Two new books discuss how Washington should fight the wars of tomorrow – and pay for them. But to balance the conflicting demands of strategy and finance, the next president ought to take a page from Eisenhower’s playbook.
Aaron L. Friedberg is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. From 2003 to 2005, he served as Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs in the Office of the Vice President.
History may not repeat itself, but, as the saying goes, it does sometimes rhyme. In January 2009, as in January 1953, a newly elected president will inherit a costly and controversial foreign conflict, one that a majority of Americans have concluded cannot be won and should never have been fought. As was true half a century ago, the United States now finds itself both in the midst of a „hot war” and in the early stages of a protracted global struggle against an implacable, ideologically committed foe. Now, as then, the American people have not fully come to grips with the frightening and unfamiliar threats to their security that this enemy poses. Nor are they sure precisely how high a price in lives, liberties, and dollars they will ultimately have to pay in order to defeat it.
In 2009, as in 1953, newly chosen leaders will find themselves confronted by the conflicting demands of national security and fiscal responsibility. On the one hand, they will hear powerful arguments that despite recent increases, the nation is not yet spending enough on defense and homeland security. On the other hand, they will inherit massive budget deficits and a ballooning national debt. Bringing ends and means into alignment – and doing so in a way that can be maintained for years, if not decades – will not be an easy task. At the beginning of the Cold War, Dwight Eisenhower described the job as devising a national strategy for „the long haul.” Whoever is elected president in 2008 will face a very similar challenge.
The books reviewed here frame the problem precisely: Gary Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly’s argues for increased defense spending; Robert Hormats’ makes the case for restoring balance and restraint to the nation’s finances.