In reading the contemporary American right’s views on foreign policy one cannot miss their immense emphasis on military spending. Since the monumental change in America’s military establishment wrought by World War II they have repeatedly found most administrations derelict in not devoting enough to our military. They were critical during the Eisenhower administration (the "missile gap"), during the Ford administration (Rumsfeld and Cheney fighting with Kissinger, see James Mann's Rise of the Vulcans), the Carter administration, the Bush 41 administration and certainly during the Clinton administration. The only presidential administrations’ military spending the radical right has been satisfied with were those of Reagan and Bush 43. As presidential campaigns approached one would usually find some new organization of the right formed to campaign for higher military spending and loudly announce that our military was being “weakened”. This was true of the Committee on the Present Danger in the 1970s and the Project for the New American Century in the 1990s.
For example in Kagan and Kristol’s Present Dangers (2000, p. 4) the author’s claim that “[o]ur present danger is one of declining military strength…. Americans and their political leaders have spent the years since 1991 lavishing the gifts of an illusory ‘peace dividend’ upon themselves….” And later (pp. 7-8), “the United States [throughout the 1990s] allowed its military strength to deteriorate to the point where its ability to defend its interests and defer future challenges is now in doubt.” And on p. 15: “To repair these [military] deficiencies and to create a force that can shape the international environment… will probably require spending some $60 billion to $100 billion per year above current defense budgets.”
It is interesting to note that pseudo-conservatives almost never raise a single question about the feasibility or value of such increased military spending, but are ever ready to leap on anyone raising questions about this with their favorite epithets such as “appeasement” and “pacifist”. In other words, they inevitably attempt to shout any critic down with emotional rhetoric hoping to successfully stampede people into being afraid to oppose them. They are the Party of Fear.
In his book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, Paul Kennedy (1987) cautiously offered a few generalizations based on his careful study of this 500 year period. He wrote (p. xxiii): “Most of the historical examples covered here suggest there is a noticeable ‘lag time’ between the trajectory of a state’s relative economic strength and the trajectory of its military/territorial influence…. An economically expanding power… may well prefer to become rich rather than to spend heavily on armaments. A half-century later, priorities may well have altered. The earlier economic expansion has brought with it overseas obligations (dependence upon foreign markets and raw materials, military alliances, perhaps bases and colonies)…. In these more troubled circumstances, the Great Power is likely to find itself spending much more on defense than it did two generations earlier, and yet still discover that the world is a less secure environment—simply because other powers have grown faster, and are becoming stronger…. Great Powers in relative decline instinctively respond by spending more on ‘security,’ and thereby divert potential resources from ‘investment’ and compound their long-term dilemma (emphasis added).”
To those on the right careful consideration of the possibility that increased US military spending at this point in our history could actually weaken us rather than strengthen us would be “thinking the unthinkable” and thus impossible. Indeed, Kagan and Kristol (Present Dangers, 2000, p. x) stated: “We would also note that there are omissions in this collection [of essays]. There is no essay on international economics….” Since nearly all the book is devoted to advocating greater military strength and a greater readiness to use it, they did not give any room to economic considerations. Yet, as Paul Kennedy pointed out, it is precisely the productiveness of a country’s industrial base that makes a powerful military possible.
And, though I am not an economist, there seem to be some significant contemporary concerns about the future productiveness of our industrial base. Books like Senator Byron Dorgan's Take This Job and Ship Itand Jeff Faux's The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future - and What It Will Take to Win It Back, do express concern about the deterioration of our manufacturing base, the export of our previously high paying manufacturing jobs overseas, our decreased international competitiveness as measured by our record trade deficits, etc. It seems particularly important at this time to consider whether our increasing spending on "defense" and the Iraq war are part of a trend which may lead to the "Fall" of this "Great Power". If this occurs it will be the siren songs of the Party of Fear which hastened our decline.