At Reason‘s Hit & Run, Jacob Sullum highlights the utterly disingenuous politicking on the part of nearly everyone in Washington with regard to cutting defense budgets. The Obama administration and most of both parties in Congress have been lying through their teeth for years now about the doom our national security would face if we decrease the rate of growth in projected defense spending.
This week Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to unveil detailed plans for about $260 billion of the $450 billion in savings that President Obama has asked him to find in the Penatgon’s budget over the course of the next decade. Because those savings represent reductions in projected spending, as opposed to actual cuts, the defense budget would continue rising, but not as fast as it would under current law. Assuming all the “cuts” are enacted, total military spending will be about 8 percent less than currently projected. If you add the $500 billion in “automatic” defense cuts imposed by the legislation that resolved last summer’s debt-limit dispute, the total reduction from projected spending is about 17 percent, bringing the Pentagon’s base budget all the way down to a level last seen in 2007, when the country was not exactly helpless against its adversaries. Yet Panetta says that result would be “catastrophic,” and every Republican presidential candidate, with the notable exception of Ron Paul, agrees, promising to prevent or reverse the cuts. Mitt Romney, who deems even the 8 percent reduction “irresponsible,” says the additional cuts would “put our national security on the chopping block.” At the October 11 debate, Newt Gingrich declared, “It is nonsense to say we’re going to disarm the United States unilaterally because we’re too stupid to balance the budget any other way.”
Disarming the United States? If only.
I wasn’t being hyperbolic about the prophesies of doom if minuscule cuts are imposed. Panetta, by far the loudest money-grabbing warmonger of all, described the sequestration cuts that were supposed to automatically kick in if the Super Committee failed to reach a deal as a “doomsday mechanism.”
The minuscule defense cuts being contemplated could easily target areas of waste. As a recent report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments found, while the source of growth in annual defense budgets since 2001 has been mostly (54%) due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, much of the rest has been spent on wasteful superfluous weapons technology, bloated salaries and benefits plans, and expensive peacetime operating costs for the 900-plus military bases in 130-plus countries around the world. Still, ending the unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone would free up billions of dollars. Or, to take something most don’t typically consider in budget talks, McClatchy reported today that the solitary confinement cellblock that Guantanamo detainees inhabit if they are “non-compliant” in the tyranny that keeps them there without trial cost $700,000. It makes you wonder how much the rest of the CIA’s blacksites that nobody hears about is costing us.
The United States could cut defense spending by half and still outspend every other country in the world. Panetta voiced concern that any decrease in spending would make it harder to face threats from Iran and North Korea, two countries with comparatively pathetic defense budgets and which present no credible threat. The cost of waging a covert U.S. campaign of cyber-terrorism, commercial sabotage, targeted assassinations, and proxy wars in Iran is probably costing a pretty penny. And all it’s doing is increasing the threat environment for Iran, which will do anything but make them give up their nuclear program (which all available evidence suggests is still entirely civilian in nature).
Probably referring to China, Panetta has also mentioned the responsibility “to project our power in the world in order to make sure rising powers understand that the United States still has a strong defense.” This adheres closely to imperial grand strategy, which insists on a foreign policy actively militarist enough so as to prevent military competitors and keep all the world’s nation’s dependent on the U.S. as military superpower. Clearly, this has nothing to do with defending the country and wasting hundreds of billions of dollars on it every year is what is putting the country at risk. Not, as Washington would have you believe, making trivial cuts in the rate at which the war machine expands.