WINTER PARK – At a time when the United States is facing a staggeringly high national debt and federal programs may come under tough scrutiny in Congress this year, it seems logical to ask: should defense spending be put up for possible budget cuts as well?
Or, to put it another way, is defense spending “Needless or Necessary?”
That was the issue being debated last night at the University Club of Winter Park: whether defense spending should come under the same scrutiny as every other federal program – or is this one area too vital to be placed on the chopping block.
Tom Polgar, a former CIA employee, said it’s not a matter of eliminating defense spending, since every nation needs a defense system.
“Of course defense spending is necessary,” he said. “I am not coming here to debate if that is so.”
But he added that the United States military establishment had overextended itself and needed to be reigned in – if for no other reason than the fact that this nation simply couldn’t afford to keep up the same pace of accelerated defense spending witnessed over the past decade.
“The question is priorities, and how we set limits on what we do,” Polgar said. The Hungarian native added that his father was a banker, and “I learned if you spend more than you take in, problems will follow. As they say in my native country of Hungary, ‘We wish we could afford to live the way we do.’ “
But Peg Dunmire, the chairman of the Florida Tea Party, countered that it was too simplistic to suggest defense spending get treated like any other federal program, ripe for spending cuts. Noting that she has a son in the military, Dunmire said an individual’s attitude toward the armed forces instantly changes when you have a loved one who could be directly impacted by spending reductions.
“We have a different perspective from people who do not have a family member who serves in the military,” Dunmire said. “As a mother, I don’t want my son to be in danger. It’s all good and well to talk about the military – until you understand that someone is willing to lay their life down to protect you.”
Rather than look at possible cuts to defense spending, she said, Congress should seek to modernize aging weapons and military systems, to create the most advanced and up to date defense infrastructure possible.
“We have not invested in the infrastructure of our military,” Dunmire said. “It is all our responsibility to contribute to our nation’s defense.”
Polgar and Dunmire took part in the University Club’s debate on Tuesday, part of a series of debates at the club known for attracting people interested in intellectual pursuits.
“This evening is another in our great debate series,” said Frank Paul Barber, chairman of the club’s debate committee.
In framing the debate, Barber said the two panelists needed to consider whether the United States could afford not to include defense in the areas targeted for budget cuts, at a time when the national debt has soared to record highs.
“In Europe,” he said, “most of the countries are as broke as we are, except they don’t borrow as much.”
Polgar said reducing defense spending doesn’t mean eliminating a national defense.
“Obviously, we need a military establishment,” he said. “I served in the Army. I served four years in Vietnam. I’ve been living with defense issues all my life. The question is how much do we need, what do we need it for, and are our leaders telling us the truth. Regardless of what happens in the world, we keep spending at a rate we can’t afford.”
The United States has made an error in judgment, he said, by overextending its military presence across the globe, to a point that financially and strategically, it’s no longer sustainable.
“The U.S. military interferes with everything,” he said. “This American military interference are seen by many as the core of our problems. The two main causes of the fall of a nation are the failure to adapt to changes, and over extension. The United States are over-extended.”
At a time of increasing federal indebtedness, the U.S. has no choice but to take a serious look at reducing defense spending, Polgar said.
“U.S. military missions and defense budgets have grown without limits, particularly in the past decade,” he said. “The U.S. will spend over $5.54 trillion on defense, plus the cost of the wars in the Middle East.”
But Dunmire countered that the U.S. may not have spent enough – at least, not on updating and modernizing weapons systems. She noted that the military’s personnel carriers are on average 27 years old, and the Blackhawk helicopters are 19 years old.
“The average age of army systems is 16 years,” Dunmire said. “If we are going to do what our Constitution says is one of the main goals of our government, I want us to do it well. It’s all about our priorities, and how we spend money.”
She added that having a military presence overseas that promotes stability and democracy also helps the U.S. economically, by opening up international trade opportunities for American and foreign businesses.
“One of the things our military does is it outsources to the world,” she said. “We have 30 million jobs that are impacted by international trade.”
Polgar countered that a chief problem is that defense spending creates jobs in cities and towns across the United States, in the form of manufacturing plants that construct the weapons and systems used by the armed forces. Reducing spending on those systems, he said, could mean a loss of jobs – something members of Congress whose districts are directly impacted are likely to vigorously fight.
“Spending less on defense means doing fewer things,” he said. “But this is more complex than it seems. Talking about spending cuts is easy. But living with those cuts may be more difficult.”
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.