The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.
That’s the first of four bulleted paragraphs of facts about the military offered by Nicholas Kristof in a column titled The Big (Military) Taboo. You might know that. You might even know that we have troops at 560 bases outside the United States. That’s the 2nd. And the third?
The intelligence community is so vast that more people have “top secret” clearance than live in Washington, D.C.
But I have not yet offered the most shocking, from the 4th of those paragraphs, for which I suggest you continue below the fold.
The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.
Stop and consider that. Not only is Afghanistan now our longest war. In one year, more than 9 years after the war began, we will spend more, adjusted for inflation, than we did in three of the five wars declared by Congress, plus the war that gained us our independence from Britain, plus the internecine conflict which cost this nation over 600,000 dead. More than in all five of those wars, for all of their years.
If this is not insanity, please tell me what it is.
Kristof offers more than statistics. He quotes from Andrew Bacevich. He reminds us that the bases we insisted on keeping in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War may well have provoked the likes of bin Laden into attacking the U. S.
In other words, hugely expensive bases undermined American security (and we later closed them anyway). Wouldn’t our money have been better spent helping American kids get a college education?
He quote the famous words of Dwight Eisenhower to make the point that it is often the military men who remind us of the real cost of war, and that there are better ways of achieving our goals. Those words from Eisenhower, Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed, are followed by reminding us that Secretary of Defense Gates
who has argued that military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny; it is Secretary Gates who has argued most eloquently for more investment in diplomacy and development aid.
There is more. Kristof reminds us that for the cost of one soldier deployed to Afghanistan we could build 20 schools, and that the troops in Aghanistan know that building schools undermines the fundamentalists. I am reminded of the support many in the military have given Greg Mortensen in his efforts to build schools in Afghanistan and neighboring parts of Pakistan.
Secretary of State wants to pursue more diplomatic approaches, but the Republicans in charge of the House as of January want to slash funds for diplomatic efforts, even though we know they will insist on no cuts for the military, and, as Kristof rightly notes, Democrats will in general fear opposing them for political reasons.
We are constantly told that we cannot get our government finances under control until we can control the rapidly escalating costs of health. After all, the projected shortfall in Medicare dwarfs that that some project – probably erroneously – for Social Security.
But these costs pale in comparison to the expenses we make on the military. And of course, the continued tax cuts for the wealthy mean our military expenditures – in Iraq, for unnecessary bases around the world, as well as for our continued folly in Afghanistan – make it impossible to do anything except continue to explode our national debt, even if we cut all discretionary domestic programs.
Our refusal to properly address health care costs makes American companies uncompetitive. We spend more on health care for a population that on the whole gets less than does any other industrialized democracy.
And other nations can provide a meaningful social safety net for all of their people because they do not carry the burden of military expenditures that we do – we the American taxpayers are thereby funding the well-being of people in Western Europe while our own people are denied the benefits the people in those nations receive.
Kristof says of the Republicans about to control the House,
They should remind themselves that in the 21st century, our government can protect its citizens in many ways: financing research against disease, providing early childhood programs that reduce crime later, boosting support for community colleges, investing in diplomacy that prevents costly wars.
Let’s repeat the famous words of Eisenhower, before offering the final brief paragraph from Kristof:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
a theft – not just for those who are the worst off among us, but from all of those referred to in the words I will again quote from Hubert Humphrey:
It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
the moral test of a government – a moral test that I would argue we will continue to fail if we do not rein in our military expenditures. We can and must address Afghanistan.
We also need to make the point with which Kristof ends, in the words that appear immediately after those of his I last quoted:
As we cut budgets, let’s remember that these steps would, on balance, do far more for the security of Americans than a military base in Germany.
Not just one base, and not just in Germany. In over 170 nations around the world.
Our attempts at a Pax Americana will do far more to destroy this country than any and all external threats before us now or in the conceivable future.
Unless and until we are willing to address this honestly, there will no hope for the future of this nation.
And eventually no democracy either.
Count on it.
And no, do not look for my usual ending, because in this case it would be very inappropriate.