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Runaway Military: A Raw Deal at Half the Price

Posted on Nov 16, 2010

By Eugene Robinson

I come not to bury the manifesto issued last week by President Obama’s debt-reduction commission, but to praise the most welcome of its ideas: Slash defense spending along with everything else.

The panel’s co-chairmen, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, identify $100 billion in defense cuts that could be made in 2015. That would be too little and too late, but what’s almost revolutionary is the notion that if we’re ever to get this nation back on a sound economic footing, we have to cut what Dwight Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” down to size.

The United States accounts for 46.5 percent of the combined defense spending of all the nations of the world, according to a widely accepted recent estimate. The next-biggest spender is China, which has undertaken an immense buildup to become a military as well as an economic superpower—yet it accounts for just 6.6 percent of the world’s total.

And while the debt-ridden U.S. government shells out for nearly half of all global defense expenditures, our most loyal, stalwart, shoulder-to-shoulder allies—Britain and France—pitch in just 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively, of the world total. Somebody’s getting a free ride, and we’re getting stuck with the bill.

Bowles and Simpson properly classify defense spending as discretionary, meaning we are able to make choices. This should be axiomatic. But it has been Republican Party orthodoxy to inveigh against “big government” and its out-of-control spending while blithely ignoring the nearly $700 billion we’re lavishing annually on the Pentagon, as if every penny were somehow preordained and inviolate.


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This may become a point of contention as the unorthodox Republicans elected in the GOP wave come surfing into town. Wariness of “foreign entanglements,” to use George Washington’s phrase, is a prominent strain of tea party thought. The Republicans will have to deal with calls to cut Pentagon spending from their side of the aisle.

The debt panel chairmen’s proposed defense cuts, meant to be “illustrative,” include civilian and noncombat pay freezes, a 15 percent cut in procurement, shrinking or eliminating some foreign bases, and $28 billion in “overhead” savings that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has already pledged. But Bowles and Simpson don’t state the obvious, which is that a much more effective way to cut defense costs would be to bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to a report prepared in September by the Congressional Research Service, the two wars have already cost $1.1 trillion. That figure doesn’t include an estimated $170 billion for the current fiscal year—and there’s no real end in sight.

As Obama promised, we are withdrawing from Iraq; the cost of George W. Bush’s epic misadventure has fallen to “only” an estimated $51 billion in 2011. By contrast, the price tag for Obama’s expanded war in Afghanistan has nearly doubled since Bush’s last year in office.

It should be noted that Bush never bothered to put the Iraq and Afghanistan costs into his budgets. Obama at least accounts for these expenditures transparently instead of pretending that money spent for war somehow doesn’t count.

Overall, the federal budget is expected to run a $1 trillion deficit this year. In effect, we’re borrowing money from China and using some of it to keep a measure of order in Afghanistan. This is allowing the Chinese to sign contracts and build infrastructure that will let them exploit Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth—while we pay the borrowed money back with interest.

And what kind of return are we getting on our $119.4 billion investment in Afghanistan this year? Our enemy, the Taliban, remains powerful and entrenched. Under Gen. David Petraeus, our forces are trying to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy. But one prerequisite—a trustworthy local government that deserves and wins popular support—does not exist. The administration of President Hamid Karzai is seen as riddled with corruption, and Karzai himself can be as inconstant as a zephyr.

In an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday, Karzai demanded that a key element of Petraeus’ plan—nighttime “capture-and-kill” raids by Special Operations forces—be halted because they generate such anger among civilians.

“The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan ... to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life,” Karzai told the Post.

All right, then, let’s save American lives and a ton of money. Let’s oblige him.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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By samosamo, November 17, 2010 at 4:37 pm Link to this comment


Seems that I remember reading Thomas Paine’s
ideas about allowing the aristocracy to rule
countries, such as the u.s., through the military
industrial financial congressional cia msm
complex as is are doing now in this country.
What we got surely supports Paine’s warnings but
Paine’s lexicon is too old for this modern age of
american hegemony.

To buck this ‘conglomerate’ is to invite
assassination, think jfk, he wanted to do away
with the cia.

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By crk, November 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a deal. The Empire keeps people employed by protecting us from the ravages of another culture. Just look at the cost per dead American soldier and you can see what a bargin we get in keeping the wheels of progress churning.
We have to have undeclared Wars for the economy to keep moving forward. In fact all those volunteers were brought home they would not have a job.
These wars are not fought by GENERALS but by Politicians in Washington, not to WIN but to keep their pockets lined with green backs. It is time to bring our young people home.

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By SoTexGuy, November 16, 2010 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment

I don’t know what other secrets D.P.C has or will share? .. this recent comment is valuable and right on the mark..

What I want to add to the subject of Pentagon spending out of control is .. look at what the State Department is doing!

My goodness we’re building a series of Crusader era forts and rock piles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan the equivalents of the pyramids! Trillions spent to build them and trillions more to staff them and keep them up..

And Hillary Clinton is fabulous as a mouthpiece for all this ridiculous colonization in the name of outreach!

What a world we live in!

