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January 28, 2010

Foreign and Domestic
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

CATO's Justin Logan tweaks me for something I said on Bloggingheads with Dan Drezner two days ago.  He seems to think I said foreign and defense spending are not fungible.  What I meant to say:

1.  The idea that foreign and domestic spending allocation is a one-for-one zero sum game is mistaken.  We need a strong economy at home to form the foundation of our power abroad (as President Obama went on to suggest in his state of the union).  We also need smart spending abroad -- to keep ourselves secure, to block disease and environmental disaster and other threats before they reach our shores, and to encourage economic and social development that, among their other benefits, create consumers and trading partners for our economy.

2.  The idea that it's a useful political trope to lead your argument on any national security issue with "we can't afford it" is also mistaken.  In the public mind -- I'm talking about perception here, and I think this is where the confusion came in -- if it's about our security of course we can afford it.  What kind of defeatist would say we can't afford things that are essential for our security?  If you establish first in your messaging that something -- say, the F-22, or outdated nuclear bombers, or an endless war in Iraq -- is not effective in promoting US security, then you can say, and besides, it's not cost-effective.  

3.  Also, if you believe as I do that the US has security, economic and moral interests in an active, engaged (though mostly civilian-led) foreign policy around the world, then the idea that a dollar spent abroad is better spent at home is not your friend.  Again, it ain't as simple (pace John Kerry) as firehouses there or firehouses here.

Finally, Justin raises the question of whether or not we can afford an "interventionist" foreign policy over the long term.  Now it's my turn to say I don't know what he means.  Usually at CATO that term is not a compliment.  What I laid out in point one above doesn't count to me as "interventionist" -- but starting two wars a decade sure does.  I actually think if we launch two wars every decade we will run out of manpower, morale and morals long before we run out of cash. Justin may think that policies that try to shift US energy production away from fossil fuels and negotiate with China to encourage/help/pressure it to do the same -- just as one example -- count as "interventionist."  I would disagree that they belong in the same worldview as the Iraq war.  I believe we both agree that we can afford the former policies; obviously I believe that kind of "engaged" foreign policy is a necessity.  I also believe we both agree that we can't afford the latter.

By the way, this is the crazy thing about the relationship between liberals and libertarians on national security these days.  We often start from the same critique and reach many of the same policy prescriptions -- but the intervening steps of reasoning look very different.  Justin's colleague Chris Preble looves to tweak me about this.  But at least the libertarians usually have internally-consistent reasoning.  Usually.


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