May 22, 2013
Truthdig Radio: How the U.S. Co-Opted Human Rights
Posted on May 11, 2011
Truthdig Radio airs every Wednesday at 2 p.m. in Los Angeles on 90.7 KPFK. If you can’t listen live, starting on Wednesday nights look for the podcast and transcript of each week’s show right here on Truthdig.
On this week’s show we hear from Reagan Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb on our imperial military budget, and James Peck tells us how the U.S. co-opted human rights. And we send Reese Erlich to Cuba to find out how Raul Castro’s economic reforms are affecting the island’s world-famous music scene.
Click to listen to the show, or continue reading the full transcript below.
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Peter Scheer: Welcome to a special militarized edition of Truthdig Radio, bringing you the best interviews and commentary from the Webby Award-winning Truthdig.com and KPFK. On today’s show, we hear from former Reagan Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb on our imperial military budget, and James Peck tells us about how the U.S. co-opted human rights. And we send Reese Erlich to Cuba to find out how Raul Castro’s economic reforms are affecting the island’s world-famous music scene. Vámonos.
Peter Scheer: I’m Peter Scheer with Robert Scheer, and we’re speaking with Dr. Lawrence Korb, a veteran of the Navy, former assistant secretary of defense in the Regan administration and currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Welcome.
Lawrence Korb: Nice to be with you.
Robert Scheer: So, Dr. Korb—this is Robert—you’ve written some important pieces about how we could cut the military budget. And of course there’s resistance, there’s some feint in that direction by [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and by the Obama administration, but they don’t seem to be ready to make the kind of serious cuts that you suggest. What do you have in mind?
Lawrence Korb: Well, what we’re talking about is that when you get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, which will be no later than 2014, then you can cut the Army and the Marines back to the level they were before 9/11. That gets you a hundred thousand people off. You can cut the number of nuclear weapons down to 311, which is what the people at the Air War College—the Air Force’s think tank—feel are necessary for deterrence. You can slow down the production of a lot of planes—for example, you have 35 that you’re rushing into production; and you can allow the Navy and the Air Force to buy existing planes, which are the best in the world. You can cancel, you don’t need to have 11 aircraft carriers, so that would mean you could cancel the construction of the second Gerry Ford carrier.
So you take a look at all of those things, and then you can also take a look at the military health care system, which—Secretary Gates, as you know, is eating us alive. And you can make military retirees who are working and earning good salaries, you can get them to take the plans of their companies rather than relying on the Pentagon. There’s a whole list, and, you know, we’ve taken a look at it, and you can basically cut about, by 2015, $100 billion from the projected level of defense spending.
Robert Scheer: You know, you worked in the Reagan administration, and that’s when the first President Bush was then vice-president …
Lawrence Korb: Right.
Robert Scheer:… and when he came in—and Dick Cheney was his secretary of defense—he proposed a pretty quick one-third cut in the military budget, because he said the Cold War is over. And then under his son, we raised military spending back to Cold War levels. What is the justification? What do these people tell you when you say you can cut?
Lawrence Korb: Well, I mean, a couple of things to keep in mind. Even before the end of the Cold War, in the second Reagan administration, and in the first couple of years of the administration of the first President Bush, we cut defense spending significantly because we had a deficit problem. And we know we needed to, you know, deal with the deficit. Then when the Cold War ended, President Bush, and then President Clinton in his first term, did cut it substantially.It has gone up in real terms, that is if you control for inflation, since 1998. Clinton didn’t want to be seen as, quote unquote, “weak on defense,” so he gave in to the Republicans. And then after 2001, two things happened: We went to war, and we had a budget supplemental. But at the same time we also increased the base budget, and the normal budget went up 70 percent in real terms under the administration of the second President Bush and the first two years of the Obama administration. Now, that’s about a trillion dollars that was added to the base. And then the war costs are about—the direct costs are about a trillion and a half dollars. And, you know, this is the first time we’ve ever gone to war in our history of significant conflicts where we haven’t raised taxes. Not only we didn’t raise them, we cut them. And we didn’t have a draft, which meant that the men and women that were on active duty were really overstretched, and partly as a way to compensate them we raised their pay substantially.
