“America can be a superpower or a welfare state, but not both.” So says the Wall Street Journal in its editorial on “The Gates Farewell Warning.” Although you probably won’t have to read the article to know which side the paper came down on, we shouldn’t miss the significance of the newspaper of record of the world of capital acknowledging that a choice has to be made. After all, many people on the other side of the fence have been arguing that point for some time and largely been ignored.
As the lone Cabinet holdover from the Bush Administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates already embodies the continuity that has caused some to speak of the “Bush-Obama War on Terror.” His current pre-retirement tour, where he warns of the hazards of reduced military spending, represents one final effort to solidify this legacy.
WSJ’s general aversion to government spending is well known, that is, its aversion to government spending that doesn’t disproportionately benefit its clientele. So far as spending on “new capabilities, from an air refueling tanker fleet to ballistic missile submarines” goes, however – well, if the government doesn’t buy this stuff, of course, no one will. And that would wreak havoc on our “free market economy,” wouldn’t it?
You could read the Journal for some time without ever realizing that the U.S. share of the entire world’s military spending currently runs somewhere from 43-48% – depending on whose numbers you accept. Instead you’ll read how the “American entitlement state” with its “big three entitlements—Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, plus other retirement and disability expenses ... eclipsed defense spending in 1976" and has represented a drain on our military potential for the last thirty-five years (along with an unmentioned potential drain on those in the currently thriving upper income brackets from whose ranks the paper’s readership is largely drawn.)
Right now, most Americans lead daily lives that are literally half-a-world removed from the wars Washington runs in their names. Since these conflicts hardly affect us at home, they come to seem like some kind of insurance policy. Maybe they’re not the best thought-out operations, but they probably don’t hurt right? Right now, could even one American in ten identify all of the countries that the U.S. military currently bombs on a regular basis?
Unfortunately that joke about how Obama decided on war against Libya may capture the tenor of the times all too well. You know – he found it on Amazon where he also saw that people who bought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bought that one too – plus it was cheap. Bomb Libya? Well, we don’t like that Qaddafi guy anyhow, right? Plus, it’s not a real war – they’re not bombing us. And they have oil, so maybe it’ll knock something off the price of gas. Violation of the War Powers Act? That doesn’t matter when we trust the President and hate the other guy, does it?
For better or worse, this passive attitude seems unlikely to change until significantly more people realize the real costs and choices involved. The Wall Street Journal and its ilk will certainly continue to rail against runaway “entitlements,” “the welfare state,” “Obama-care,” and the whole “socialism” thing in general. Yet when people start to weigh the value of the things those terms actually represent against the cost of a foreign policy seemingly based on a plan to keep on bombing until we kill everyone who doesn’t like us – well, I’ve got to like our chances. So, thanks, WSJ!