Despite tough words from President Obama and Secretary Gates, the $704 billion defense budget is the highest ever, with the $549 billion non-war spending a 3.4% hike over last year. $704 billion. Isn’t that nuts? It’s actually almost double what we spent in 1998, which weren’t exactly shabby times for the military-industrial complex. This Tax Day let’s take a second to think about the cash we throwing into the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the billions more we are happy enough blowing without even being at war.
Let’s start with our two favorite wars. Yes, we may have spent $983 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan, but even if these wars ended tomorrow, American taxpayers would be saddled with all kind of hidden costs, as Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes explain in their excellent book, The Three Trillion Dollar War:
To date, we have spent close to $1 trillion in upfront out-of-pocket costs — but the war will cost at least $2 trillion more, when we include the cost of paying for veterans disability compensation, veterans health care, replacement of armaments, and damage to the US economy.
Then there’s our regular old, non-war, run of the mill, gargantuan Pentagon expenditures. At the State of the Union, President Obama regrettably (but predictably) continued the hero worship of the Pentagon by exempting it from his proposed “spending freeze”.
This year the U.S will account for 47% of the world’s military spending. In case you wonder why some foreigners love calling us imperialists (NOT a term I agree with), consider that our military budget is barely matched by the rest of the world combined, let alone our quasi-rivals China ($130 billion) or Russia ($80 billion).
We certainly don’t this much money to militarily confront our Axis of Evil buddies. Dave Lindorff, an investigative journalist who does great work in this area, notes that North Korea and Iran each have military budgets of about $5 billion, roughly equal to what the U.S military will spend next year on “childcare and youth programs, morale and recreation programs and commissaries on its bases.”
Nowadays the news is all about deficit reduction. The Democrats are in charge, so of course now it’s time for tough, politically loathsome choices. Many here would agree that Democrats should be categorically opposed to balancing the budget on the back of critical social spending programs. I’d argue that Democrats should make a stand and oppose the slashing of entitlement, education and anti-poverty program spending without a commensurate cut in military spending.
This is unlikely to happen, of course, because military production in this country is often government workfare by another name. Witness the bipartisan outrage that bonded Ted Kennedy and right-wing loon John Thune when President Bush tried to shut down several non-essential military plants, including a South Dakota plane manufacturer and a Massachusetts navy shipyard. I remember watching the news coverage thinking, ‘This is the only time in my life I will side with George Bush over Ted Kennedy.’
Hey, but a job is a job, even if it’s a job making something we don’t need, manning a base we don’t need or transporting oil at $400 a gallon (yep, $400 a gallon) in a war we don’t know how to end.
I’ll give our President credit for his rhetoric, which is a first step. Declaring, “Even though the Department of Defense is exempt from the budget freeze, it’s not exempt from budget common sense,” Obama scrappedthe C-17 transport plane program ($2.5 billion) and research on a second engine for the F-35 fighter plane ($465 million)
Gates and Obama used the Quadrennial Defense Review as a shield against criticism. The QDR is a somewhat laughable audit, given its composition of war hawks and industry reps, but if even they suggest cutting a program, it must be really useless. Unfortunately, as the name suggests, the QDR Report is only completed every four years, so who knows how rigorously Gates and Obama will approach program slashing in next year’s budget. And even these modest program cuts spawned rabid howls of outrage from the right, though hopefully by now Obama just brushes that dirt of his shoulders.
I could ramble on about what the U.S government or American taxpayers could do the hundreds of billions of dollars we’d have to work with if we ended both wars and slashed the Pentagon budget, but I’ll leave that to the creative imaginations of Kossacks.
If you’re not in a creative mood, Cost of War has a nifty function where you can calculate how the money from our ongoing wars could have been spent in your local community. Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan is taking that idea to the next level, raising private funds to install a Cost of War clock at City Hall so all residents can see how much of their tax dollars are going to support the Pentagon.
I could ramble on about the 700–6000 military bases we are currently maintaining around the world, a figure that the internets has some trouble coming up with, but I’ll let words like ‘imperialism’ get thrown around in the comment section. It’s Tax Day, and the focus today is cold hard cash.
It’s worth noting, as always, that this is not an anti-veterans post by any means. The profiteers of war are not the folks going door to door in the middle of the night in Kandahar or Basra looking for suspected insurgents.
Also, I’m certainly not pinning this all on President Obama. Though he is our Commander-In-Chief, no one person set this black hole of public funds in motion. But if Obama is serious about his rhetoric, this is definitely going to be one of those issues where “we make him do the right thing.”
Finally, it stings to see taxes ripped out of your paycheck. That’s a pain we can all relate to. But while some right-wingers want to respond by drowning government in a bathtub (except the Pentagon, of course), folks like us recognize the important programs our tax dollars are funding. That includes maintaining an adequate military to keep America safe. In 2010, during a recession, however, I cannot stomach that $704,000,000,000 being spent by the war machine.
Charlie don’t surf and we think he should
Charlie don’t surf and you know that it ain’t no good
Charlie don’t surf for his hamburger Momma
Charlie’s gonna be a napalm star
Everybody wants to rule the world
Must be something we get from birth
One truth is we never learn
Satellites will make space burn
We’ve been told to keep the strangers out
We don’t like them starting to hang around
We don’t like them all over town
Across the world we are going to blow them down
The reign of the super powers must be over
So many armies can’t free the earth
Soon the rock will roll over
Africa is choking on their Coca Cola
It’s a one a way street in a one horse town
One way people starting to brag around
You can laugh, put them down
These one way people gonna blow us down
-The Clash, “Charlie Don’t Surf”