The price is right: the USS John F. Kennedy in Virginia, October 2019
Alamy Stock Photo

On the question of how much to spend on national defense, as with so much else, Americans are divided. A Gallup poll taken in 2019 found that 25 percent of them think the United States spends too little on its military, 29 percent believe it spends too much, and 43 percent think it is spending about the right amount—a remarkable degree of incoherence for politicians trying to interpret the public’s will. President Donald Trump, having campaigned on a promise to “rebuild” the U.S. military, has touted the “billions and billions of dollars more” he has added to the Pentagon’s budget each year of his tenure. On the campaign trail, some Democratic candidates are moving in the opposite direction. To free up money for her health-care plan, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has said she plans to slash defense spending. Likewise, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has said that in order

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  • KATHLEEN HICKS is Director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She served in the U.S. Defense Department for 17 years, including as a senior official in the Obama administration responsible for defense strategy, plans, and force development.
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