Britain's Budget Cuts - Will the Bell Toll for Us?

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CommonDreams.org

Britain's Budget Cuts - Will the Bell Toll for Us?

This week, the British government announced plans to cut its military personnel by 10 percent, scrap 40 percent of the army's artillery and tanks, and withdraw all of its troops from Germany within 10 years, the New York Times reports. The plan will involve a cut of about 8 percent in real terms in Britain's annual defense budget, significantly less than the 10 to 20 percent cuts that were under discussion. The Times attributes the reduced military cuts, in part, to US government pressure.

The reduced cuts in military spending are expected to lead to increased cuts in domestic spending:

The more modest scale of the military cutbacks placed extra strain on the government's overall effort to save more than $130 billion through spending cutbacks by 2015, a commitment that will require other government departments to make cutbacks averaging 25 percent. [my emphasis]

This what we have to look forward to with a Republican Congress: demands for budget cuts from which military spending is largely spared and which therefore will fall on domestic spending, like Social Security.

Thanks to the Tea Party and the corporate media, the dominant story line of the election is not the insufficient scale of government spending so far to boost employment in response to the massive fall in consumer demand resulting from the collapse of the housing bubble - Keynes 101- but "out of control government spending." So, if Republicans take Congress, you can bet the story of the election will be: cut government spending. And since it's an enforced dogma of the national Republican party that you can't touch military spending - especially the wars - that means big cuts in domestic spending. At this writing, 238 Democratic candidates have pledged "to oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including increasing the retirement age." If voters hand the gavel of the House to John Boehner, they are forgoing that pledge, whether they know it or not.

In principle, there should be no relation between the military budget and Social Security, because Social Security has a separate tax and a separate budget; but if you look at the rhetoric of those who want to cut Social Security, they don't respect this distinction at all: they see Social Security cuts as a way to reduce projected deficits in the combined budget.

The fact that we are facing a freight train called "deficit reduction" which is going to maul domestic spending unless we get serious about cuts to the military budget ought to increase the sense of urgency among Democratic constituency groups about ending the wars. It's the continuation of the wars, more than anything else, that puts a protective shield around the "out of control" military budget. We'll never get to have a serious discussion in the US about a 10 to 20 percent cut in the military budget, or even an 8 percent cut, so long as the wars continue. And so long as that situation endures, budget cuts mean big cuts in domestic spending.

No doubt, many people will now feel a reduced sense of urgency about ending the war in Afghanistan as the Obama Administration appears to be pivoting towards a negotiated political solution that ends the war. Recent reports suggest that the US is much more serious than before about supporting talks between Taliban leaders and the Afghan government to end the war.

But if you read the fine print, it is not so clear how much urgency the Obama Administration has in pursuing a negotiated solution, because the US is apparently insisting that talks will not include Taliban leader Mullah Omar and will not include the Pakistani government. And the key justification for not including Mullah Omar is apparently this: it would give Pakistan too much influence. The New York Times reports:

The discussions appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan's leaders, who are believed to exercise a wide degree of control over the Taliban's leadership. The Afghan government [i.e., the US government] seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan, which Mr. Karzai's government [i.e., the US government] fears will exercise too much influence over Afghanistan after NATO forces withdraw.

But that strategy could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis, who could undermine any agreement.

Mullah Muhammad Omar, the overall leader of the Taliban, is explicitly being cut out of the negotiations, in part because of his closeness to the Pakistani security services, officials said. [my emphasis.]

So the story appears to boil down to this: the US is arbitrarily limiting the scope of talks, and thereby significantly reducing the chance of their success and prolonging the war, in order to limit Pakistani influence in a settlement that ends the war.

Now, I'm perfectly well aware that you would have trouble finding 10 Americans in Peoria who really give a rat's behind what happens in Afghanistan, so long as we are apparently on a path to ending the war.

But those folks in Peoria should consider this: how much of your Social Security check are you willing to hand over to the Pentagon to try to limit Pakistani influence in a settlement that ends the war in Afghanistan? Because that is what's at stake: every month that the war continues will likely result in another $10 billion cut in domestic spending.

And as the good folks in Peoria consider that question, they should consider this fact: today, after all the blood and treasure the United States spent in Iraq, the Iraqi Prime Minister goes to Iran in order to get the Iranian government's blessing on his efforts to form a government. And yet, despite this fact, which should have the neocons whipping themselves like Arthur Dimmesdale, the great mass of Americans go about their business, seemingly content to accept the fact of Iranian influence in Iraq.

So again, I ask: how much of your Social Security check are you willing to give up to prolong the war, in a probably futile effort to limit Pakistani influence in post-war Afghanistan?

Look what's happening in Britain. De te fabula narratur: about you will the story be told.

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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