Monday, October 10, 2011

Does terrorism justify exempting the Defense Department from budget cuts?

That's what Bentley Rayburn suggests at National Review today:
Congress should remember that we are still facing very real threats. Today, we are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fighting al-Qaeda across the globe using intelligence and special-operations forces backed up with Predator drones and other modern technologies. We’re also protecting the nascent democratic movements in Libya and elsewhere, expanding operations to hot spots like Yemen, and rotating home a fighting force worn down by a decade of repeated, extended combat deployments.

Terror attacks are on the rise as the threat spreads around the globe — according to the National Counterterrorism Center, there were 2,534 terror attacks worldwide in 2010, nearly triple the 945 recorded five years ago.
I found that last paragraph interesting, so I went to the National Counterterrorism Center website. I couldn't verify Rayburn's numbers, but I did find a couple of other very interesting charts in the NTC's report on 2010 activity.

Like this one:

And this one:

So: Barely any non-military Americans were killed in terrorist incidents around the world in 2010—and 13 of the 15 who did die, died in Afghanistan. (One in Iraq, one in Uganda.) No private-citizen Americans were kidnapped.

Which is to say: It sure doesn't look like Americans are the targets of all this rising terroristic activity.

That's not to say that the United States doesn't have a legitimate concern with this trend. And these numbers don't include uniformed U.S. personnel who died in terror attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the charts above raise the question of whether rising terroristic activity "worldwide" is an actual threat to American security. That's the metric that should determine defense spending priorities: A civil war in the Congo—tragic as that is—doesn't necessarily count.

But the arguments by Rayburn and Max Boot and other hawks rest on the presumption that the United States military should remain a globe-spanning colossus. That's an issue that should be on the table. Our interests—and our security—doesn't stop at our borders. But neither are they infinite. Certainly our resources aren't. Nor should the defense budget be.

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