The war in Iraq is a failure. The "Global War on Terror" cannot be won by military might alone. Access to health care is a right for all. The growing divide between rich and poor is a problem. Torture is un-American.
The Democratic candidates for president - both mainstream and long shots -- tend to agree on these and many other issues that position them as smart and compassionate alternatives to the policies and priorities of President George W. Bush and his administration. But on the one issue that profoundly impacts all of the above, there is not enough difference. Most Democratic candidates for president speak of increasing rather than slashing the military budget.
Since President Bush came into office in 2001, the Pentagon's budget has increased by more than one-third. The $481 billion proposed for 2008 - the $459 billion appropriations plus the nuclear weapons programs of the Department of Energy - is a jump of more than 10% over current spending. To be clear, this is a huge figure even before factoring in the costs of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in under the "Global War on Terror." A recent analysis of the emergency supplemental budgets to pay for the war by the Congressional Research Service finds that (so far) a total of another $607 billion has been spent since September 11, 2001.
The United States is currently spending more on the military than at the height of the Reagan military build-up (when we had a nuclear-armed superpower rival) or during the Vietnam or Korean wars. Thanks to the Bush administration, the United States now spends about as much on its military as the rest of the world spends collectively, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Given these figures -- and the fact that preponderant military spending has not equaled an unassailable military or the fulfillment of the Bush administration's objectives -- there is plenty of fodder for Democratic candidates wishing to take on the Bush administration's love affair with the Pentagon. In the 2008 military budget, the White House showed its devotion to weapons manufacturers and its disdain for men and women in uniform by packing the "reconstituting the forces" area of the budget with $51 billion in weapons that are not only not worn out by the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan -- but aren't even relevant. There is money for 20 F-22 tactical aircraft originally designed to engage Soviet fighter planes in high-speed aerial dogfights. Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia does not have any fighter planes. Among other useless programs was $74 million to continue research on an unmanned spy plane that is years away from being fielded.
A Tale of Two Budgets
While this administration justifies the spending as necessary to fight the terrorists over there so that we don't face them here, the numbers tell a different story -- a story of two separate military budgets.
The first is bursting with billions for new fighter planes, nuclear powered submarines, and ballistic missile components. This is the budget that has propelled spiraling profits for weapons manufacturing companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
The other military budget is plagued with the belt-tightening we usually see in education and social service programs. The Army suffered a $530 million shortfall in 2006 that led to cuts at military hospitals and no new money for medical research on key procedures like dealing with traumatic brain injuries - the signature of the improvised-exposive-devise war in Iraq.
All the Democrats who wish to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office criticize the administration for not providing ammunition, communication systems, armored vehicles and helicopters to U.S. soldiers in the field. They also take Bush to task for always leading with the Pentagon and not providing enough support to the State Department's non-military counter-terrorism programs. After $20 million was slashed from their counter-terrorism program budget in 2007, the State Department is requesting only $150 million for 2008. Its highly touted Regional Strategic Initiative, bringing together different agencies to collaborate on the ground, is getting a mere $1 million each year -- the kind of money the Pentagon loses in its sofa cushions every week.
What the Candidates Say
But, in most cases, the Democrats are not taking the next step to say that the United States does not need to spend more on the military, it needs to spend smarter. Of the leading Democratic candidates, only John Edwards has identified specific weapons systems he would red-line. In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations on May 23, 2007, Edwards vowed to root out "cronyism and waste" while "increasing efficiency in the Pentagon" and investing "substantial additional resources into maintenance of our [military] equipment." He also said that if elected, "I would direct my Secretary of Defense to launch a comprehensive, tough review of fraud, waste and abuse-and put an end to it. One example is missile defense and offensive space based weapons, which are costly and unlikely to work."
Pursuing this strategy as president would mean taking on the military industrial complex, which has been living high-on-the-hog throughout the Bush administration. It would be an up-hill battle, but one worth pursuing.
Obama has not talked about cutting the military budget. In fact, when asked recently in Cedar Rapids if he would cut the military budget, he responded: "Actually, you'll probably see an initial bump in military spending in an Obama administration." He went on to explain that those resources would be used to "reset" forces worn out by war in Iraq and to cover adding as many as 80,000 soldiers and Marines to the U.S. military.
Senator Hillary Clinton is proud to be the first New York senator to serve on the Armed Services Committee and tends to over-compensate for her gender and her husband's reputation (deserved or not) as anti-military by being uncritically pro-military. She has also gotten behind the idea of increasing the size of U.S. forces: "I have joined other Democrats and Republicans in proposing that we expand the Army by 80,000 troops, that we move faster to expand the Special Forces, and do a better job of training and equipping the National Guard and Reserves."
None of these front-running candidates has identified the short- or long-term costs of adding troops, where the money would come from, or -- perhaps most importantly -- the missions these troops would be engaged in once the Democratic leadership succeeds in "bringing them home."
Department of Peace?
Dennis Kucinich, the representative from Ohio, is considered a very long shot for President. In fact, Edwards and Clinton found common ground a while back in wanting to limit future debates to what Edwards called a "more serious group." Kucinich consistently calls for a more limited and defensive role for the U.S. military and putting more resources into diplomacy and global engagement. His Department of Peace is one indication of the kind of vision his candidacy embraces.
There is no Department of Peace in any of the GOP platforms, but their efforts to strike a different posture than Bush and company do not include a radical re-vamp of the Pentagon budget or taking on the weapons manufacturers who reap the benefits of a war-without-end strategy. Despite John McCain's prisoner-of-war credibility, Rudy Giuliani's 9/11-forged patriotism, and Mitt Romney's neo-Republican suave, they and most of the other Republican hopefuls are not promoting a set of policies that would spend less for more security. Only the libertarian "maverick" Ron Paul is calling for smaller budgets - even the military budget - as a first step to smaller government and challenges the wisdom of a "war on terrorism" by calling it a "vague declaration."
The Unified Security Budget for the United States, a joint effort of Foreign Policy In Focus and the Center for Defense Information, outlines $62 billion in cuts to the military budget and another $52 billion that can be added to budgets for diplomacy, emergency response, infrastructure and other non-military defensive tools. Their 38-page report should be required reading for any presidential contender who is serious about charting a more secure and peaceful course for the United States in the decades to come.
FPIF columnist Frida Berrigan is a senior program associate at the Arms and Security Project of the New America Foundation.
© 2007 Foreign Policy In Focus