You’ll hear a lot of politicians making speeches over the next few days regarding the imperative of getting the federal budget under control. Few will, I predict, be arguing for cutting the massive U.S. defense budget. If they’re not talking about defense they’re just not serious.
In inflation adjusted terms, we’re spending more money on the Pentagon than we did during the Vietnam War. We’re spending more than we spent in the first year of World War II. No kidding. Talk about something that is not sustainable, yet it is hardly seriously debated in Washington, Boise or Butte.
Give credit to Defense Secretary Robert Gates for starting the conversation about the need to reduce military spending, but then give yourself a reality check. The Gates budget for next year, released today by President Obama, is $553 billion. The cranky old Republican who co-chaired Obama’s deficit reduction commission, former Sen. Alan Simpson, calls Gates’ effort to reduce – “crappy little cuts.”
Further reality check – that $533 billion figure does not include what will likely be another $118 billion for actually fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As McClatchy reported, the Pentagon budget for next year will “mark the 14th year in a row that Pentagon spending has increased, despite the disappearing presence in Iraq. In dollar terms, Pentagon spending has more than doubled in 10 years. Even adjusted for inflation, the Defense Department budget has risen 65 percent over the past decade.”
Lawrence Korb, a senior Defense Department official in the Reagan Administration, argues that the first place to start to trim the Pentagon budget is “reducing or eliminating funding for a number of unnecessary weapons programs, such as V-22 Osprey, rolling back the post-Sept. 11 growth in the ground forces and reducing the number of American forces deployed abroad outside of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The U.S. maintains more than 800 military installations around the world in 46 counties. That contributes just a few bucks to the deficit we all worry about.
The American Empire is costly to maintain. Fact in, in the budget language of the day, it is not sustainable. Devotees of Ronald Reagan give him credit for bring the Soviet Union to its knees, in part because the old Communist state just couldn’t keep spending vast amounts on its military in an effort to keep up with us. Here an example of part of the problem. Virtually every Congressional district in the country has a financial stake – jobs, bases, contractors – who live or die by the defense budget. Hence this story from the Columbus, Ohio Dispatch – “Central Ohio dodging a bullet on defense cuts.”
The paper says with reference to a proposed new Marine amphibious vehicle set to be manufactured in Ohio: “…lawmakers of both parties are less willing to cut defense spending in their states, fearing that it could lead to a loss of jobs. “‘I think it’s necessary for our national defense,’ Rep. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, said of the Marine vehicle. ‘A lot of money has been invested in this vehicle.’ “‘Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said that ‘in some sense, it’s what makes the Marines the Marines. You don’t just cancel this and waste the investment … that we’ve already made as taxpayers. This program needs revamping, it needs updating, it needs perhaps a different direction. But we build on this rather than canceling it.”’
Translation for both Republicans and Democrats: don’t cut the military budget in my state, but gosh this federal spending really is out of control.
The vast U.S. military-industrial complex has a vice grip hold on our economy, but in a way that is, there’s that word again, unsustainable.
We’re not competing with Reagan’s “evil empire” anymore. Today we are the lone military superpower and have projected our military power around the world much as the British Empire did in the 1800’s. As the lone superpower, we certainly spend like a superpower.
Hope it doesn’t bankrupt us.