The event that inspired this article was the recent passage by the House of Representatives of the Defense Authorization Act, which approved, despite a veto threat from the White House $642.5 billion dollars, which exceeded the White House's budget request. The House of Representatives put more spending into the authorization than the Pentagon needed, as if by some level of wisdom the House Armed Services Committee knows more what the military needs than the military does.
Well, so, what is the big deal? We've always spent a lot of money on the military. Yes, at least since World War II we have, and that is a big deal. Our budget for defense of the realm in 2011 was 41% of all known defense spending in the world. In 2011, our expenditures of $711 billion dollars was $34 billion dollars more than the next 15 countries combined. The US expenditures were 3.3 times the amount that Russia and China combined spent.
So, here is the big deal. The amount of defense spending in this country far exceeds the rest of the known world and it doesn't need to. We have since the end of World War II increased our military presence in the world to where US military operations have an estimated 1000 bases or installations in about 130 countries across the world. Why do we need military bases and operations in all of these places? Surely, we can do with fewer? Given that many of these bases are in allied countries, and they themselves (If you just account for our main allies: France, UK, Germany, Japan, Canada, South Korea and Australia) account for $313 billion in expenditures themselves. Why can we not reduce the amount of spending on our own Defense, since much of that expenditure shows up in troops and bases in our allied countries?
Well, one reason is probably what President Eisenhower was talking about when he said this:
President Eisenhower's warning about undue influence by the Military Industrial Complex was a prophetic statement. The amount of business done in the United States by Defense Contractors, whose primary customer is the United States is astonishing. Last year the top 14 Defense Contractors by revenue made a collective $351 billion dollars. This list includes companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc. So, there is an enormous amount of money to be made in building airplanes, ships, weapons systems, communications and logistics at the expense of the US taxpayer. I'd like a ship named after me, wouldn't you?
Look, we need to be secure. One of the central responsibilities of our government is to promote the security of the United States. So, we need a military. I'm not sure however that we need a military that is so gargantuan that it dwarfs every other in the world. I'm not sure we need to continue to build nuclear weapons, but we do. I'm not sure we need to build weapons systems that the Pentagon says they don't need, but we do. What has happened is that we have done what Eisenhower warned against in terms of setting up an industry that is so influential it is difficult to control. Lobbyists for the Defense Industry rival any other roaming Washington. Congressional representatives fight like crazy to keep military bases in their districts. Defense Contractors spend millions of dollars on trade shows, "fact-finding" trips, demonstrations, etc. all to seduce generals and admirals and Congress into thinking they must have the newest thing. We do need to spend on Defense. The question is, how much?
We need to keep this acquisition of military might in perspective, and we have failed to do so. It is astonishing how we will fight over funding for food stamps but we will hardly squeak about funding for the military. It's not patriotic after all. How would anyone dare "not supporting the troops"? This meme has gone so far over the top that no reasonable person in Washington would dare seriously proposing draconian cuts to Defense spending because it would paint them as weak or un-patriotic. I can hear Sarah Palin now, crowing about how un-American some politician might be because he or she would like to build a few less guns and spend the money on books or food or some other non-essential item.
The Republicans in Congress today have backtracked on the deal they made last summer regarding spending cuts. They have actually increased the level of Defense spending in their bill than what was agreed to and said they'd make up the difference by more cuts in social programs. Evidently, these Republicans didn't listen to Ike either when he said the following:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?"
Dwight David Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953.
So, here is one liberal recommending to Mr. Boehner, Mr. Cantor, Mr. Ryan, and more importantly Mr. Romney saying "listen to your elders gentlemen, they have quite a lot to teach you".
I know. I know. Like I said, somewhere in Hell, an air conditioner just kicked on.
Tell me what you think.