Why strong defense is critical to America

Editor’s Note: Bobby Jindal is the 55th governor of Louisiana and the vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He is also the honorary chairman of America Next. Jim Talent is a former Republican senator from Missouri and a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, where he specializes in military readiness and welfare reform issues. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

Story highlights

Bobby Jindal, Jim Talent: Obama has abandoned leadership on foreign policy

Writers: By preferring to lead from behind, Obama has allowed global threats to fester

They say U.S. needs a strong national defense and should spend 4% of GDP on defense

Writers: Unless America regains its purpose to lead in the world, our safety is undermined

CNN  — 

In a speech on October 2, 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged that if elected commander in chief, “I’ll give an annual ‘State of the World’ address to the American people in which I lay out our national security policy.”

It’s another promise the President has broken. And small wonder he’s broken it. The past six years have decisively proved the fallacy of equating rhetoric and set piece public events with effective global leadership.

As a result, the “State of the World” is quite bad and getting worse all the time. From a failed Russian “reset” that beget an invasion of Ukraine to an Iran continuing to pursue nuclear weapons to the chaos that ISIS has created in Iraq to a rearmed and aggressive China to an unstable North Korea, global threats – including threats to the vital interests of the United States – have increased.

Bobby Jindal
Jim Talent

At the core of the President’s failed leadership lies his distrust of the effectiveness and even legitimacy of America’s leadership in the world.

The President does not believe that America is exceptional because he does not understand why America is exceptional. Like all great powers in history, the United States has vital national interests around the world, but unlike other great powers, we define those interests in a benign and defensive way. All America seeks is the safety of her homeland, the right of her citizens to trade and travel globally on equal terms with others, and prevention of serious aggression or instability in parts of the world vital to our economy and way of life.

Since World War II, America has protected those interests by constructing a global framework that encourages the peaceful resolution of disputes and by leading the free world in anticipating, deterring and managing threats at as low a level as possible.

The President has abandoned this role, preferring to lead from behind. In so doing, he has allowed global threats to fester and metastasize, until – as we are seeing in the Middle East – the cost and danger of dealing with them, and the danger of failure, have grown unnecessarily high.

Even former members of Obama’s own Cabinet have admitted as much. Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta recently conceded, “I really thought that it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq.” But he was overruled by Obama himself.

As a result, the United States now faces a much stronger ISIS and a longer battle to disrupt and ultimately destroy this heinous terror organization. Would that the President and all those who now support action against ISIS had similarly endorsed then-Secretary Panetta’s recommendation to maintain an American anti-terror presence in Iraq three years ago.

Similarly, America will come to rue the day when this President proposed – and Congress enacted – unwise and arbitrary cuts to our nation’s defense budget. In 2011, mere months after then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed modest increases in defense spending, Obama proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts over the next decade. The President’s move, rapidly followed by another $500 billion in defense spending reductions triggered by the Budget Control Act’s sequester mechanism, cut nearly $1 trillion from America’s fighting forces over 10 years, without adequately assessing the impact of these cuts on our national security.

National defense may not be the only priority of federal government, but it should always be the first priority.

We need a strong national defense to keep America safe. It’s why the sequester cuts are both unwise and short-sighted, for they will probably increase the risks America faces and the costs we will ultimately pay to confront those threats.

For all these reasons, we believe that the federal government should adopt a guideline for defense budgeting at approximately 4% of GDP. The current baseline for defense amounts to 2.9% of the nation’s GDP, the lowest percentage spent on defense since World War II.

While we believe that threat assessments and the defense community’s capabilities should drive budget decisions, we also view consistent spending below 4% of GDP as a sign that the United States is repeating the short-sighted decision to retrench from its defense commitments in the mistaken belief that the world has suddenly become peaceful or that threats will not follow us to our own shores.

For years after World War II, America’s leaders recognized the connection between strong global leadership supported by robust tools of both hard and soft power and the preservation of peace with security.

Obama has consistently repudiated the responsibilities of leadership and for the past three years he has pursued a defense policy that is devastating the strength of America’s armed forces. It is no accident that threats around the world are growing; they will continue to grow unless and until America regains its purpose and rebuilds the power that is the foundation of our safety.​

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