How conservatives ignored, and liberals misconstrued, Eisenhower’s warnings about military spending.
Or, at least, it has up to this point. The fiscal catastrophe facing the federal government, though a long time coming, has invited renewed scrutiny over the Pentagon’s budget. Eisenhower hoped that “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” would constantly weigh the costs and benefits of national security policies “so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Even many Republicans now concede that in their search for spending cuts, everything, even the military’s budget, must be on the table. Although the military as an institution enjoys overwhelming support, a recent Reuters poll found that 51 percent of Americans support actual cuts in military spending, not merely the slowing of the rate of growth that Secretary Gates announced in January.
Strategic change is necessary if we are serious about bringing the Pentagon’s budget under control. The United States in 2011 could have a far smaller military if Washington were to embrace restraint, an approach to global affairs characterized by the minimal use of force combined with extensive economic and cultural engagement around the world. Such a shift makes sense on its own terms, and would be consistent with the wise vision set forth fifty years ago by Dwight Eisenhower.
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