President Obama said he expected to save money by withdrawing troops from Iraq (which savings will actually show up in the budget now that Iraq and Afganistan spending is no longer “off-line”) and that saving is part of how he proposes to spend on things we all want like health care, education, and energy efficiency. That is all well and good. But the elephant in the room (and I don’t just mean Republicans, but also Democrats with their own self-interests) is military spending.
Congressman Barney Frank has an article in the March 2 issue of the Nation in which he talks about military spending. He begins
I am a great believer in freedom of expression and am proud of those times when I have been one of a few members of Congress to oppose censorship. I still hold close to an absolutist position, but I have been tempted recently to make an exception, not by banning speech but by requiring it. I would be very happy if there was some way to make it a misdemeanor for people to talk about reducing the budget deficit without including a recommendation that we substantially cut military spending.
As Congressman Frank points out there has been a huge increase in the military budget and not all of it attributable to the Wars in Iraq and Afganistan.
It is particularly inexplicable that so many self-styled moderates ignore the extraordinary increase in military spending. After all, George W. Bush himself has acknowledged its importance. As the December 20 Wall Street Journal notes, “The president remains adamant his budget troubles were the result of a ramp-up in defense spending.” Bush then ends this rare burst of intellectual honesty by blaming all this “ramp-up” on the need to fight the war in Iraq.
Current plans call for us not only to spend hundreds of billions more in Iraq but to continue to spend even more over the next few years producing new weapons that might have been useful against the Soviet Union. Many of these weapons are technological marvels, but they have a central flaw: no conceivable enemy. It ought to be a requirement in spending all this money for a weapon that there be some need for it. In some cases we are developing weapons–in part because of nothing more than momentum–that lack not only a current military need but even a plausible use in any foreseeable future.
It is possible to debate how strong America should be militarily in relation to the rest of the world. But that is not a debate that needs to be entered into to reduce the military budget by a large amount. If, beginning one year from now, we were to cut military spending by 25 percent from its projected levels, we would still be immeasurably stronger than any combination of nations with whom we might be engaged.
So are there any signs of hope that we might, despite what will be a conservative outcry about “keeping America strong” and the loss of jobs from miliary spending (can’t many of those folks shift toward developing good things like better batteries for electric/hybrid cars?) and so on? Christopher Hayes in a companion piece to Frank’s writes
Indeed, over the past year Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made a series of speeches about shifting resources toward nonmilitary international engagement, as well as reducing spending on outdated weapons systems. “The spigot of defense spending that opened on 9/11 is closing,” he told senators on the Armed Services Committee in January. “The economic crisis and resulting budget pressures,” he said, would provide “one of those rare chances…to critically and ruthlessly separate appetites from real requirements, those things that are desirable in a perfect world from those things that are truly needed in light of the threats America faces and the missions we are likely to undertake in the years ahead.”
Obama expressed similar sentiments on the campaign trail: “I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending,” he said in a campaign video. “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.”
Most recently, Rahm Emanuel hinted on Meet the Press that the administration might have the Pentagon in its sights as part of its promise to trim fat from the budget. “We have about $300 billion in cost overruns,” he said. “That must be addressed, and we will be addressing it.”
We seem to be getting some mixed signals, however. William Lynn from defense contractor Raytheon who has been described by Hayes (and others) as “never having met a weapons system he didn’t like” has been appointed deputy defense secretary. On the other hand, Obama has just appointed Ashton Carter from the Kennedy School to be Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. As far as I know, Dr. Carter has mostly worked on non proliferation issues and has no ties to any defense contractors.