America's Dumbest Budget Cut

Article excerpt

Byline: Niall Ferguson

Why Republicans are wrong to put fiscal arithmetic ahead of global influence.

Bring the troops home. Considering how polarized American politics is supposed to be, the consensus on this one point verges on the supernatural.

President Obama recently announced a new schedule for scaling down the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. A total of 10,000 men will come home this year and a further 20,000 by the end of next summer. The surge is over.

This is not a declaration of victory. It is a declaration of bankruptcy. "From a fiscal standpoint, we're spending too much money on Iraq and Afghanistan," a senior administration official told The New York Times. "There's a belief from a fiscal standpoint that this is cannibalizing too much of our spending."

There was a time when Republicans--and not a few Democrats--would have been dismayed by such a retreat. Yet in their televised debate just a few days before the president's announcement, the Republican presidential hopefuls vied with one another to out-dove him.

Frontrunner Mitt Romney took the lead: "It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Taliban military in a way that they're able to defend themselves. Excuse me, the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban." That was the Freudian slip of the week.

Ron Paul was not to be outdone: "I'd bring them home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn't start a war in Libya. I'd quit bombing Yemen. And I'd quit bombing Pakistan." Tea Party queen Michele Bachmann also wanted out of Libya: "We were not attacked. We were not threatened with attack. There was no vital national interest--The president was absolutely wrong in his decision on Libya." And former House speaker Newt Gingrich itched to "say to the generals, 'We would like to figure out [how] to get out as rapid [sic] as possible with the safety of the troops involved. …