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U.S. Defense spending should be addressed by President Obama and Congress in budget debates


For decades our government has spent money they didn't have, sometimes wisely, often foolishly. As recently as the Clinton years we had a President Bush Aircraft Carrierbudget surplus, but Bush II, the worst president in our history, turned that into a massive deficit with the complicity of a Democratic controlled Congress. The most egregious part of his wasteful spending was, to quote his successor, “running 2 wars on a credit card.”  

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were not included in the Defense Department budget, but were funded by a supplementary spending bill. After the September 11th attacks, we justifiably decided that nothing was more important than defending ourselves in this new kind of warfare. It was unpatriotic to question the (wisdom?) of the White House during our response to Al Qaeda.

The only thing President George W. Bush did right in eight years was declaring that we would hunt down and hold responsible those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and anyone giving them safe haven. We invaded Afghanistan where the Taliban government had allowed Osama Bin Laden free reign to base his terrorist activities. Then the Bush White House lost its collective mind. They failed to get Bin Laden, refused to follow him into Pakistan, and made up false intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq. “This is a liberation, not an occupation,”  they lied on the subject, and President Obama's greatest failure is that he did not end these losing battles as soon as he took office. His signature triumph came the day Seal Team Six shot Bin Laden in the head.

U.S. Defense Spending 2013Our military and economic strength are inextricably intertwined. It was President Reagan who decided to “spend the Soviet Union into the ground.”  The burden of matching defense spending with our much more robust capitalist economy put the Russians out of the superpower business. But that came at a high price. Every dollar we spent on atomic bombs is a dollar we did not spend to educate our children, cure cancer, build infrastructure, etc...  

Now our economic health is in serious danger.  Spending has to be cut wherever possible, and there is nothing that costs more than defense.  Without defense spending this year, our budget deficit would be around $50 billion instead of $1 trillion. Of course, without defense spending, we'd be slaughtered en masse by the Chinese, the Russians, or anyone else who did keep a standing army.

In the current budget (debt ceiling) debate, there has been a lot of overdue attention to controlling spending on Social Security and Medicare, the so-called entitlement spending. We should make some sensible changes, and can afford to, in a way that does not pull the rug out from under people who worked their entire lives with the promise that they would have these benefits in their senior years. But Defense costs us more than Social Security, nearly twice what we spend on Medicare.  It is the largest single item in annual spending bills, and loaded with waste and abuse. It was no less a military man than President Eisenhower, the architect of the D-Day invasion, who shocked defense contractors when he warned us of the power and influence of the military-industrial complex on leaving office.

As with any government agency that has large amounts of cash to spend, the hogs line up at the trough. We have all heard of the Pentagon's thirst for $900 hammers and $450 toilet seats. In Iraq, soldiers have named the $10,000 bricks of hundred dollar bills that they literally throw around “footballs.”  I met a recently discharged sailor who told me his last service in the Navy was dumping foot thick steel cable in San Diego Bay, because if they didn't use it up the money would be taken out of their budget. Anyone who has ever served in the armed forces can tell you a similar story.

Brown University's Watson Institute For International Studies estimates the final cost of the two middle eastern quagmires we are stuck in now will be $4 trillion, with another trillion in interest on the debt.  All this doesn't even mention the real cost of wars in human lives and misery. About 5,000 of our soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghansistan, another 40,000 were wounded. Most of the 125,000 dead civilians in Iraq were not terrorists or even anti-American, just working class schlubs going about their business in a country ruled by a madman.

We need to be smarter in how we maintain our overwhelming military superiority.  Much of our edge comes from technology as a result of research and development.  Some of it is because men fighting for freedom are more willing to put their lives on the line. Only China and Russia spend 1/10 as much as we do on defense. We can afford to, and for the sake of our nation we have to, make intelligent cuts in this vital area.

Contact Darryl Mars at darrylmars@comcast.net

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U.S. Military Spending graphic from sdvfp.org

Photo of President Bush from boston.com