This week I had the pleasure of reading a well-crafted Wall Street Journal blog post by Pete Du Pont, in which he argues that President Barack Obama would do well to put Ronald Reagan's "peace through strength" mantra into practice.
But what of David Cameron and the British military? Surely a Conservative Prime Minister has preserved Britain as a global force to be reckoned with, even after the follies of his predecessor in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Not so much. Despite William Hague's belief that a strong, capable Army, Navy and Royal Air Force is necessary to protect us from traditional threats and combat the malevolence of terrorists, the Conservative Party seems to have either disregarded Reagan's theory or confused it for "strength through weakness." First there was the 8% cut in 2010, then the decommissioning of the HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier, and the removal of the Desert Rats' tanks. By the time Cameron and co are up for reelection, they'll have pensioned off thousands of troops.
And the Prime Minister may not stop there if he returns to Number 10 Downing Street, recently refusing to eliminate the possibility of further weakening British forces if he wins reelection in 2015.
Reagan's "peace through strength" stance (best expressed in this 1986 speech) is not some obscure American concept, but rather has its roots in Winston Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' address in 1946. In it, Churchill stated that Stalin and his cronies would only push Communism westward if they thought Britain and America were too weak to prevent it. "I am convinced," Churchill said, "that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness." Remember that the actual title of this talk was not the 'Iron Curtain' speech, but actually "The Sinews of Peace." Contrary to the claims of revisionist detractors, it was peace, not war, that Churchill wanted. And he knew that to withstand Communism, Britain must stand strong and stand with its "special relationship" partners - the United States, Canada, Australia et al - in good times and in ill.
Of course, the world of combat is not the same as it was under Churchill, Thatcher or even Blair. Military forces must be increasingly fast and mobile, drones are fast replacing manned fighter planes and the need for a large-scale ground invasion as in the Gulf War is, thankfully, receding.
Yet saber-rattling Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, strongman Russian President Vladimir Putin and even posturing North Korean President Kim Jong-Un will be merely encouraged to test our resolve by the sight of Britain's military spending and personnel cuts. As Harry Truman once told his secretary of State about Soviet Russia, "Only one language do they understand: 'How many divisions do you have?' (cue the silly comments blaming Churchill, FDR and Truman for starting the Cold War).
Again, there's no longer a need to have a bigger army than your enemies and potential foes, as in Truman's day. But the essence of his comment remains valid, and the need to retain a capable, versatile Army, Navy and Air Force remains. As does the importance of Britain and America standing side by side against the forces of tyranny, (rather than, for example, the Obama administration backing Argentina over the Falklands non-issue and insisting on calling the islands "the Malvinas.").
Your move, Mr. Cameron.