In some families, a father will proudly pass a car he’s driven for many years along to his son. But Air Force pilot David A. Deptula has gone even further.

He earned his wings and flew an F-15 for the first time in 1977. Thirty years later his son, Lt. David A. Deptula II, flew the same jet.

“We have really flown these aircraft well beyond what originally would be believed as their replacement lifetime,” the elder Deptula, a retired lieutenant general, says. The F-15 was originally designed for a 4,000-hour service life. That was later extended to 8,000 hours. “And now, because of some of the fiscal constraints that are being imposed on the Department of Defense, there is consideration being given to extending the lifetime even further,” he says.

In the Declaration of Independence, the people are said to possess the right to institute the government that “to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness” (emphasis added). Happiness is the ultimate objective, but safety comes first.

This week, we are highlighting America’s Opportunity for All—Heritage’s explanation of the conservative principles we stand for. One of the most important founding principles that very much applies today is providing for the common defense.

Today, while government spending is soaring, defense spending relative to the size of the economy is near historical lows. The Obama Administration is promising to hollow the military even more in the years ahead. Right now, America’s defenses are facing harmful cuts through budget sequestration. Such policies not only jeopardize our safety and our ability to secure our interests, they also undermine our legitimate role in the world.

Military strategy should drive the budget, not the other way around. The mission of the United States military is determined by America’s vital interests and an assessment of the threats to those interests. We must spend what is necessary to fully fund our military. Of course there is waste and inefficiency in the defense budget. But the core and undisputed responsibility of the U.S. government to provide for the nation’s security must not be up for negotiation.

Conservatives believe America is an exceptional nation, conceived in liberty and committed to the cause of constitutional self-government, not only for itself but also for other nations. The United States must have the will and the means to stay involved in the world, both to protect the nation and its citizens from freedom’s adversaries and to defend our principles, policies, and vital interests wherever they may be threatened.

This does not mean that America must be the world’s policeman, but our founding principles mean the United States has a special responsibility to defend the cause of liberty. We should not be apologizing but explaining, defending, and promoting America’s unique concept of ordered liberty and advancing freedom on all fronts.

America’s Opportunity is our plan to:

  • Provide for the common defense and keep America safe. To ensure that the nation’s military forces have what they need, the core defense budget should be fully funded at a level that would enable the U.S. to maintain stable troop levels in an all-volunteer force, provide sufficient readiness funds, and ensure adequate funding for research, development, and procurement. Congress should also pursue efficiency and reform efforts and work to eliminate waste in the defense budget. Some $100 billion in savings can be achieved in the near term simply by continuing and expanding select efficiency initiatives that are already underway. Savings should be invested in modernizing the military.
  • Secure America’s interests and advance liberty in the world. The course consistent with constitutional government is to defend America’s vital interests in light of its principles, maintaining the country’s freedom of action while upholding liberty. We should advocate freedom—especially economic freedom. Some sensible steps include reducing U.S. trade barriers and pursuing new trade and investment agreements.

America’s Opportunity for All explains how our country can remain vigilant in a dangerous world. Despite the grave fiscal challenge we face, we must defend ourselves, secure our independence, and strengthen the cause of liberty.

Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., is Heritage’s vice president for American Studies and director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics.

Quick Hits:

  • “Leaders of Muslim nations called for a negotiated end to Syria’s civil war at a summit in Cairo on Wednesday,” reported Reuters.
  • Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will deliver the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address–and he will speak in both English and Spanish.
  • The hacker group “Anonymous” hacked into the Federal Reserve’s computer system.
  • Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) delivered a major speech on foreign policy at The Heritage Foundation yesterday. See what he had to say about the rise of Islamic radicalism.
  • Tune in to Istook Live! this morning to hear a debate about women in combat. Join the discussion from 9 a.m. to noon ET here.