We Have the Money

If Only We Didn't Waste It on the Defense Budget

There has been much moaning, air-sucking, and outrage about the $700
billion that the U.S. government is thinking of throwing away on rich
New York bankers who have been ripping us off for the past few years
and then letting greed drive their businesses into a variety of
ditches. In fact, we dole out similar amounts of money every year in
the form of payoffs to the armed services, the military-industrial
complex, and powerful senators and representatives allied with the

On Wednesday, September 24th, right in the middle of the fight over
billions of taxpayer dollars slated to bail out Wall Street, the House
of Representatives passed a $612 billion defense authorization bill for
2009 without a murmur of public protest or any meaningful press comment
at all. (The New York Times gave the matter only three short paragraphs buried in a story about another appropriations measure.)

defense bill includes $68.6 billion to pursue the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, which is only a down-payment on the full yearly cost of
these wars. (The rest will be raised through future supplementary
bills.) It also included a 3.9% pay raise for military personnel, and
$5 billion in pork-barrel projects not even requested by the
administration or the secretary of defense. It also fully funds the
Pentagon's request for a radar site in the Czech Republic, a
hare-brained scheme sure to infuriate the Russians just as much as a
Russian missile base in Cuba once infuriated us. The whole bill passed
by a vote of 392-39 and will fly through the Senate, where a similar
bill has already been approved. And no one will even think to mention
it in the same breath with the discussion of bailout funds for dying
investment banks and the like.

This is pure waste. Our annual spending on "national security" --
meaning the defense budget plus all military expenditures hidden in the
budgets for the departments of Energy, State, Treasury, Veterans
Affairs, the CIA, and numerous other places in the executive branch --
already exceeds a trillion dollars, an amount larger than that
of all other national defense budgets combined. Not only was there no
significant media coverage of this latest appropriation, there have
been no signs of even the slightest urge to inquire into the
relationship between our bloated military, our staggering weapons
expenditures, our extravagantly expensive failed wars abroad, and the
financial catastrophe on Wall Street.

The only Congressional "commentary" on the size of our military
outlay was the usual pompous drivel about how a failure to vote for the
defense authorization bill would betray our troops. The aged Senator
John Warner (R-Va), former chairman of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, implored
his Republican colleagues to vote for the bill "out of respect for
military personnel." He seems to be unaware that these troops are
actually volunteers, not draftees, and that they joined the armed
forces as a matter of career choice, rather than because the nation
demanded such a sacrifice from them.

We would better respect our armed forces by bringing the futile and
misbegotten wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end. A relative degree
of peace and order has returned to Iraq not because of President Bush's
belated reinforcement of our expeditionary army there (the so-called
surge), but thanks to shifting internal dynamics within Iraq and in the
Middle East region generally. Such shifts include a growing awareness
among Iraq's Sunni population of the need to restore law and order, a
growing confidence among Iraqi Shiites of their nearly unassailable
position of political influence in the country, and a growing awareness
among Sunni nations that the ill-informed war of aggression the Bush
administration waged against Iraq has vastly increased the influence of
Shiism and Iran in the region.

The continued presence of American troops and their heavily
reinforced bases in Iraq threaten this return to relative stability.
The refusal of the Shia government of Iraq to agree to an American
Status of Forces Agreement -- much desired by the Bush administration
-- that would exempt off-duty American troops from Iraqi law is
actually a good sign for the future of Iraq.

In Afghanistan, our historically deaf generals and civilian
strategists do not seem to understand that our defeat by the Afghan
insurgents is inevitable. Since the time of Alexander the Great, no
foreign intruder has ever prevailed over Afghan guerrillas defending
their home turf. The first Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842) marked a
particularly humiliating defeat of British imperialism at the very
height of English military power in the Victorian era. The
Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989) resulted in a Russian defeat so
demoralizing that it contributed significantly to the disintegration of
the former Soviet Union in 1991. We are now on track to repeat
virtually all the errors committed by previous invaders of Afghanistan
over the centuries.

In the past year, perhaps most disastrously, we have carried our Afghan war into Pakistan,
a relatively wealthy and sophisticated nuclear power that has long
cooperated with us militarily. Our recent bungling brutality along the
Afghan-Pakistan border threatens to radicalize the Pashtuns in both
countries and advance the interests of radical Islam throughout the
region. The United States is now identified in each country mainly with
Hellfire missiles, unmanned drones, special operations raids, and
repeated incidents of the killing of innocent bystanders.

The brutal bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital,
Islamabad, on September 20, 2008, was a powerful indicator of the
spreading strength of virulent anti-American sentiment in the area. The
hotel was a well-known watering hole for American Marines, Special
Forces troops, and CIA agents. Our military activities in Pakistan have
been as misguided as the Nixon-Kissinger invasion of Cambodia in 1970.
The end result will almost surely be the same.

We should begin our disengagement from Afghanistan at once. We
dislike the Taliban's fundamentalist religious values, but the Afghan
public, with its desperate desire for a return of law and order and the
curbing of corruption, knows that the Taliban is the only political
force in the country that has ever brought the opium trade under
control. The Pakistanis and their effective army can defend their
country from Taliban domination so long as we abandon the activities
that are causing both Afghans and Pakistanis to see the Taliban as a
lesser evil.

One of America's greatest authorities on the defense budget, Winslow
Wheeler, worked for 31 years for Republican members of the Senate and
for the General Accounting Office on military expenditures. His conclusion, when it comes to the fiscal sanity of our military spending, is devastating:

"America's defense budget is now larger in
inflation-adjusted dollars than at any point since the end of World War
II, and yet our Army has fewer combat brigades than at any point in
that period; our Navy has fewer combat ships; and the Air Force has
fewer combat aircraft. Our major equipment inventories for these major
forces are older on average than any point since 1946 -- or in some
cases, in our entire history."

This in itself is a national disgrace. Spending hundreds of billions of
dollars on present and future wars that have nothing to do with our
national security is simply obscene. And yet Congress has been
corrupted by the military-industrial complex into believing that, by
voting for more defense spending, they are supplying "jobs" for the
economy. In fact, they are only diverting scarce resources from the
desperately needed rebuilding of the American infrastructure and other
crucial spending necessities into utterly wasteful munitions. If we
cannot cut back our longstanding, ever increasing military spending in
a major way, then the bankruptcy of the United States is inevitable. As
the current Wall Street meltdown has demonstrated, that is no longer an
abstract possibility but a growing likelihood. We do not have much time

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 TomDispatch.com