Paul’s right on the money with tab for for­eign pol­icy

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Lukas Pl­eva

Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Michael Steele sparked a po­lit­i­cal frenzy re­cently when he al­leged that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is re­spon­si­ble for con­tin­ued U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in the war in Afghanistan and ques­tioned the prospects of a U.S. vic­tory in the re­gion.

The com­ments prompted sev­eral calls for Steele’s res­ig­na­tion among Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tive pun­dits.

Steele does, how­ever, have at least one de­fender: Ron Paul, an out­spo­ken Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Lake Jack­son and a for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date.

Asked about the com­ments in a July 5 CNN in­ter­view, Paul talked about what he sees as wide­spread pub­lic dis­ap­proval of the war, in­clud­ing its detri­men­tal fi­nan­cial im­pact on the United States.

“We’re spend­ing $1 tril­lion a year on our

for­eign pol­icy,” Paul com­mented. That caught our at­ten­tion.

Paul’s of­fice sent us an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by Robert Higgs, a scholar at the In­de­pen­dent In­sti­tute, a lib­er­tar­ian-lean­ing eco­nomic re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Higgs ar­gues that look­ing at how much money goes to the Depart­ment of De­fense is in­suf­fi­cient. One also has to in­clude the ap­pro­pri­a­tions for the Depart­ment of En­ergy’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram, the Depart­ment of State, the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and the in­ter­est pay­ments at­trib­ut­able to past debt-fi­nanced de­fense spend­ing, among other ex­penses, to get a han­dle on to­tal for­eign af­fairs spend­ing. Crunch­ing the num­bers for 2009, Higgs came up with a to­tal that’s slightly over $1 tril­lion.

We con­sulted nu­mer­ous de­fense bud­get ex­perts on the is­sue. They all agreed that it de­pends largely on how one de­fines “for­eign pol­icy.” Chang­ing the def­i­ni­tion means chang­ing the pro­grams that one in­cludes in the cal­cu­la­tion.

Winslow Wheeler from the Cen­ter for De­fense In­for­ma­tion sent us a ta­ble that de­tails the “U.S. se­cu­rity” ex­penses for 2010. The to­tal comes out to $1.2 tril­lion. The cal­cu­la­tion in­cludes the in­ter­est on the Depart­ment of De­fense Re­tiree Health Care Fund and on debt-fi­nanced de­fense spend­ing.

Cindy Wil­liams, a prin­ci­pal re­search sci­en­tist at the MIT Se­cu­rity Stud­ies Pro­gram, told us to check out her pre­sen­ta­tion on his­tor­i­cal U.S. de­fense and for­eign af­fairs spend­ing trends. Pro­jected spend­ing for na­tional de­fense pro­grams, home­land se­cu­rity pro­grams and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs ini­tia­tives to­tals $841 bil­lion for this year. Add in the VA bud­get of $125 bil­lion, and we get $966 bil­lion. Wil­liams said that she wouldn’t in­clude the in­ter­est pay­ments at­trib­ut­able to past debt-fi­nanced de­fense spend­ing in her own anal­y­sis, “since there is no good way to judge whether debt ac­cu­mu­lated be­cause we spent too much on se­cu­rity or be­cause we raised too lit­tle in taxes.”

We also checked with Stephen Don­a­hoe from the Friends Com­mit­tee on Na­tional Leg­is­la­tion, an an­ti­war lobby. Don­a­hoe told us that their own cal­cu­la­tions do not in­clude the en­tire State Depart­ment bud­get. Still, tak­ing into ac­count Pen­tagon spend­ing and money that goes into nu­clear de­fense pro­grams, Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, in­ter­est pay­ments on de­fense-re­lated debt, and other re­lated ex­penses that are scat­tered through­out the bud­get, the group ar­rives at about $1 tril­lion. The com­mit­tee ac­knowl­edges on its web­site that the num­ber varies across groups that track de­fense spend­ing.

Fi­nally, the folks at the Com­mit­tee for a Re­spon­si­ble Fed­eral Bud­get crunched the num­bers for us. They came up with a to­tal of $935 bil­lion for 2010 and $950 bil­lion for 2011, based on es­ti­mates by the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice. Those to­tals in­clude the Depart­ment of De­fense, over­seas con­tin­gency op­er­a­tions, the State Depart­ment and other in­ter­na­tional pro­grams and “a few other agen­cies and pro­grams typ­i­cally in­cluded in a ‘se­cu­rity’ bud­get.”

In the end, the ac­cu­racy of Paul’s state­ment that the United States spends $1 tril­lion a year on for­eign pol­icy largely de­pends on one’s def­i­ni­tion of “for­eign pol­icy.” Still, give or take, most of the num­bers that the ex­perts threw at us come rel­a­tively close to, or even ex­ceed, the $1 tril­lion mark.

We find that Paul’s un­der­ly­ing point is valid, and rate this one True.

Ron Paul

State­ment: ‘We’re spend­ing $1 tril­lion a year on our for­eign pol­icy.’

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