The big (Mil­i­tary) taboo

The in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity is so vast that more peo­ple have "top se­cret" clear­ance than live in Washington, D.C.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Ni­cholas Kris­tonf

We face wrench­ing bud­get cut­ting in the years ahead, but there's one huge area of govern­ment spend­ing that Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike have so far treated as sacro­sanct. It's the mil­i­tary/se­cu­rity world, and it's time to bust that taboo. A few facts:

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.

The United States main­tains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Ger­many, Rus­sia might in­vade?

The in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity is so vast that more peo­ple have "top se­cret" clear­ance than live in Washington, D.C.

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 Mex­i­canAmer­i­can War, the Civil War and the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War com­bined.

This is the one area where elec­tions scarcely mat­ter. Pres­i­dent Obama, a Demo­crat who sym­bol- ized new di­rec­tions, re­quested about 6 per­cent more for the mil­i­tary this year than at the peak of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

"Repub­li­cans think bang­ing the war drums wins them votes, and Democrats think if they don't chime in, they'll lose votes," said An­drew Bace­vich, an ex-mil­i­tary of­fi­cer who now is a his­to­rian at Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity. He is author of a thought­ful re­cent book, "Washington Rules: Amer­ica's Path to Per­ma­nent War."

The costs of ex­ces­sive re­liance on mil­i­tary force are not just fi­nan­cial, of course, as Pro­fes­sor Bace­vich knows well. His son, An­drew Jr., an Army first lieu­tenant, was killed in Iraq in 2007.

Let me be clear: I'm a be­liever in a ro­bust mil­i­tary, which is es­sen­tial for back­ing up diplo­macy. But the im­pli­ca­tion is that we need a bal­anced tool chest of diplo­matic and mil­i­tary tools alike. In­stead, we have a bil­lion­aire mil­i­tary and a pau­per diplo­macy. The U.S. mili- tary now has more peo­ple in its march­ing bands than the State Depart­ment has in its for­eign ser­vice - and that's pre­pos­ter­ous.

What's more, if you're car­ry­ing an arm­load of ham­mers, ev­ery prob­lem looks like a nail. The truth is that mil­i­tary power of­ten isn't very ef­fec­tive at solv­ing mod­ern prob­lems, like a nu­clear North Korea or an Iran that is on the nu­clear path. In­deed, in an age of na­tion­al­ism, our mil­i­tary force is of­ten coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

Af­ter the first gulf war, the United States re­tained bases in Saudi Ara­bia on the as­sump­tion that they would en­hance Amer­i­can se­cu­rity. In­stead, they ap­pear to have pro­voked fun­da­men­tal­ists like Osama 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?

Para­dox­i­cally, it's of­ten peo­ple with ex­pe­ri­ence in the mil­i­tary who lead the way in warn­ing against over­in­vest­ment in arms. It was Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower who gave the strong­est warn­ing: "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." And in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, it is De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert 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. Amer­i­can troops in Afghanistan are among the strong­est ad­vo­cates of in­vest­ing more in schools there be­cause they see first­hand that ed­u­ca­tion fights ex­trem­ism far more ef­fec­tively than bombs.

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