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By igloo, November 16, 2010 at 7:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We laugh at Indians protecting their sacred cows, well they are harmless compared with our sacred cow: the military complex. Even respected journalists like Fareed Zakharia won’t dare whisper a word about cutting the military budget. The military, in our country have been elevated to God-like status and anyone daring to question their budget will be shot down as so many pigeons in a barrel. We talk about sustainability and all we dare mention is cutting social programs. We are so obsessed about being No. 1 that we’ll be dragged down the abyss while clinging to our superpower status. What good is it to be a superpower when your industry is non-existent, your cities are decaying, your people are unemployed and your country bankrupt??

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de profundis clamavi's avatar

By de profundis clamavi, November 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm Link to this comment

Eugene says: “I come not to bury the manifesto issued last week by President Obama’s debt-reduction commission, but to praise the most welcome of its ideas: Slash defense spending along with everything else.”

I come not to praise house servant Eugene’s craven approval seeking social climbing praise for Obama’s poverty creation commission, but to suggest a better idea: Slash military (a.k.a. “defense”) spending, re-institute progressive taxation and throw the rest of the report in the trash together with the commission members, the Obama administration and its hand-wringing establishment liberal apologists like Eugene Robinson.

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By Inherit The Wind, November 16, 2010 at 10:32 am Link to this comment

It would be pretty hilarious if the TeaParty gang rebelled against the GOP and its untouchable Military!

But I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the TP gang caves in to McConnell and Boehner.  Remember how the GOP went INSANE when that unworkable self-propelled artillery 100 billion boondoggle was cut?

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By madisolation, November 16, 2010 at 8:18 am Link to this comment

“Only 6 percent of Americans think Congress should concentrate on reducing the deficit. 56 percent want it to focus on creating jobs. Guess which set of policies is the center of attention in Washington right now?”
Eugene shouldn’t give the Catfood Commission any legitimacy at all. Those guys put in a bullet point about taking a few bucks out of the military, and the stenographers in Washington (that’s Robinson) say: “See what serious people they are? Even though they want to take away your last remaining safety net, they do want to take a little money from military, by advocating “civilian and noncombat pay freezes.” Yeah, they’d hate to give actual working people a decent living, although they themselves have bled the Treasury dry to make their millions.
Well, screw them and the man who appointed them. They should all be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, November 16, 2010 at 7:33 am Link to this comment

The most clear cut case of the tail wagging the dog in the U.S. government.

The defense budget needs to be whacked in half….today. 

In 4 years over a trillion saved without cutting social services, medicare or any other program.

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By eir, November 16, 2010 at 7:18 am Link to this comment

Eugene, you’re a real pro.  A natural:

“slash defense spending along with everything else.”

Wrap that cat food in a new little, faux anti-war label and watch ‘em come to it like it was ice cream.  Oh, those dumb little cats!

“Here, Kitty, Kitty.  Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.  I’m not going to hurt you.”

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godistwaddle's avatar

By godistwaddle, November 16, 2010 at 6:52 am Link to this comment

As cops and drug dealers need illegal drugs to keep their jobs, so the U.S. and the terrorists need each other to keep theirs. 

Cut the defense budget and offend General Dynamics?  Surely you jest.

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, November 16, 2010 at 4:23 am Link to this comment

Dynamite the military and the security apparatus built by Bush and company.  Destroy Homeland Security ministry.  We need a small military to protect our borders and a minimal security apparatus to search for external threats to our country.  That’s it.  Oh ... and fire 90% of the generals who are mostly political hacks living off our dime.  You want to see waste ... go to the Pentagon in the morning and watch the helicopters swarming in as all the generals fly in to work.  Close the Pentagon or make it into a museum to military adventurism.

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BarbieQue's avatar

By BarbieQue, November 16, 2010 at 2:47 am Link to this comment

ER:>>”...But it has been Republican Party orthodoxy to inveigh against “big government” and its out-of-control spending while blithely ignoring the nearly $700 billion we’re lavishing annually on the Pentagon, as if every penny were somehow preordained and inviolate…”<<

The (D)onkeys are putting the issue front and center? Hardly. Last I heard Af/Pak was under surge, and Democratic Worship Web Sites have thrown people like Cindy Sheehan under Baracks ever expanding bus axle.

EuGenie doesn’t acknowledge it (probably because he doesn’t know it) but he’s beginning to channel Ron Paul here. Which is hilarious. Seriously. I think I’ve pulled a muscle laughing.

ER:>>”...Wariness of “foreign entanglements,” to use George Washington’s phrase, is a prominent strain of tea party thought…”<<

Well doesn’t that sound patriotic!

Unless one considers George Washington unpatriotic.

Which is all too believable.

Because We’re in Bizarro Land where 19 boxcutters have caused 3 yr old girls to be force-groped by the hand of the incompetent Big Brother who apparently let an actual terrorist who had raised a WARNING FROM HIS FATHER board a plane with no-no’s.

Watch as the Robinsons continue to ridicule the new guys whilst ignoring the train wreckers. He probably calls it “Sport”.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, November 16, 2010 at 1:33 am Link to this comment

If the military was judged by conservatives the same way they judge all the other “programs” they dislike…that is, “they are just a waste of the taxpayer dollar,” then the military should be cut by 75%. After all, our military has FAILED to win a war for about the last 100 years. Add to this its inability to stop terrorist attacks THROUGH REGULAR MILITARY CHANNELS. Almost all the terrorist plans have been thwarted by regular police-type work and through our intelligence agencies….not the military.

Face it, the American military is nothing more than a de facto welfare program from which private contractors profit handsomely. Kind of like medicare fraud on steroids.

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