February 06, 2008

The True Third Rail in American Politics

First, in an effort at scrupulous accuracy, I should note that yesterday's calculation of the budget deficit for fiscal year 2009 incorrectly stated that the $150 billion stimulus package was not included; it is, actually, thus reducing the actual deficit to the high $600 billion level. However, the Treasury Department's forecast is based upon a growth rate of 2.7% in GDP, which is unrealistic if the United States is in fact entering a recession (an implication the growth rate will be negative for at least two consecutive quarters), as the CBO notes. One way or another, Paulson's forecast is made out of moonshine and fairy dust, and Bush is going to leave office with huge budget deficits, a staggering national debt and reeling entitlement programs, and mainly all because of That Thing Which Cannot Even Speak Its Own Name, which, as a public service, the PondMeister lays out here:

The world's top 10 military spenders and the approximate amounts each country currently budgets for its military establishment are:

1. United States (FY08 budget), $623 billion
2. China (2004), $65 billion
3. Russia, $50 billion
4. France (2005), $45 billion
5. Japan (2007), $41.75 billion
6. Germany (2003), $35.1 billion
7. Italy (2003), $28.2 billion
8. South Korea (2003), $21.1 billion
9. India (2005 est.), $19 billion
10. Saudi Arabia (2005 est.), $18 billion.

It might be noted that Saudi Arabia's military budget is actually a subsidiary account of the U.S. budget, since the Saudis spend their money on American high-tech gizmos and jet planes. Be that as it may, if you add the bottom 9 budgets, they come to about $323 billion, or about 1/2 of the American budget. Now, the American budget is actually understated; adding in, as Chalmers Johnson does, the "black budgets" of the CIA, the Department of Energy, Homeland Security and the multitude of intelligence agencies (all of which are unconstitutionally kept secret from the American people), the real figure is about $1 trillion per year for defense and homeland security.

If you support a mainstream candidate (meaning, someone who could actually get elected and preside over this fruited plain), the one thing you will never hear him or her say is that we ought to drastically cut military spending. This is the ultimate no-no. When Bush talks about cutting "government spending," he never means the military budget; on the contrary, his budget proposals always urge increases in military spending.

Since we're spending all this money, here's a fair question, I think: against whom are we defending ourselves? Here's another question: why did the 9/11 plotters use hijacked American passenger jets as missiles? Answer: Because they were part of a ragtag terrorist group that couldn't afford its own air force, that's why.

Suppose, as a rule of thumb, the USA decided to spend as much as the next four countries on the list combined. That comes to about $200 billion. That assures us that if Russia, China, France and Japan ganged up on us, we would have the resources to handle them, although the notion of a war among such advanced countries is a little anachronistic anyway. No country on that list is going to tolerate a massive invasion of their respective "homelands." They're going to go nuclear, just as Israel would in the event of a massive invasion of its territory by surrounding Arab countries. We all know that. The days of Normandy Beach and island-hopping American conquests in the Pacific are over. The A-Bomb made them obsolete. The USA maintains a large standing army and all this expensive hardware so we can invade countries which are not nuclear powers in order to influence geopolitical conditions, mainly, fossil fuels; however, if we gave that up as American policy and focused our expenditures simply on (a) a military sufficient to protect the American homeland from invasion and (b) a nuclear deterrent, how much would that cost?

If any other nation on the list can pose a serious threat to the USA, with its budget reduced to the parameters noted, how would they go about that with their own budgets so limited? Why are they able to operate so efficiently where we can't? It doesn't make any sense. The United States could institute a program of one-year, universal military service for every American, immediately after high school (as countries such as Germany and Switzerland have done) to guarantee itself a large pool of able-bodied people who could defend America against invasion. It could reduce the standing army and decommission all overseas bases. It could refocus its military and intelligence apparatus against the interdiction of terrorist acts carried out in an "asymmetrical" way.

It's too bad that Obama, or Clinton, or someone with the nation's attention won't take the time to educate the American public about what's really necessary to defend the USA. The vast amounts spent arise simply from the inertial force of the military-industrial complex and are unrelated to our real needs. With the available tax revenues, we can't fix anything else unless we reduce the military and intelligence budgets.

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