The war in Iraq is a failure. The "Global
War on Terror" cannot be won by military might alone. Access to health
care is a right for all. The growing divide between rich and poor is a problem.
Torture is un-American.
The Democratic candidates for president both mainstream and long shots
tend to agree on these and many other issues that position them as smart
and compassionate alternatives to the policies and priorities of President George
W. Bush and his administration. But on the one issue that profoundly impacts
all of the above, there is not enough difference. Most Democratic candidates
for president speak of increasing rather than slashing the military budget.
Since President Bush came into office in 2001, the Pentagon's budget has increased
by more than one-third. The $481 billion proposed for 2008 the $459
billion appropriations plus the nuclear weapons programs of the Department of
Energy is a jump of more than 10% over current spending. To be clear,
this is a huge figure even before factoring in the costs of military operations
in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in under the "Global War on Terror."
analysis of the emergency supplemental budgets to pay for the war by the
Congressional Research Service finds that (so far) a total of another $607 billion
has been spent since September 11, 2001.
The United States is currently spending more on the military than at the height
of the Reagan military build-up (when we had a nuclear-armed superpower rival)
or during the Vietnam or Korean wars. Thanks to the Bush administration, the
United States now spends about as much on its military as the rest of the world
spends collectively, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research
Given these figures and the fact that preponderant military spending has
not equaled an unassailable military or the fulfillment of the Bush administration's
objectives there is plenty of fodder for Democratic candidates wishing to
take on the Bush administration's love affair with the Pentagon. In the 2008
military budget, the White House showed its devotion to weapons manufacturers
and its disdain for men and women in uniform by packing the "reconstituting
the forces" area of the budget with $51 billion in weapons that are not
only not worn out by the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan but aren't even
relevant. There is money for 20 F-22 tactical aircraft originally designed to
engage Soviet fighter planes in high-speed aerial dogfights. Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia
does not have any fighter planes. Among other useless programs was $74 million
to continue research on an unmanned spy plane that is years away from being
A Tale of Two Budgets
While this administration justifies the spending
as necessary to fight the terrorists over there so that we don't face them here,
the numbers tell a different story a story of two separate military budgets.
The first is bursting with billions for new fighter planes, nuclear powered
submarines, and ballistic missile components. This is the budget that has propelled
spiraling profits for weapons manufacturing companies like Lockheed Martin and
The other military budget is plagued with the belt-tightening we usually see
in education and social service programs. The Army suffered a $530 million shortfall
in 2006 that led to cuts at military hospitals and no new money for medical
research on key procedures like dealing with traumatic brain injuries
the signature of the improvised-explosive-devise war in Iraq.
All the Democrats who wish to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office criticize
the administration for not providing ammunition, communication systems, armored
vehicles and helicopters to U.S. soldiers in the field. They also take Bush
to task for always leading with the Pentagon and not providing enough support
to the State Department's non-military counterterrorism programs. After $20
million was slashed from their counterterrorism program budget in 2007, the
State Department is requesting only $150 million for 2008. Its highly touted
Regional Strategic Initiative, bringing together different agencies to collaborate
on the ground, is getting a mere $1 million each year the kind of money
the Pentagon loses in its sofa cushions every week.
What the Candidates Say
But, in most cases, the Democrats are not taking
the next step to say that the United States does not need to spend more on the
military, it needs to spend smarter. Of the leading Democratic candidates, only
John Edwards has identified specific weapons systems he would red-line. In a
speech before the Council on Foreign Relations on May 23, 2007, Edwards vowed
to root out "cronyism and waste" while "increasing efficiency
in the Pentagon" and investing "substantial additional resources into
maintenance of our [military] equipment." He also said that if elected,
"I would direct my Secretary of Defense to launch a comprehensive, tough
review of fraud, waste and abuse and put an end to it. One example is
missile defense and offensive space based weapons, which are costly and unlikely
Pursuing this strategy as president would mean taking on the military industrial
complex, which has been living high-on-the-hog throughout the Bush administration.
It would be an uphill battle, but one worth pursuing.
Obama has not talked about cutting the military budget. In fact, when asked
recently in Cedar Rapids if he would cut the military budget, he responded:
"Actually, you'll probably see an initial bump in military spending in
an Obama administration." He went on to explain that those resources would
be used to "reset" forces worn out by war in Iraq and to cover adding
as many as 80,000 soldiers and Marines to the U.S. military.
Senator Hillary Clinton is proud to be the first New York senator to serve
on the Armed Services Committee and tends to overcompensate for her gender and
her husband's reputation (deserved or not) as anti-military by being uncritically
pro-military. She has also gotten behind the idea of increasing the size of
U.S. forces: "I have joined other Democrats and Republicans in proposing
that we expand the Army by 80,000 troops, that we move faster to expand the
Special Forces, and do a better job of training and equipping the National Guard
None of these front-running candidates has identified the short- or long-term
costs of adding troops, where the money would come from, or perhaps most
importantly the missions these troops would be engaged in once the Democratic
leadership succeeds in "bringing them home."
Department of Peace?
Dennis Kucinich, the representative from Ohio,
is considered a very long shot for President. In fact, Edwards and Clinton found
common ground a while back in wanting to limit future debates to what Edwards
called a "more serious group." Kucinich consistently calls for a more
limited and defensive role for the U.S. military and putting more resources
into diplomacy and global engagement. His Department of Peace is one indication
of the kind of vision his candidacy embraces.
There is no Department of Peace in any of the GOP platforms, but their efforts
to strike a different posture than Bush and company do not include a radical
revamp of the Pentagon budget or taking on the weapons manufacturers who reap
the benefits of a war-without-end strategy. Despite John McCain's prisoner-of-war
credibility, Rudy Giuliani's 9/11-forged patriotism, and Mitt Romney's
neo-Republican suave, they and most of the other Republican hopefuls are not
promoting a set of policies that would spend less for more security. Only the
libertarian "maverick" Ron Paul is calling for smaller budgets
even the military budget as a first step to smaller government and challenges
the wisdom of a "war on terrorism" by calling it a "vague declaration."
The Unified Security
Budget for the United States, a joint effort of Foreign Policy In Focus
and the Center for Defense Information, outlines $62 billion in cuts to the
military budget and another $52 billion that can be added to budgets for diplomacy,
emergency response, infrastructure and other non-military defensive tools. Their
38-page report should be required reading for any presidential contender who
is serious about charting a more secure and peaceful course for the United States
in the decades to come.