by Joe Shea
January 22, 2011
THE GINGRICH TURN
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It is as predictable as the sun rising in the east each morning. Someone proposes to cut U.S. military spending, and the howls of protest and outrage by conservatives immediately begin.
We have seen 13 straight years of increases in military spending. In inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars, we are spending 37 percent more than we did in 1999.
And that figure doesn't include the last decade of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The more than $1 trillion spent on fighting those wars was never included in the budget. Also not included is the cost of maintaining our nuclear arsenal, and the cost of subsidies for selling armaments to our "allies."
Here's some perspective. During the Eisenhower Administration in 1956, just three years after the Korean War ended in a stalemate, military spending was $380 billion in 2012 dollars.
That happened to be the same amount in today's dollars that the Clinton Administration spent in 1998, the post-Cold War low point for the Pentagon's budget.
The Obama Administration's proposed Pentagon budget for fiscal year 2013 is $523 billion, or about $7 billion less than Congress approved for the current fiscal year.
Again, that figure is without the cost of our ongoing wars, our nukes, or arms sale subsidies.
That's not exactly "hollowing out" our military.
In a saner world, our government might act on the recommendations of the President's own Simpson-Bowles commission, or of the Sustainable Defense Task Force, both of whom came up with ways to cut $1 trillion from the military budget over the next 10 years without compromising national security.
That's sounds like a drastic cut, but when you consider that military spending went up by $1 trillion during the first decade of this century -- again, not including war spending, nukes or arms sale subsidies -- it's not really that drastic.
It's only drastic if you still believe that the United States should continue to spend more on its military than the 14 next biggest-spenders on the planet, combined.
Or if you still believe our nation needs to have more than 800 military bases spread over more than 50 countries.
Or if you think the rampant Pentagon mismanagement and fraud over the past decade that has cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars is acceptable.
Far from hollowing out our military, the proposed Obama budget pretty much keeps the status quo, albeit in a ever-so slightly reduced form. A few unneeded weapons programs will get cut. There will be some modest cuts in troop strength for the Army and the Marine Corps. Some overseas bases that have outlived their strategic usefulness will be closed.
However, the guiding philosophy of our foreign policy remains. Our nation is to remain the most powerful military force on Earth, and it will reserve the right to use that force in any place on the planet where we believe our interests are at risk.
Global overreach is still the name of the game, but it costs money to run an empire.
How strong is a nation that has advanced weapons technology and crumbling public infrastructure?
That can project its force anywhere, anytime, but allows tens of millions of its citizens to live in poverty?
That has the best trained fighting force in the world, but can't afford to educate its children or care for its elderly?
That plans for all types of hypothetical battle scenarios, but refuses to plan for the very real consequences of climate change, peak oil, and a collapsing economic system?
The level of denial that comes into play in nearly every discussion of military spending is astounding. Since the creation of the atomic bomb, it has become clear that no great power will attack another great power, for doing so would be suicidal.
Likewise, it is also equally clear that spending gobs of money to build a fearsome fighting force does you little good if you let everything else go to hell.
So are we doing this? Because there is money to be made in keeping people afraid if you are an arms manufacturer. And if it there isn't anything to be afraid of, create something to be afraid of.
Now that al-Qaida is slowly fading away as a threat, China is moving back to the top of the list. But you don't see the Chinese navy patrolling off the coast of California. You don't see the Chinese air force playing cat-and-mouse with U.S. interceptor planes in the North Atlantic. You don't see the Chinese forming military alliances with Canada and Mexico and staging war games in Alberta or Chiapas.
Yes, China is spending more money on its military than it used to, although it is still a fraction of the U.S. military budget. But China is also getting rich as one of the world's top manufacturers and trading partners, and it is using that wealth to invest in public infrastructure and education to build the foundation to create even more wealth.
That's how countries become superpowers in the post-Hiroshima age. You become a lot stronger beating your swords into plowshares, rather than melting down your plows to make more swords. Yet our country remains on the path of endless war that it embarked upon since the end of World War II.
The transformation of our military from a force to protect against foreign invasion to a force to project American power around the globe has come at a great cost to our nation. The military-industrial complex is powerful and entrenched, and continually cries out for more money. And nobody in Washington, including President Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, has the guts to end this incredible waste of our money and resources.
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.