Paul Ryan has attempted to boost his foreign policy credentials by making a speech to the Alexander Hamilton Society.
His argument is both breathtaking and based on bad history.
Heres some selected extracts
…defense spending has shrunk as a share of the federal budget from about 39 percent to just under 16 percent [since 1970] – even as we conduct an ambitious global war on terrorism. The fact is, defense consumes a smaller share of the national economy today than it did throughout the Cold War
In The Weary Titan, Aaron Friedberg − one of the founders of the Hamilton Society − has shown us what happened when Britain made the wrong choice at the turn of the 20th century.
At that time, Britain’s governing class took the view that it would be better to cede leadership of the Western world to the United States. Unfortunately, the United States was not yet ready to assume the burden of leadership. The result was 40 years of Great Power rivalry and two World Wars…
A more prosperous economy enables us to afford a modernized military that is properly sized for the breadth of the challenges we face.
Putting aside for a moment the implication that a return to cold war levels of military spending is a good thing Ryan doesn’t seem cognisant with the views of historians of this period, Friedberg included.
Lets start with some facts Britains spending on the military as a % of GDP was steady in the late Victorian period up to 1914.
Britain made no conscious decision to cede power. According to Freidbergs book it simply concluded that eventually the US growth would eventually mean that they would achieve naval supremacy in the Western Atlantic.
It was the cost of military spending in the first world war that began the decline of Britain as a global superpower. Precisely the opposite of Ryans thesis.
There was a crisis of confidence in the British Empire after the Boer War, the parallel with the Iraq war is a good one in some regards. But the main concern was threefold, overstretch, the inability to administer a global empire of many nations, secondly a growing demand for social welfare expenditure by a growing and newly enfranchised working class, and finally a concern that the Canada, India and Anzac both contribute more to the costs of military expenditure and make up for the shortage of population and divisions when facing the great rival Imperial Germany.
Indeed the phrase ‘Weary Titan; comes from a speech by Joesph Chamberlain in 1902 to the imperial conference – ‘The weary Titan staggers under the too vast orb of its fate. We have bourne the burden for many years. We think it is time our children assist us to support it’ Through trying to weld this alliance through his anti free trade tariff reforms he led to the crushing loss of his party in 1906.
Even the Weekly Standard has attacked his bad history.
Ryans argument is essentially the well known Guns V Butter one.
As Joseph Goebbels said “We can do without butter, but, despite all our love of peace, not without arms.’
The few countries, such as North Korea of the late Soviet union that chose guns paid a price for it in loss of economic power.
As Margert Thatcher said ‘”The Soviets put guns over butter, but we put almost everything over guns’
Hes proposing the same choice Breznev made against Reagan.