Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Fiscal Calamity and a Moral Calamity

I've been thinking for a long time about posting again on an issue that I believe is increasingly central, though it is avoided by most leading Democrats and Republicans: the obscenely high level of U.S. military spending.

Now recent events are giving me the nudge. More specifically, the Bush Administration has released its budget request for Fiscal Year 2008. Far from trying to lower U.S. military spending, it does the exact opposite. We are pouring huge sums of our tax money into the production of high-tech killing machines--many of them originally designed with Cold War adversaries in mind...but never fear, the big defense companies are still bleeding our government dry.

As reported by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation: "The Bush Administration is requesting $484.1 billion for the Department of Defense in Fiscal Year 2008, which begins on October 1, 2007. This is $49 billion more than the current level of $432.4 billion, an increase of 11.3 percent, and inflation-adjust ("real") increase of 8.6 percent. This figure does not include funding for the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy, which is considered part of total Defense Department spending. Nor does this figure include the costs of ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."

During the past election cycle, I saw the expediency of running lots of "pro-military" candidates as Democrats and even lionizing such long-standing Pentagon hawks as Murtha who had seen the light and articulated the folly of the Iraq War. And I know that Democrats in general are loathe to appear "weak on defense" or to stake their careers on cutting the defense budget. But we're going to have to face the fiscal and the moral realities of our dire situation sometime. The Republicans aren't going to do it. They're owned and controlled almost completely by the "Petrodollar and Weapondollar" coalition (to quote Bichler & Nitzan's terminology). I would say this is the "elephant in the middle of the room," but that would be unfair to elephants. (And everyone knows that elephants are Republicans anyway, right?) As advocates of progressive change within the Democratic Party, we have to push for a renewed courage to address the greatest discretionary drain by far on our federal budget.

If we want to have any money to do anything about all the worthwhile issues out there--and here I will just mention three BIG ones: forestalling adverse global climate change and fossil fuel depletion, eradicating poverty in the U.S. and abroad, and providing universal health care--we're going to have to face down our fear of cutting the military budget. (Are you listening, John Edwards, my favorite Presidential candidate?) We're going to have to swallow hard and be ready to explain the situation to the American people honestly and truthfully.

We don't just need to cut the "defense" budget, we need to cut it DRASTICALLY. The U.S. has such a great military advantage over the rest of the world combined that we have to take the lead to make the world a more peaceful place. No other country can do it. We are the big power, and we can't afford to be the overwhelmingly dominant power any more. It will be good for us to waste less of our money on the military, and it will be good for the world to have less fear of U.S. power. We can and must make a DRASTIC reduction in U.S. military spending a top priority. Everything else depends on it.

Does anyone know of any good activist groups that are out there are working to drastically cut U.S. military spending? I already know of a few such groups, but I'm curious if any readers have suggestions. We need to start building coalitions among the many groups that stand to gain from big cuts in military spending (which is pretty much everyone except the arms industry, and possibly the oil industry). If we don't act, I fear it will be both a fiscal calamity and a continuing moral calamity. I want to live in an America that stands for doing good things in the world, not one that is known most for having a huge, formidable military (which, nevertheless, cannot stop terrorists from attacking with simple technologies when sufficiently motivated) that kills and maims thousands around the world. If we want to be a moral beacon, and not an imperial war machine, we have to take on this taboo issue of high U.S. military spending.

In attacking the high U.S. military budget, I don't mean this as against the troops at all. I support fully funding their armor, health care, and speedy redeployment out of imperialistic wars. Of course, any attempt to drastically cut U.S. military spending will inevitably be attacked as "against the troops." The Masters of War depend on hiding behind the rank-and-file soldiers and sailors for political cover whenever their evil designs are opposed. It's time to call them on it. I cringe every time a Democrat uses the same framing language (i.e. "We can't cut off funding for the Iraq War, because it would 'hurt the troops'..."), and it is time to hold them all accountable. We will, of course, want to cut not just the obscenely expensive high-tech weapons systems that enrich the arms industry so much but also the size of the armed forces. But so many of those fighting overseas are National Guard and Reservists anyway, we can easily let them go back to their normal jobs and families. Over time, we can recruit fewer into the standing army and move towards a less militarized society. We can thank those who have gone into war for their willingness to serve and beg their forgiveness for sending them into such a terrible situation with such little chance for success. And then we can wish them well in their civilian lives. They have suffered enough for the sake of our leaders' misguided policies. We will still have to make hard choices about military bases (I propose as a first step closing mostly overseas bases--why should we need to project so much power around the globe in a multipolar, interdependent world anyway?) and I hope we can convert some of the domestic bases into well-funded centers for alternative energy research and other worthy endeavors. But we have to begin this conversation and start to deal with the fiscal and moral realities of our over-inflated military budget.


Rob said...

Good to see you posting again. This is an issue which hasn't been addressed since the concept of a "peace dividend" first appeared when the Cold War ended.

We do live in a dangerous world and must project military power. But the gluttony of our interventionist/imperialistic defense policy has only undermined our geopolitical position and the cause of world peace.

Even worse, as you write, public education and health care are grotesquely underfunded for the the working poor and impoverished. A genuine progressive direction won't happen unless the entire military industrial complex and its cost is re-structured.

Rob said...

I've linked a diary on a community blog called The Agonist about American military spending you might find interesting. The writer, Ian Welsh often comes up with good stuff.


christian_left said...

Very interesting link. Thanks for sending it. It makes the point more from a pragmatic "return on investment" point of view (I hadn't really thought about it that way!) rather than the moral or fiscal crisis perspective, but I think it makes a lot of sense.

Speaking of return on investment, it may have been an incredibly raw deal for the American taxpayers in general, but it has certainly been a GREAT return on investment for the arms industry...