Whether it’s Marco Rubio’s insistence that we are currently “eviscerating our military” or Carly Fiorina’s $500 billion plan to construct some sort of American armada, the rhetoric of some Republican candidates concerning the state of our military has been as explosive as its subject matter. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think we were facing an impending invasion from Attila the Hun.
Yet by nearly every metric we continue to boast the world’s largest, most expensive and most well-equipped military.
I won’t be so dovish as to pretend America’s grip on military supremacy should be relinquished, but I would argue that aggressively expanding what is already a $610 billion federal expenditure plays more to the incendiary than the necessary. So long as America continues to spend more on defense than the next seven countries combined, words like “rebuilding” don’t seem like a particularly apt way to describe the state of our defense.
What’s frustrating about this call to rearm is not necessarily the sentiment, but rather the way it’s communicated. It’s worth reiterating: Americans should, and likely do, want the most powerful military on the planet. But sword-rattling exclamations—such as those from The Heritage Foundation that our armed forces should be capable of handling “two major wars”—appeal more to an imperialistic global power structure reminiscent of the World Wars.
An interventionist American foreign policy is not the one I find appealing. Reactivating the 6th Fleet or the missile defense systems in Poland, as Fiorina suggests, would be costly and combative. If the Iraq War taught us anything, it’s that America’s sphere of influence is not all encompassing, and throwing more missiles, tanks and air carriers into the mix doesn’t translate to a safer homeland, let alone a safer world.
America’s security is not predicated on a military presence in every country across the globe. It’s substantiated on our ability to intervene when we absolutely must, empower allies who are under impending or actual threat and maintain constant vigilance in our intelligence and counter-terrorism capacities. Sometimes drawing that line is hazy, but when you’ve already got the most guns, bombs and boats on the planet, buying more military hardware doesn’t seem like the answer. The government should invest the money it has allocated into the programs that work, not max out a credit card on military muscle milk.
Suggesting that America maintain the world’s premier military should continue to be a talking point in this election. However, suggesting that our strength has magically deteriorated and that singing to the tune of a Daft Punk song is the only option simply isn’t forthright. Our military is the strongest in the world. It also isn’t a panacea. That’s something worth remembering the next time someone calls to draw swords.
Caleb Ellis, from St. Louis., is a senior at Duke University.