U.S. should cut military spending

BY SHAY O'REILLY | AUGUST 19, 2011 7:20 AM

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On the campaign trail in Decorah Monday, President Obama gently chastised Democrats.

"Sometimes there are those in my party who will defend everything, even if it's not working," the president said, standing in front of a pastoral red barn. "Well, we do have to make some cuts on things that we don't need, and that allows us to invest in the things that we do."

Obama failed to elaborate on what he thinks America needs. But from his actions in the past, it's fairly easy to extrapolate his priorities: In July, Obama offered to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67; throughout the debt-ceiling negotiations, he's stated a willingness to put everything — including entitlements — on the table.

Meanwhile, the debt-ceiling deal cut less from defense than expected, thanks to a sneaky redefinition, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested budget cuts would compromise the country's ability to accomplish its (abstract at best) military and security goals. It's unlikely that a significant military disinvestment is in America's immediate future.

It's time to re-evaluate our priorities. If politicians and the public they supposedly serve are caught in this austerity zeitgeist, we should use our limited government funding to make America stronger — not by boosting our military might but by fostering the services that support and encourage our democracy.

In fiscal 2010, the U.S. military budget was $693 billion. Our country alone spends almost as much on military and defense as every other country combined. While it's important to keep our nation safe, this expenditure is unjustifiable; even if we believe that we must maintain our status as a superpower, the outlandish sums of money we spend on defense have no grounding in real-life needs.

To pick an easy example, our nuclear arsenal could destroy the world. In February, climate scientists released a study showing that even a regional exchange of nukes would trigger massive environmental consequences that would result in a global famine.

Massive overkill aside, our expenditures aren't making us any safer. A Washington Post investigation found that our security state is so bloated that efficiency was impossible to measure, and threats just fall through the cracks. Instead of making advances in the "war on terror," our forays overseas have given terrorists more converts: Every civilian massacre is both tragic and counterproductive.

Not everyone in Washington is ignoring this source of waste. Last year, Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, called on Congress to cut U.S. military spending. Paul remains the highest-polling presidential-nomination candidate who wants an immediate end to foreign wars and a massive decrease in military spending.

Past politicians, too, have understood the dangers of overly investing in the military. President Eisenhower put it well in his Chance for Peace speech: "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."

As Eisenhower suggests, the alternative is an America that rots from the inside out. Fully funded military bases overseas would remain thriving outposts of a decaying empire, while at home — without funding for schools and public goods — the engines of democracy grind to a halt. Without a social safety net that funds services from legal aid to food assistance, the gaping divide between rich and poor devours the political potential of average citizens.

There are many ways to lose geopolitical relevance, and a failing of military strength is only one. Cultural collapse, economic catastrophe, and a dramatic erosion of political ideals are some others, and more realistic scenarios of American decline than assault by an outside threat.

We don't need to increase our military potential. We don't need greater funding for defense. We need to prioritize the human good in our own country instead of inefficiently defending ourselves from exaggerated foreign threats.

Obama may shirk from confronting this reality, but Congress — and citizens — shouldn't.

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