By Patrick Bohlin
Four University of Dallas seniors hopped off the plane at the Los Angeles International Airport this past Friday to spend a sunny weekend in California with important political figures like John McCain, Leon Panetta, Eric Cantor, Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, situated in Simi Valley among the dry mountains outside Los Angeles, hosted many political leaders such as these at this year’s “Reagan National Defense Forum”.
Past and present UD Alexander Hamilton Society (AHS) officers Sally Krutzig, Will Chavey, Christina Davis and Patrick Bohlin, attended the forum as representatives from UD, along with several dozen other AHS members from various universities across the country.
Last year, several students started up an Alexander Hamilton Society branch at UD. The university branch has a particularly strong tie to the AHS national office since Mitchell Muncy, the founding executive director of the Alexander Hamilton Society, is a UD alumnus. The UD branch ended up winning the title of “Best New Chapter” last year through a point system based on such merits as how many events were held and how many students attended. As a reward, the AHS national office paid for these officers to attend the forum.
Considering Ronald Reagan’s emphasis on defense during his presidency, the Reagan library, boasting a towering display of Reagan’s Air Force One and other military vehicles, was an apt setting for such an event.
“It was an incredible honor to be at the Forum along with 650 national security leaders and officials, and to discuss the future of national defense policy in such an intimate environment,” Davis said.
The eleven-hour forum made one thing abundantly clear: the legacy of Reagan remains.
“In the real world, peace through strength must be our motto,” Reagan once said. He was famously ambitious in his fortification of American defenses, and he continues to inspire influential Americans to prioritize military research and development. Defense is the prerogative of the federal government alone, and its diligent execution, where possible, is a non-negotiable. The overwhelming consensus of the panelists was that, in the current state of things, it is not being executed well, both because of the budget sequester and because of this administration’s determined stance to minimize American involvement in other countries.
The debate about U.S. exertion of power abroad is alive and well in the public forum, as it will always be when family members have to wait for the hoped return of their sons, daughters, siblings and friends in uniform. Yet panelists passionately argued that without American military presence abroad, security and tranquility at home are impossible. Theirs was a resounding call to arms, not necessarily to use them, but to be ready to do so at a moment’s notice.
Given the Islamic State’s defiance of American airstrikes, the persistency of Syrian and Iranian regimes in pursuing their unacceptable goals, China’s frequent cyber-attacks on public and private mediums, and the audacity of Vladimir Putin, the majority of the forum speakers emphasized the need for the United States to be militarily strong.
Despite the forum’s collective confidence that American hegemony is still the status quo, they largely agreed that it is not a given, but rather a goal to be continuously pursued. In order to pursue it, they pushed for the building of American muscle as a matter of preeminent importance and working evenly with allies who share our national interests. Speaking to those on the non-interventionist side of the debate, Eric Cantor, former Congressman of Virginia and Majority House Leader, argued that to reconcile the positions, the United States must both provide for the common defense and stay out of international conflicts. Coherency obliges them to advocate harder than anybody for a stronger military: without the ability to counter threats at their sources overseas, threats may develop to the point that it will take an impregnable fortress to fend them off.
Testimonies from Army, Marine, Navy, and Air Force leaders indicated that none of the branches are unscathed from the recent defense budget cuts. The developments in American foreign policy will be telling over the next weeks and months, as President Obama will likely substantially increase the amount of boots on the ground in the Middle East. As to which approach to national defense is the right one, however, only time will tell.