US defense spending bringing down an empire
Defense spending accounts for 58 percent of the discretionary pie, more than a trillion dollars a year all-in, or almost half of what the entire rest of the world spends combined.
With the US relying on countries like China to fund its wars and military bases around the world, even members of the Washington establishment are saying the US is bringing on its own demise as an imperial power through excessive spending it can no longer afford.
With US debt in the trillions and the economy still in the toilet, it is no surprise politicians in Washington are calling for spending cuts.
“It’s across the board spending cuts,” US Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) said in an appearance on cable TV during the midterm elections, echoing a common sentiment.
In fact, it was the rallying cry heard around the cable-channel-clock on midterm election night.
But when you get right down to the details, it looks a lot clearer that what politicians like Blackburn mean by across-the-board spending cuts really excludes a 58 percent chunk of the budget.
Blackburn herself said defense spending should not be cut, contradicting her call for cuts in all discretionary areas.
How can politicians afford not touch the $600 billion a year elephant in the discretionary room, that rises to over a trillion dollars depending on what you factor into what you're calling defense?
“The minute a politician, Democrat or Republican, or a particular session of Congress begins activity to cut spending there's an outcry from the Congressional districts that are impacted,” explained Dr. Roger Hanwehr, the director of ArcXeon International who worked for the Pentagon during the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
In short, it’s political. And being a superpower doesn't come cheap.
“It's a question of maintaining readiness and the capability to project force,” added Hanwehr.
In other words, it costs a lot of money to sustain this:
“It’s our empire,” said comedian Bill Maher on his TV show, “Real Time”. “We have an empire; we have half a million of our troops in other people’s countries all over the world.”
And maybe the spending is not that big of a deal when you put it like that.
"It sounds like a huge giant number but we have a $14 trillion economy,” argued Dr. James Carafano, a defense expert from the Heritage foundation.
However, US debt is quickly approaching $14 trillion dollars. Yet the US continues to demand spending almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. To pay for that the US relies on other countries, like China, to fund its debt or in other words, to fund its defense.
"America’s throwing off these dollars in Iraq in Afghanistan, in Japan, and in its bases around the world,” said Michael Hudson, economist and author. “That's what the deficit is and that's what the US isn't talking about.”
While American politicians would rather sidestep the issue or want to protect defense at the cost of programs Americans count on, such as social security, as Donald Rumsfeld recently tweeted, at least some high profile players are drawing attention to what actually resembles reality. Comedians for one:
“America’s like a family that spends way more than it brings in but dad won’t give up that big stupid boat he bought,” joked Maher. “You know what America’s boat is? It’s our empire."
It’s not just comedians though.
"We’re at the sundown as an imperialist power,” said David Stockman, former budget director for President Ronald Reagan. “And we can't have credit card imperialism. We can't be the policeman of the world anymore because we can't afford it. We're gonna have to cut defense drastically."
But, with the will on Capitol Hill looking more like Congresswoman Blackburn’s TV appearance, and a President overseeing this astronomical defense-driven debt, what does this mean for the country?
“It means Mr. Obama is trying to turn the United States into a third world country,” argued Hudson. “Just like Bush, Clinton, and even Reagan did, by running up the debt without any ability to pay or any intention to pay.”
And when that credit card is maxed out, the tough talk we’re hearing to leave military spending untouched will be falling on defenseless ears.
There is a real confusion among politicians and the American people when it comes to the connection between defense spending and the economy, said Dean Baker, the co-director at Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.
He explained most people think defense spending creates jobs, which is not always true.
“Defense spending is pulling resources away from productive uses. In that way it’s no different from any other form of government spending that isn’t sort of directly contributing to economic growth, say like building a road, building an airport, research and development,” said Baker. “What it does is pull resources way, reduce the productivity of the economy and that does cost jobs.”
The money being spent on defense is not simply there; it has to come from taxes or borrowing. Taxing the people pulls money away from consumers and borrowing drives up interest rates.
“What you are doing is displacing other spending that was actually productive in some way,” he added.
Prior to 9/11 approximately 3 percent of US GDP was being spent on defense, currently the US is spending close to 5 percent.
It is one thing to spend on defiance when it is needed for security, but it must be understood that there is an economic cost incurred, Baker explained.
The US defense lobby efforts Congress for more money, they get the money, but create few jobs. Baker argued that from an economic stand point defense spending hurts the economy, slows growth and costs jobs; as opposed to creating more jobs.
Phyllis Bennis, the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC said cutting defense spending inspires fear among many Americans.
“There’s always a war, there’s always an enemy that ratchets up fear in the American people and when people are frightened they believe things like, this kind of a military all over the world is somehow going to make us safe, it’s not. It makes us less safe, but people believe that it makes us safe,” Bennis said.
In addition, the slumping economy has many arguing increased spending will create more jobs and help the American people. While it is true defense spending can create jobs, it does not actually create many. In fact, she argued, placing the same amount of money into other sectors, like transportation, a greater number of jobs would be created. Wars are expensive; if Congress stopped paying for the wars America would not need to cut other budgets and could spend on more economic needs.
While the people may want spending cuts, including defense spending cuts, politicians are less likely to cut from the defense budget. They do not want to come across as soft on terrorism nor do they want to risk receiving campaign funds from lobbyists in future elections, Bennis explained.
Politicians are also afraid to endure short term job losses in their district when defense funds are cut, even though there will later be an increase in education, healthcare, transportation and other jobs.
“Our democracy is flawed. This is not a democracy that responds to what people want and to what the demands of the American people are,” she said. “It’s the problem of the politicians not hearing it, not being willing to listen to it.”
Former Reagan administration official Paul Craig Roberts argued the wellbeing of the US economy is being sacrificed to fight the “regime’s wars
“They have come out with a recommendation that Social security be cut and the retirement age delayed because of the deficit, but there is no provision whatsoever for reducing the military spending or stopping the pointless wars,” Roberts said. “Once again we see that the United States government’s prime priority is war and that everything else, including the welfare of its people, is sacrificed on behalf of its wars.”
Roberts argued this shows the power and growth of the American military security complex. IT has grown and expanded over the duration of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“There is no stopping it, there doesn’t seem to be any end,” he added.
The American people were told that military spending is needed to make them safe in today’s very unsafe world.
“It’s like the Nazi propaganda,” Roberts said. “All you have to do is tell them that they have been attacked and that the peacemakers lack patriotism and concern for the county. I think that’s what it is, it’s just that simple.”
The Chinese, Japanese and OPEC are all financing the US government and its debt, enabling American wars abroad.
Politicians are outraged by over spending, debt and owing foreign bodies money, but no one seems willing to make the proper changes to end the cycle. With a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives calling for cuts, the defense budget will likely remain intact.
“The Republicans favor the wars even more that the Democrats,” explained Roberts.
In addition, he argued that as long as the world allows and enables the US to sink deeper in debt and utilize the US dollar as the reserve currency, the wars will continue.