An almost universal call to restore our supposedly neglected military strongly marked Thursday night’s GOP Debate whether indirectly by promising a bigger war on terrorism or straight on by promising to rebuild it.
Defense already accounts for more than 17% of the annual national budget, nearly $600 billion, and more than half the country’s discretionary budget. “Hidden” are enormous extra-budget war-related expenditures which add to the nation’s debt, primarily borrowing and interest. Depending on future policy (do we start paying for our needs) and the economy (growth, inflation, and so on) we could be paying interest on this debt for many years, adding even more to the cost of national defense that is not already on the books.
Meanwhile, the same Republican politicians stand on a political platform that has been and remains intensely and enthusiastically anti-tax. It follows a policy of less-is-more, one in which “freedom” is defined by less government and rallies behind the impassioned claim that government is the problem, not the solution.
The result has been decades of tax cuts and corresponding cuts to public investments in infrastructure and services…except military or, more broadly, our so-called War on Terror which today includes the expense of the growing and sprawling industry of homeland security. None of this is cheap.
Republicans correctly point out that we have fewer ships, planes, and weapons compared with a few decades ago, but is that a sign of weakness? We have also seen some reductions in defense budgets (if not spending). However, the military budget remains what it is, nearly 1/5 of our overall national budget. Americans need to keep in mind that we have added to the defense bureaucracy, too, through NSA and Department of Homeland Security spending. All of these reductions would appear to become matters of history should a Republican gain the White House. They are running on a bigger, even more aggressive military platform.
War and the apparatus of war is serious, deadly business. Americans have known of this from the nation’s founding. But we have gone from the warnings of General Smedley Butler (War is a Racket) and President Dwight Eisenhower (beware of the Military-Industrial Complex) in the last century to President George W. Bush advising families in time of conflict this century to go to Disney World and do more shopping.
This is significant. Prior to our current wars, military expansion required national sacrifice, not just sacrifice on the part of fighting soldiers. And we paid for this sacrifice, literally with dollars and otherwise. Prior to this century, wars didn’t bring tax cuts, they brought tax increases. Today we not only fund the fight with non-existent budgets, we outsource it to private enterprise at tremendous debt-driven cost.
While most Americans — especially most affluent Americans — are vacationing and shopping with the help of reduced taxes to fund it, others are lost in distant wars which are funded by deficit spending.
This goes a long way toward explaining why we lack any moral outrage — or even any top-of-mind awareness — of our costly, deadly, and destabilizing wars. Americans need not travel to war zones, however, to understand this. Here in the United States of America the result has been the expanding national police state and its security apparatus. Other than Senator Rand Paul, not one of Republican candidates running to be our next president is alarmed by this. Sadly, there seem to be relatively few Americans alarmed by this as well.
So for all the talk of freedom, strength, and small government…where do these warmongering Republicans fit in? Like so much on the right today, they don’t. They fudge. But there is one quick and easy question to you can ask them, one that they can’t real squirm from, and that is how are you going to pay for it?
Be wary of the answer. It likely will be a mix of cuts in other services — “rebalancing” — and likely tax cuts, too. (Only in American political doublespeak is less-is-more taken so seriously, so easily.) But we cannot sustain more cuts. Our nation has poisoned water and falling bridges, we have a growing poor and a fading middle class. For all the talk of “making America great again”, we are losing. We are losing in large part because we are fighting the wrong war.