In the 1970s, rather than rebuilding the military after the Vietnam War, President Jimmy Carter let it go hollow—the military looked okay on paper, but readiness dropped to appalling levels. President Bill Clinton adopted a similar strategy after the Cold War.

They both did it for the same reasons: Wanting to respond to criticisms of “big government” spending, they cut defense—hence less government spending—but they could save as much of their precious “big government” as possible.

Clinton’s neglect of the military was less apparent, because Reagan had built up the armed forces in the 1980s. Today, President Obama is copying the Clinton strategy, gutting defense to protect other spending. But the Clinton strategy won’t work today.

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