Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), who has recently become so famous (or infamous) for being the driving force behind the controversial letter to the Iranian government, gave his first speech on the Senate floor this past week. As a former military man and a vocal foreign policy hawk, you’ll probably not be surprised to learn that the speech centered in on our foreign policy and our military. He spoke eloquently about the threats our nation faces and on “restoring” our military capability to deal with those threats.
I speak today for the first time from the Senate floor with a simple message: the world is growing ever more dangerous, and our defense spending is wholly inadequate to confront the danger. To be exact,
“During the last four or five years the world has grown gravely darker…. We have steadily disarmed, partly with a sincere desire to give a lead to other countries, and partly through the severe financial pressure of the time. But a change must now be made. We must not continue longer on a course in which we alone are growing weaker while every other nation is growing stronger.”
Tragically, Great Britain and the West didn’t heed this warning, when they might have strangled that monster in his crib. Rather, they let the locusts continue to eat away at the common defense. The Axis powers grew stronger, and the West grew weaker, conciliating with and appeasing them, hoping their appetite for conquest and death might be sated. As we all know, however, that appetite only grew until it launched the most terrible war in human history.
Today, perhaps more tragically because we ought to benefit from these lessons of history, the United States is again engaged in something of a grand experiment of the kind we saw in the 1930s. As then, military strength is seen in many quarters as the cause of military adventurism. Strength and confidence in the defense of our interests, alliances, and liberty is seen not to deter aggression, but to provoke it. Rather than confront our adversaries, our president apologizes for our supposed transgressions. The administration is harsh and unyielding to our friends, soothing and supplicating to our enemies. The president minimizes the threats we confront, in the face of territory seized, weapons of mass destruction used and proliferated, and innocents murdered.
The concrete expression of this experiment is our collapsing defense budget. For years, we have systematically under-funded our military, marrying this philosophy of retreat with a misplaced understanding of our larger budgetary burdens. We have strained our fighting forces today to the breaking point, even as we have eaten away at investments in our future forces—creating our own “locust years,” as Churchill would have put it. Meanwhile, our long-term debt crisis looks hardly any better, even as we ask our troops to shoulder the burden of deficit reduction rather than shoulder the arms necessary to keep the peace.
The results of this experiment, it should come as no surprise, are little different than the results of the same experiment in the 1930s. American weakness and leading from behind have produced nothing but a more dangerous world. When we take stock of that world and our position in it, there can be no doubt that “a change must now be made.”
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