As the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, was fond of saying, the national debt has become our top national security threat.
Which begs the question, “What are supposedly national security conscious Republicans doing about it?”
The short version of the answer is, not much.
As L.A. Times writers Kenneth Lieberthal and Michael O'Hanlon pointed out in an article datelined July 3, the United States has been running trillion dollar deficits and publicly held debt now equals 70% of gross domestic product, a threshold many economists consider significant and highly worrisome. Making matters worse, half of our current deficit financing is being provided by foreigners.
Of course this being the L.A. Times, the writers tend to gloss over the fact that the vast majority of this has occurred since 2006, when liberal Democrats took over the Congress and began a spending spree unrivaled in American history – and Republicans stood by and let it happen.
Lieberthal and O'Hanlon posit a number of negative consequences when “American economic weakness undercuts U.S. leadership abroad. Other countries sense our weakness and wonder about our purported decline,” and they note that, “If this perception becomes more widespread, and the case that we are in decline becomes more persuasive, countries will begin to take actions that reflect their skepticism about America's future. Allies and friends will doubt our commitment and may pursue nuclear weapons for their own security, for example; adversaries will sense opportunity and be less restrained in throwing around their weight in their own neighborhoods.”
Lieberthal and O’Hanlon make a number of good but very general points in their L.A. Times piece, but they seem to have missed, or been bashful about directly making the most important point: what we owe to foreigners is important; who those foreigners are is decisive.
Red China remains our largest creditor and one of our top foreign marketplaces: we buy a vast array of goods from China and in return they lend us a vast amount of money to finance our government debt.
The Chinese, despite what the Russians might think, are also our greatest competitor for global influence, and they aren’t bashful about saying they think we spend too much on national defense.
The Chinese don’t think we spend too much on entitlements or infrastructure, they think we spend too much on precisely the one area of global competition where we overmatch them.
Republicans, who claim to be the defenders of American national security and military pre-eminence, should remember that the next time a bloated spending bill -- like last Friday’s Omnibus -- comes to the floor, because nothing would make the generals in Beijing happier than to see us cut defense spending to build a few bike paths in John Mica’s district in Florida or some other congressional Republican baron’s hometown.
The reality of Chinese economic power vis-a-vis United States military power is something the big spenders in Washington must confront sooner rather than later.
Should the Chinese decide upon some military adventure, such as the forcible reunification of Taiwan or the annexation of the oil-rich Spratly Islands, the issue won’t be what we will do militarily to deter them, it will be what they will do economically to deter us.