Hope is not a strategy. Last month’s elections made that clear.

Through the year, polls consistently revealed the unpopularity of Obamacare, deep concern about excessive spending, and misgivings about how the things are going in Iran and Afghanistan. Yet all the way up to the elections, progressives hoped that Americans would somehow like Obamacare, think the stimulus was working, and feel we were winning against our worldwide adversaries.

Nov. 2 dashed those hopes. But progressives have a new hope now, bigger than ever and just as divorced from reality as was the old.

Americans want spending cut. Progressives got that message loud and clear. But the Left doesn’t want to cut its programs. And, unfortunately, the Left likes just about every program out there, except one: defense.

Here’s where the hope part comes in. Progressives hope fiscal conservatives will make common cause with them to insist that steep defense cuts be part of any package to balance the budget.

It’s a forlorn hope, however. One based on a lie.

Washington does not have to compromise our safety to get its fiscal house in order. Just ask Brian Riedl, the Heritage Foundation budget analyst who recently identified how Washington could cut spending by $343 billion without depriving our fighting men and women of one thin dime.

Rather than try to balance the budget on the backs of our all-volunteer forces, Riedl concentrated on discretionary nondefense spending, looking for opportunities to consolidate duplicative programs, end outdated and ineffective programs, and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse. That’s the smart way to go.

If Washington can save $100 million by “tightening controls on federal employee credit cards and cutting down on delinquencies,” it makes more sense to do that than to deprive our troops of $100 million needed to assure their success in the field.

What about wasteful spending in the Pentagon? Sure, there is some there too. The armed forces, for example, could save $35 billion just by modernizing their logistics practices. But money saved by the reforming Pentagon practices needs to be reinvested in our armed forces, not diverted to fund nonmilitary programs.

The reason is that we are already woefully underfunding our defenses. America cashed out a huge “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War. But while Washington dialed back Pentagon funding, it didn’t dial back on the missions.

Indeed, mission tempo stepped up — from military operations in Bosnia, Kuwait, Iran and Afghanistan to mercy missions providing global relief from earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural and man-made disasters.

After decades of underfunding and overuse, our military resources are badly frayed.

Today, we have fewer ships at sea than anytime since before World War I. Most of our aircraft are far older than their pilots. All the uniformed services are having to protect America’s interests around the world with less.

Yes, we’ve spent hundreds of billions on the Long War. But last year we shelled out far more in “stimulus” spending than on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. And little of that hot-war money has gone toward rebuilding the post-Cold War military.

We can give the nation the military it needs, but not if we cut the defense budget. Squeeze savings out of the Pentagon budget by all means, but reinvest those savings in missile defense and modernization programs able to overcome future threats.

Americans want smaller government, but not less national security. If progressives think they can persuade Washington’s freshman class of small-government conservatives to join them in gutting defense, they’re going to be disappointed — again.

Cross-posted at The Washington Examiner.