The two-year deal Congress passed pleased "conservatives" because it would boost defense spending in 2018 to $700 billion and in 2019 to $716 billion. This represents a $165 billion increase from the previous cap — and doesn't include the ever-slushy Overseas Contingency Operation funds, which would be in the neighborhood of $60 billion on top of that.
The first OCO was passed by Congress seven days after 9/11 because the base budget hadn't accounted for fighting wars, but has essentially turned into a Pentagon slush fund, as the money is now routinely spent for items that have nothing to do with war.
Meanwhile, those who want more spending here at home were happy because they got a $131 billion boost.
Leaders in Congress have acclaimed the short-term benefit these funds promise to deliver. These celebrations, however, mask the true magnitude of the crisis we face. A little-read government report found that over and above the $20 trillion debt we have, there is more than double that amount hanging over our heads.
The FY 2016 Financial Report of the United States Government reported that projected expenditures "for scheduled benefits for Social Security, Medicare Parts A, B and D, and other social insurance programs over 75 years" was expected to "exceed projected revenues by about $46.7 trillion." A Forbes article claims the true level of unfunded liabilities is closer to $210 trillion.
It is therefore an urgent national security imperative to address the debt. In 2010 then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen correctly warned that the "most significant threat to our national security is our debt." Not China, not Russia, not North Korea, nor radical Islamic fighters, but the national debt.
It took us years to get into this problem, and it can't be solved overnight, but there are some short- and long-term measures we must take immediately to mitigate the severity of potential future consequences, at least as far as national security is concerned.
First, the most effective and immediate way the president could improve military readiness would be to discontinue all unnecessary military operations worldwide. President Donald Trump should order a commission that looks at each of the seven countries where U.S. troops engage in combat operations.
This assessment should examine the extent to which each operation protects or enhances national security, how much each costs annually, and assess the likely regional effects if each is shut down. The vast majority of those operations could be shuttered and regional complexities mitigated without any harm to U.S. security — and it would save almost $100 billion a year (plus remove the requirement for OCO spending).
For example, the best candidate to be terminated first would be the U.S. presence in Syria. There are still reported to be upwards of 2,000 U.S. military personnel there, yet since ISIS' defeat, they have no clearly defined mission that in any way contributes to U.S. national security.
These troops could be withdrawn back to their home bases almost immediately, and doing so would reduce the potential of clashes with Russian troops or militia, as happened in Der Ez Zoir in early February.
Closing out the mission in Afghanistan would need to be conducted over a two-year period to minimize disruption and enable the Kabul government time to make adjustments to how it secures its country.