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The Pentagon Riding High

China just launched a refitted Ukrainian aircraft carrier from the 1990s on its first test run -- and that’s what the only projected "great power" enemy of the U.S. has to offer for the foreseeable future.  In the meantime, the U.S. Navy has 11 aircraft carrier task forces to cruise the seven seas and plans to keep that many through 2045.  Like so much else, when it comes to the American military, all comparisons are ludicrous.  In any normal sense, the United States stands alone in military terms.  Its expenditures make up almost 50% of global military spending; it dominates the global arms market; and it has countless more bases, pilotless drones, military bands, and almost anything else military you’d care to mention than does any other power.

In other words, comparisons can’t be made.  The minute you try, you’re off the charts.  And yet, in purely practical terms, when you take a shot at measuring what the overwhelming investment of American treasure in the military, the U.S. intelligence community, the Department of Homeland Security, and the rest of our national security establishment has actually bought us, you come up with a series of wars and conflicts headed nowhere and a series of post-9/11 terror attacks generally so inept it hardly mattered whether they were foiled or not.

Still, when it comes to cutting the U.S. national security budget, none of this seems to matter.  The Pentagon “cuts” presently being discussed in Washington are largely in projected future growth, not in real funds (which continue to rise) -- and even then, the Pentagon and its many boosters in Washington are already crying bloody murder.  Give some credit for all this to the giant weapons makers and to the military itself: both have so carefully tied military-related jobs into so many state economies that few congressional representatives could afford to vote for the sorts of real cutbacks that would bring perhaps the most profligate institution on the planet to heel and yet still leave the country as the globe’s military giant.  You want, for instance, to cut back on that absolutely crucial Navy acrobatic flying team, the Blue Angels.  (What would we all do without dramatic military flyovers at our major and minor sporting events?) Count on it, hotel keepers in Florida will be on the phone immediately!  Add in the veneration of American soldiers and you have a fatal brew when it comes to serious budget cutting.

Absurdity, logic. Neither seems to matter. Still, the financial basics remain eye-opening, as Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project makes clear, crunching the numbers in his latest piece, “How Safe Are You?” and coming up with a minimum of almost $8 trillion in national security spending since September 11, 2001.

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