When is Enough Enough?

The proposed federal budget for FY 2020 has been released. The big winner, again, is the Pentagon and the weapons industry. Endless wars produce endless military spending.

Most Americans know we spend a lot of money on the military and wars. Many of them blindly believe this is necessary to protect the country. But the more we spend the less safe we are. In addition we are not winning the wars. As William J. Astore. USAF LT COL (Ret.), has written,

“When it comes to the “world’s greatest military,” the news has been shocking… as the U.S. military spans the globe, it’s regularly experiencing the agony of defeat rather than the thrill of victory.”

But Colonel Astore says there is one “war” that is being successful,

“While it’s true that the military establishment failed to win those “hearts and minds” in Vietnam or more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, they sure as hell didn’t fail to win them here. In Homeland, U.S.A., in fact, victory has been achieved and, judging by the latest Pentagon budgets, it couldn’t be more overwhelming.”

The Pentagon budget has gone up over eighteen percent in the last three years. With the 2020 increase it will reach $750 billion. When is enough enough?

The U.S. military is the largest and most powerful in the world. It has been since WWII. We spend more on defense than the next eight top spenders combined. We have military bases in 140 other countries. More than any empire ever. We have 10 super-sized nuclear aircraft carriers (19 total including helicopter carriers). China and Russia have one each. With the exception of Russia having more tanks, The U.S. far exceeds every other nation in ships, planes and weapons. The U.S. arsenal is the most technologically advanced.

Military spending has historically consumed about 55% of the federal “discretionary” budget. This does not include all “national security” related spending. It only includes the Department of Defense, nuclear weapons, and the Overseas Contingency Fund (war funding). Some analysts calculate total national security spending at 85% of the budget.

Why are we so paranoid? No other country has the military, logistical, or economic capacity to invade the U.S. We are the third largest nation by both population and land area. We have not been invaded since 1812. When do we have enough defense? What does it take to be “secure?” At what point do we stop feeding the military industrial monster?

All the other important functions of government are left with 15% of our disposable resources. The crumbs trickle down to fund police, courts, food safety, water and sewage systems, public health, medical research, roads, work place safety, and all the other things necessary for a modern society. When even the court system, the backbone of conservative “law-and-order,” languishes, it is time to re-assess our priorities.

We spend over half our discretionary budget on the Pentagon and only 3% for diplomacy. Most people don’t realize the degree to which our aggressive, militarized foreign policy has helped make us targets for terrorism. Unqualified support for Israel, the invasion of Afghanistan, over 24 years of bombing Iraq, creates the impression we hate Islam. Decades of support for repressive dictators proves we don’t care about democracy. We would be better off spending more effort and resources making friends rather than bombing “enemies.”

Defense is an important function of government. And, yes, there are terrorists who do bad things around the world. But you don’t fight terrorist cells with nuclear weapons or jet fighters. Why are we spending $1 trillion over the next 30 years on nuclear weapons? We are spending $1.5 trillion on the new F-35 fighter plane. The F-35 doesn’t perform as well as our current, best in the world, F-16 aircraft. Waste, cost overruns, no bid contracts, and boondoggle projects are endemic to military spending. Maybe we need to think about what we are doing and not just throw money at the military monster.

Even conservative advocates for a strong military object to the current level of military spending and on what it is being spent. The Project on Government Oversight says,

“But is there such a thing as too much defense spending? Is it possible that, counter-intuitively, more defense dollars could make us less safe? Yes. The fact is, that is exactly what’s happening. There are tens of billions of defense dollars being wasted every year. That’s not just bad for our checkbook. It’s bad for our military effectiveness.”

No matter how you spin the numbers, we spend too much on defense. It is time to rethink our priorities.