Printing money, spending heavily and buying debt may be the prevalent fiscal policy of the current administration (or the past few, to be fair), but it isn’t especially solvent. One need only look at the situation in Greece for evidence. But as American concerns grow over rising debt and deficits, the question becomes: what to tax and what to cut?
For 30 years, the United States has been figuratively drinking Starbucks and Chardonnay on credit. During the Regan years, we spent more than we had and grew the deficit. This made for historic economic growth, as well as victory in the Cold War, but it also spoiled a populace into thinking we could spend as much as we want, have an abundance of social programs on every conceivable level – as well as a first-rate military - without having to worry about public debt. Those days are over. It’s time to cut back, and judging by the reaction of lawmakers recently, the military is in the sights of more of those in Washington.
According to a recent reports, a group of four lawmakers – Ron Paul (R-Texas), Barney Frank (D-Mass), Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) -- called for deep reductions in defense spending. The call came on the heels of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who two weeks ago called for dramatic cuts in the military budget during a speech at the ever-appropriate Eisenhower Library in Kansas.
Some cuts have already come, the long-awaited F-22 Raptor fighter plane for instance, but more could be on the way. The question then becomes can the U.S. afford two wars, growing domestic obligations and remain a strong deterrent against our enemies?
Reagan’s booming economy drove the Russians to bankruptcy. It wasn’t tanks, but IOUs that the Soviets issued in place of bullets that cleared the way for victory in the Cold War. Twenty years later, the American military is fighting two fronts overseas, maintaining security for a good portion of the globe and doing so with a shrinking manufacturing base and economy to support it. In other words, we’re heading in the same direction that ended in disaster for Russia and the Eastern Bloc 20 years ago.
Security costs a lot, especially when one country is providing so much of it. But Washington is going to measure political costs before security costs. Government employees, bureaucrats, unions – all of whom are in bed with the Democratic Party – have been hostile to the any notion of slowing domestic spending. The slightest mention of the word “cut” sends mobs of angry SEIU protesters to rally at homes and parking garages.
Not that military spending shouldn’t come under scrutiny. Currently, military spending averages about $700 billion a year. To put it another way, it costs the same to protect your rights, life and livelihood as it does to bailout a few banks. But that cost is higher on average then it was during the Gulf War. As in all parts of government, there is never too little fat to trim.
With domestic spending exploding, and every incumbent under increased scrutiny, the politically safe option would be to cut the military, for soldiers don’t generally tear up your front yard, and generals don’t have sit-ins outside your office.
The question then becomes how much do you cut and what do you cut from. There is a troop surge currently underway in Afghanistan. There is a fledgling democracy and a quieting of the insurgency in Iraq. But, even as war Iraq grinds to an end, there is Iran and Pakistan to consider, as well as the deteriorating situation in Yemen. Frank has proposed bringing troops home from overseas bases and he has mentioned Okinawa by name, but is that a reasonable course of action with a hostile (and possibly nuclear-capable) North Korea slamming torpedoes into South Korean ships?
The administration, through Gates, is expected to battle Congress, which will likely fight to keep a new engine program alive for the F-35 fighter, as well as the C-17 cargo plane. This fight will take place in the summer months, between budget hawks and those wanting to keep jobs and programs alive in their districts afloat in the midst of a sagging economy. Whether those programs survive the near-term, the big question remains: how does America fund a world-based military in a rapidly-changing global economic environment?
Maybe it’s time to start sharing the load, but Europe is years away from doing so, even if it was politically willing to. While Greece has gone bankrupt because of early retirements and months of vacations, American’s debt has exploded because of “too-big-to-fail” corporations and financial institutions; guaranteed pensions; out of control entitlement programs and our role as world cop. The democratic socialists in Europe detest our military might, while they simultaneously cling to their compassionate approach to domestic spending. But, it’s far easier to run a nanny-state when the global hegemon is keeping thugs out of your backyard.
Gutting the military now wouldn’t be realistic on several levels, but the day is coming. It’s hard to imagine China continuing to buy our debt if we’re increasingly involved in its sphere, especially with North Korea and other terror-outlets in Southeast Asia. It’s also harder to justify military operations when Medicare is eating away 35-percent of the GDP. Though America is far from being an also-ran on the world scene, there isn’t another post-war economic boom on the horizon, maybe not even a run like the country enjoyed during the 80s and 90s. Harder times will make for harder decisions.
With such days on the horizon, let’s hope our military has the chance to accomplish all it can before the time comes when it will be able to do little more than defend America’s shores.
B.J. Bethel is a journalist living in Ohio. He has worked at various daily newspapers as a sports writer, news reporter and editor.