Peter Scheer: I’m looking at a Gallup poll here that says, as of February, that only 39 percent of Americans think we spend too much on defense. And we spend more than every other country in the world combined, or about as much. What’s the disconnect here? Why don’t people realize …
Lawrence Korb: Because I think—I think people are worried, and then people present all these apocalyptic scenarios that, oh my goodness, if we do this the Chinese will be invading, and you know, whatever else you may want to think about. But I think if you take a look at some of the polls, when you point out to people the second thing that you mentioned, about the fact that we’re spending more than the rest of the world combined—or six times as much as the Chinese—then I think they take a harder look. Or that you still have 80,000 troops in Europe, you know, 20 years after the end of the Cold War and 60 years after the end of World War II. And that the Europeans are cutting their defense budgets to deal with the deficit, so that they can rely on us to fill in the gaps for them. And then I think people take a harder look at it.
Peter Scheer: You wrote an article about Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget. Can you expand on that here?
Lawrence Korb: Well, I think, in terms of Congressman Ryan’s budget, he didn’t put defense on the table; in fact, he went along with this shell game that the current secretary of defense, Gates, is playing. Gates keeps talking about, well, I’m cutting the defense—I found all these deficiencies in the defense budget, and everything like that. But what he doesn’t tell us is, yeah, he finds them, but he takes them out of one program and puts them into another. I’ll give you an example. Back in 2008, when Secretary Gates thought this [would] be his last year at the Bush administration, he projected in 2012—the current budget that’s before the Congress—defense would need $544 billion. You know what he asked for this year? 553! That’s the baseline budget, doesn’t include the war costs. So with all these, supposedly, cuts, the budget’s still going up significantly.
Peter Scheer: President Obama promised that he would have more transparency, he wouldn’t play games with funding the wars—you bring up the war budget. Has he been doing that?
Lawrence Korb: Yes, he has. Because unlike President Bush, he does put it up in the beginning of the year, whereas Bush would wait halfway through the fiscal year, send it up, and the Congress really wouldn’t have time to look at it because they would be worried about the troops in the field. So yeah, he has sent it up in the beginning of the year; there is more transparency, and we’ve found some things. Like Sen. McCain said this year, why are you funding missile defense in the war budget that has nothing to do with it?
Robert Scheer: You know, you’ve been a sane voice on these issues, a nonpartisan voice. But you’re up against a huge lobbying enterprise. I mean, these defense contractors, others who benefit from the military budget, they really aren’t there to make logical arguments about national security. They’re there to get the money. And how come their power is never effectively challenged; is there no countervailing force?
Lawrence Korb: Well, people forget when Eisenhower gave the speech, the original draft was “military-industrial-congressional complex,” but he took the congressional out because he thought he might be giving the talk in front of the Congress. Yeah, I mean, there’s a combination of things. That after 9/11 we overreacted, so it was easy; the Pentagon didn’t have to make any hard choices, they could get everything. Then, of course, when you want to cut it, now you’re—the economy is not what we would like it to be, and so they talk about the jobs that will be reduced. I mean, it’s an interesting thing; last year we had this thing about a second engine for the F-35, the new fighter that they’re building. Well, the Pentagon conducted a competition, they chose one company; you know, GE lost; and so they’ve been lobbying to build a second engine. It cost us $4 billion more to do that. The Pentagon doesn’t want it. But if you take a look at who voted for it, you get Scott Brown—the new senator from Massachusetts who was going to do things differently—because it will be built in his state; John Boehner, ’cause part if it’s in Ohio; Eric Cantor, ’cause part of it’s in Michigan [Laughs]—I mean, in Virginia. And all these people are theoretically concerned about the deficit.
Robert Scheer: So how do you challenge this? I mean, 9/11 was the excuse for ramping up the budget, but the people we were combating had an arsenal you could buy at Home Depot. They didn’t have sophisticated …
Lawrence Korb: Well, I agree.
Robert Scheer: … weapons. And so … it was absurd from the beginning. I mean, as I recall, Rumsfeld had come in saying he was going to cut the military …
Lawrence Korb: He was, yeah.
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