reasoned thought for an age of uncertainty
With the budget battle in Washington taking on ever more partisan tones, there is one glaring spot which continues to drain public coffers without accountability: the military. The military budget over the past ten years has spiraled out of control and Washington continues to let it grow unchecked. This, along with generous tax cuts which have pushed government revenues to a 60-year low, have led to persistent deficits. All told, the current cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are topping $1.2 trillion, and $171 billion was budgeted for the war in 2010 alone–that’s about 7% of the entire federal budget.
Despite the obvious burden that the military is placing on our budget, the Republican party continues to take swings at public services such as NPR or Planned Parenthood. In fact, the budgets for each of these services–with national public broadcasting at $430 million and family clinic services at $300 million, is about equal to what it costs to build one or two military airplanes (even the military band gets a budget of $317 million a year). A C17A Globemaster transport plane, for example, costs $328 million per plane (we have 190 of them, or about enough to fund Title X health services and the Corporation of Public Broadcasting combined for the next 85 years). And when the military buys planes, it does not buy just one or two. In 2001, the U.S. military contracted with Lockheed Martin to design a new series of combat planes–the F-35 Lightning II, at a cost of $122 million each. And how many planes did the Department of Defense order? 2,443 (no that’s not a typo), at a whopping $323 billion, and with costs rising to somewhere around $382 billion.
These military expenditures are a huge waste of our government resources. Aside from tempting our leaders to use force in lieu of diplomacy to resolve international conflict, expensive planes and foreign wars simply do not provide a significant benefit to the people of the United States. Even at half our current spending, the U.S. could easily maintain its global military dominance. The military budget has become about buying big toys for big boys, and just using these weapons as intended is immensely expensive. When military aircraft crash or are destroyed, our tax money is officially wasted. Consider for example this B-2 stealth bomber that crashed in Guam in 2008 (no, there is no war going on in Guam). Take a good look, because that is $2.4 billion of your tax dollars up in smoke.
Even with this massive cost, the planes and the toys are only a piece of the pie. Currently, the U.S. is responsible for over 40% of all military budget spending in the world. With at least 700 bases in 130 countries, the United States is the world’s military police. Every time the U.S. starts a war, it stays in the target country as an occupier. To this day the U.S. still has 57,000 troops in Germany, 32,000 in Japan, and 27,000 in Korea. And now, Robert Gates is saying that American troops will be staying in Iraq, commenting that “the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.” Aside from the fact that the Iraqis continue to see American troops as occupiers so certainly no initiative on this is coming from them, this decision is not for the Iraqis to make. It is the American people’s decision, and most Americans do not want troops in Iraq.
This trend extends beyond a mere military presence–it is the onset of American empire, and if there is one thing that history has well documented, it is that a democracy cannot sustain an imperial empire. Because the military industrial complex is reliant on funding from the government, it is not a sustainable industry. Instead, it is parasitic on the other productive activities in which our society engages and could not exist without our taxes. Even further, the military industrial complex produces technologies that generally cannot be used in a civilian economy, but rather, require that we perpetually engage in war to use its outputs. The more we fund these industries, the more dependent we become on them for economic growth, and the more we cripple our ability to develop a robust economy.
This is not to say that the United States has no need for a military. It just means that the military industrial complex has grown out of control, and we need to reign it in. When our government is talking about cutting reproductive services for poor families because we have spent all our money on bombs and airplanes, we have a problem. It is a spending problem, and no, it has nothing to do with health care or funding for the arts or even social security. Despite the contentious atmosphere in Washington and demands for budget cuts, the military budget has escaped the spending battle unscathed, with no cuts. Meanwhile, Republicans are both celebrating and deriding the $38 billion in budget cuts they won from Obama, which is about the equivalent of 200-300 of those 2,443 F-35 fighter planes that we will be lucky to ever see and then will have to pay to maintain for a long time to come.
Rather than acknowledge the demands the military budget places on our democracy, the military is instead balking at even the intimation that they should be making cuts. Yet at $705 billion (which includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), the military is consuming over one quarter of the entire federal budget of $2.4 trillion. This percentage is even higher when you consider that half of those funds already belong to Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid trusts.
Because of this ballooning military budget, the military industrial complex is breaking the back of our democracy. Americans no longer have control through their elected representatives over the military actions in which the United States engages, on the amount of money the Pentagon spends on weapons or on the number of troops it deploys, and we need to take that power back. The military budget must be cut if our democracy is to thrive. Perhaps it is time we reconsidered President Eisenhower’s warning in earnest: