Street signs and the Constitution

Published 9:44 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

by Randy Forbes

Along the Virginia Beach oceanfront, visitors and residents find their way to the sandy beaches, favorite restaurants, concerts and other activities by street number. Whether heading to the 24th Street stage, the 31st Street park, the pier by 14th Sreet, or to Grommet Island park at 2nd Street, street signs provide orientation for residents and tourists among the sandy embankments and endless waves. For those of us who grew up in Hampton Roads, these street signs are more than just numbers — they bookmark the memories of where we played as children, or for me, where Shirley and I strolled on one of our first dates. Even for the casual passerby, these street signs serve as important guides. They remind you of where you have been and direct you to where you are going.

Our Constitution serves as a similar type of sign, providing valuable markers as we move forward as a nation. As with the street signs along Virginia Beach’s boardwalks, the articles and amendments in our Constitution serve as a way to orient our nation, reminding us of our purpose and place as a country. They are meant to direct our decisions here in Congress. They help us in the midst of reflection, choice, and debate.

Recently, however, many have come to view the Constitution as merely a series of suggestions rather than an absolute guide, particularly as it relates to one constitutional aim: providing for our common defense.

Every day we see the threats of the 21st century coming more clearly into focus. News of uprisings, ISIS attacks, regional tensions and aggressive actions by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea paint a clear picture of the national security challenges we will continue to face in the coming decades. These days, the commitment we make today towards our national defense stretches far beyond our own national security. A robust national defense is essential to securing U.S. interests across the globe.

Are we prepared to face these global challenges for the long term? I would argue that we are not, largely because we are failing to adequately achieve Article 1, Section 8 in our Constitution, which commands us to “raise and support Armies…To provide and maintain a Navy.”

Instead of making our national security a priority, the Administration has failed to fully provide the resources needed to face 21st-century threats. Reckless cuts to our national defense have placed U.S. national security in danger. From my vantage point as Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, the threat assessments that I receive in briefings and hearings continue to get worse. We are seeing patterns that are escalating.

Just this year, Russian aircraft repeatedly buzzed the destroyer USS Donald Cook, Iran seized two U.S. Navy vessels and 10 American sailors (violating international law), North Korea continues to conduct missile tests and China is rapidly building up its military power.

Yet as security needs increase, our defense budget and resources are getting tighter. In 1990, the U.S. had a 570-ship Navy; today we have 272. The U.S. had 76 Army combat brigades in 1990; today we are on a path to 32. Two decades ago, the Air Force had twice as many fighter and bomber aircraft as today. We do not have a comprehensive missile defense system. We have yet to clearly define our regional interests and strategy with respect to the Asia-Pacific region. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines lack the resources they need to successfully accomplish their missions and return home safely.

It’s not enough to talk about raising armies and maintaining navies. Our Founding Fathers deemed Article I, Section 8 so important that they made it a constitutionally mandated priority. They chose this level of commitment because they knew that without a strong national security, our fledgling nation would falter. Something as unique and vulnerable as the American experiment deserved — and still deserves — the strongest protection.

We aren’t the same fledgling nation we were over 200 years ago. Our core convictions are the same, but we have grown and adapted to new challenges and opportunities. Today, the United States of America serves as a pillar of strength and a beacon of hope and freedom to millions across the globe.

We have a responsibility to be economical about our defense budget dollars, particularly as it relates to waste, but this doesn’t mean we have to cheapen the Constitutional command to provide for a common defense. Without the bolstering weight of a robust, capable, and agile military, the United States risks losing its powerful diplomatic influence in the world.

Providing for the common defense is a Constitutional directive because it is necessary for a well-guarded peace. We cannot afford to cheapen our national security. We must ensure our military men and women are the best trained, best equipped in the world. We would be foolish to ignore this directive, because a strong defense means a strong America.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see