attack on its homeland in its history on Sept. 11, 2001.
The second thing I notice is that the forecast for 2024 shows that Defense spending as a percentage of GDP will be 2.7%, matching the 1999 low point.
However, the 2.7% in 2024 implies a far lower national priority for Defense spending than the 2.7% in 1999, because in 1999, overall federal spending as a percent of GDP stood at 17.7% compared to 23.4% in 2024, according to the CBO forecast.
So as a percent of the federal budget, in 1999 Defense spending stood at 15.3% compared to 11.5% in 2024.
The 2024 Index of Military Strength published by the Heritage Foundation rates the state of military power by branches of service from “very weak” to “very strong.”
The results: Army, “marginal”; Navy, “weak”; Air Force, “very weak”; Marine Corps, “strong.”
The report summarizes saying “In the aggregate, the United States’ military posture must be rated as ‘weak.’ … As currently postured, the U.S. military is at significant risk of not being able to defend America’s vital national interests with assurance.”
We look to the Middle East now and see increased aggression from proxies of Iran.
Three U.S. Army reserve soldiers were killed in Jordan by a drone attributed to an Iran-backed militia in Iraq. As the daughter of an Air Force retiree, I find this particularly emotionally painful.
Ships are being attacked in the Gulf of Aden area by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
And there was the horrible, savage attack on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7 by Iran-supported Hamas.
A backdrop to all of this is the conflict raging in Ukraine, the result of aggression by Russia.
The headline is that we have enemies, and these enemies are energized when they perceive the United States as weak and confused.
There is a lot of rhetoric now about so-called “globalization” and “endless wars.”
Some call for a retreat inward by our nation and want to label international engagement as not “conservative.”
But it is just the opposite.
A conservative worldview recognizes there is truth and that for every right we claim there is a corresponding responsibility. The universal rights the founders of our nation claimed in our Declaration of Independence have corresponding universal responsibilities.
We must remember the quote attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, “America is great because America is good. If America ever stops being good, it will stop being great.”
This does not mean that our nation should take on the impossible task of being the world’s policeman.
But as we saw, and too soon have forgotten, on the horrible day on Sept. 11, 2001, there are evil people in this world hostile to us who celebrate death to advance their own power.
Israelis saw it in the vicious Hamas attack last Oct. 7.
When those who love to kill to advance their own power see Americans retreat, when they see demonstrations at America’s leading universities celebrating terrorism, who condemn those in our country and abroad who live free and responsible lives, so we encourage and empower evil.
As good retreats, evil advances. It is a natural truth.
Let’s not forget what is written at the memorial to the Korean War in Washington, D.C.
“Freedom is not free.”