Today, the United States, despite our protestations of being a peace-loving nation, is the most warlike nation on the planet. It is ludicrous to call military spending by the USA defense spending. We spend more than the next 20 nations combined. This figure actually understates the real cost by a significant amount because it doesn't include many other related costs which could push the ultimate cost beyond $1 trillion. But some of these costs are not controllable, or are not purely military. For convenience, let's round it off to $700 Billion; this represents base spending under the direct control of Congress. Keep in mind that these are annual costs, not spending over the next decade.
The truth is that our military spending is focused on starting wars. This is expensive; $700 billion is about 4.5% of our GDP. Some think this is money well spent. I do not.
What do we get for all the immense outlay of $700 billion? How does military spending benefit the average citizen? The truth is that we citizens get practically no benefit from it. Nuclear powered aircraft carriers don't make us safer. As awesome as the stealth bomber is technologically, it does not improve the quality of life of anybody on the planet. HumVees are unable to grow food, or provide medical care. The weapons of war are without any actual value to us or to mankind. In fact, they kill and maim and destroy; that's their purpose.
Large stretches of the world have developed a consuming hatred of the USA because of the wars we wage and the sabers we rattle. There is no upside except the satisfaction of being the biggest, baddest, toughest sumbitches on the planet. Is this an exaggeration? Recall all the awesome videos from the first Iraq war, the war to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Missiles were targeting individual buildings and sending a video feed of their flight right down to impact. We were all impressed by the technological prowess of our war making machine. And, admittedly, Saddam Hussein's naked aggression against a defenseless neighbor was cause for condemnation, and by any measure, a just cause for war. Coalition forces scored a resounding military victory, and we impressed the world with our advanced military technology. It was a war that had the backing of virtually the entire world. We had to stop him, and we did.
The coalition casualties were minimal—or were they? It turns out that 180,000 American veterans of this conflict were subsequently classified as "permanently disabled" by what has become known as Gulf War Syndrome. (We don't talk about this very much.) It seems like a stiff price to pay for redrawing national boundaries in a remote desert, but I agree that it had to be done. Still, it taught us (or should have taught us) that even a just war can have severe costs.
Recall all the talk about "shock and awe" before the second Iraq war; it was sheer braggadocio. We lost that war, in spite of our declaration of an early victory. There is no way to sugar coat it. We have nothing to show for it except our casualties and our national humiliation. We are now winding down the Afghanistan war; we have been forced to pull out after gaining exactly nothing. Nothing good came of either war, even though we spent trillions on them. Oh, but what about Grenada? We sure taught them a lesson, didn't we?
I invite the reader to review the history of our military operations since the cold war ended. Can anybody say that our military accomplishments during this period justify the human and monetary cost? I submit that our military adventures of the last twenty years have been, on balance, an abysmal failure. On the plus side, we can perhaps count taking out Slobodan Milošević (a success, but just a NATO assist), Saddam Hussein (and his two evil sons), Osama bin Laden, and Muammar Gaddafi (another NATO assist). Along the way, we suffered thousands of dead, and hundreds of thousands of non-fatal casualties. Oh, and more trillions of dollars than we can accurately count. It's a sorry history of military failure.
Even our current drone campaign is destined, I argue, to produce nothing of lasting value for our security. We are just creating enemies faster than we are destroying them. The technology is awesome, but the end result will be very bad for us.
It's time to stop sacrificing our young people, not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, and trillions of our dollars. We get precious little benefit, and it just serves to piss off our enemies. War is just not the answer to any problem we face today. Our role as the world's policeman is mainly, and plainly, a failure.
Consider this: The Iraq war that we started, ostensibly in response to 9-11, and the Afghanistan war have cost us far more in blood and treasure than did the original 9-11 attacks. A Harvard study puts the ultimate cost at $4 - 6 trillion. The cost to the Iraqi people has been greater—much greater, but apparently that counts for nothing. After all, they were just furriners. The long term cost to the United States, in terms of our relations with people all over the middle east, cannot even be guessed at. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan will hate us for generations to come; it's impossible to put a price tag on that. Some fine day we might need their friendship; what then?
Neither of these wars should have been started, but we provided Bush and Cheney with a huge hammer and, sure enough, they found nails to drive. Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11, but we were frankly eager to kick some ass. Hunter's fine diary explores this issue.
Arguably, Afghanistan provided sanctuary for al Qaeda, so there is some justification for our invasion of that country. But at the end of the day, somebody had to be the adult in the room; the United States should have learned a lesson from the experience of the USSR in that country. War against Afghanistan never served our national interest, and when it became obvious that the Afghanistan war was a failure in terms of trapping al Qaeda, we should have pulled out.
There are people today who advocate war to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. Have they learned nothing from the events of last two decades? If we make war, the very best outcome we could hope for is to delay whatever ambitions the Iranians have. We can hardly occupy Iran indefinitely to curb their nuclear plans. How can we put Iran permanently out of the nuclear weapons business? Only by getting their cooperation. We cannot get people to cooperate by going to war against them. How difficult is that to understand?
Let's suppose we decide not to start any more wars. What would be a reasonable military budget? Instead of the current level of $700 billion, $300 billion should be enough to deal with any military aggression against us. We are blessed with two immense oceans that act as formidable barriers against a possible invasion by Russia or China or New Zealand. If we are truly interested in defense, as opposed to offense, then $300 billion is more than enough. Imagine gradually reducing military spending and ultimately saving $400 billion every year just to start with, simply by deciding not to start any more wars. As time goes by, the savings would begin to compound as the related costs (such as veteran's affairs and debt service) gradually diminish. If you think that a cut to $300 billion is too far-fetched a goal, then pick your own number.
Think about this: al Qaeda had already attempted to take down the twin towers in 1993, which could not be prevented by military spending. Spending 3 or 4% or so of GDP on "defense" turned out to be money down the drain, because it did nothing to defend against the only real threat our homeland faced.
Defense spending is not the answer to the real threats to our homeland. There is no country on the planet that poses a conventional military threat to us. A $700 billion defense budget has but one purpose: to attack other nations—to kill their soldiers and civilians and to destroy their military capability, and their homes. That's the true purpose of our defense budget. We're lying to ourselves if we think otherwise.
What could we accomplish with an annual $400 billion peace dividend? That comes to about 2.6% of GDP. Infrastructure, basic research, and education come readily to mind. This would put millions of Americans to work doing something beneficial, rather than killing people and destroying things and creating enemies.
An immediate $400 billion cut in defense spending is obviously not going to happen abruptly. But we could get to that figure in stages. (One of those stages must be to defeat Republicans at the polls.) It will take a generation or two before we can begin to undo the damage that our belligerence has brought upon us.
What can we Democrats do to promote this idea? First, we could pledge to ourselves and to the world that we are not going to unilaterally start any more wars. Any future military action in which we take part would be undertaken by the United Nations, or of some other coalition of nations such as NATO. Second, we could set in motion a plan to reduce our global military footprint by at least 50%. Third, we could insist on using the "peace dividend" domestically to invest in the nation's real assets: infrastructure, basic research, and education.
To me, that sounds like a better plan than starting wars.