The Five Big Things- 5. Taming the Military Industrial Complex

It would be fair to say that Dwight Eisenhower both did more for the U.S. Army than anyone in the 20th Century, and that the Army did more for him too. The last five star General, Eisenhower defeated the Nazis in Europe. The fame of that victory catapulted him to the White House as our 34th President. No one would dare call Eisenhower an anti-war dove. That’s what makes it all the more remarkable that Eisenhower used his 1961 farewell address to warn about the dangers of the military industrial complex. He could not have been more spot on.

Few people really know what they’re talking about when they bloviate about the Pentagon Budget. You hear crazy statements about how we could “cut the Pentagon” and pay for new spending programs at home that cost trillions of dollars. The truth? The 2020 Budget request asks for $718.3 billion for the Department of Defense. The entire national security budget request is for $750 billion. The other side of that coin though? The U.S. is spending more in 2019 than Germany, The United Kingdom, France, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, and China combined on defense, and is asking for more next year.

The United States could drop nuclear bombs on virtually any country in the world that would put them out of existence. The U.S. Navy has no actual rival in the sea, nor does the Air Force through the air. American military capability is second to none, and would be so if it were substantially smaller than it is now. Is it necessary? Is this a good use of resources?

Let’s start by understanding the Defense Budget. Very little of it gets spent on salary, benefits, or housing for members. The share of it dedicated to bases and upkeep is also not high. Most of the money is dedicated to weapons contracts. The U.S. spends money on bombs, planes, aircraft carriers, and other weapons, mostly. Some of it is absolute waste, and Generals testify to such annually, but it stays in the budget every year because hawks in Congress want to keep producing it in their districts, and contractors want the payday. Among the non-waste weaponry, we’re often buying way more than we actually need. A reasonable group of ten educated members of the public could probably find $100 billion in cuts without harming our readiness to defend the country. A trained panel could do more.

Even that only partially explains our addiction to military spending though. As of 2017, the cost of the War in Afghanistan was roughly $2.4 trillion, all on borrowed money. As of 2013, the Iraq War has directly cost $1.7 trillion, with another $490 billion in costs owed to veterans of the war. These costs will continue to climb in coming decades as interest costs grow and veterans accumulate costs. In other words, the U.S. is probably approaching $5 trillion in costs for the two wars that came out of 9/11. Would that pay for “Medicare-for-All?” No. But by comparison, the Interior Department’s 2019 Budget was $11.7 billion, and one of the reasons co derivatives cite for selling off protected lands (Interior is in charge of that) is costs. You could protect all the land you want, end homelessness for Veterans, fix the Flint water crisis, repair all the deficient bridges, and do a lot of stuff with $5 trillion. Instead we’re paying interest on that money to invade foreign countries and occupy them for going on two decades.

Having a strong military is important and useful to being a global power, but it’s easy to question the judgment of how America has used it’s hard earned treasure since Eisenhower. While we argue about Medicare and Social Security’s solvencies, or fail to act on lowering prescription drug costs, or don’t protect our natural lands, or don’t fund our public schools, we’re spending more money than is needed to do those things on unnecessary military might and invasions. This is exactly what Eisenhower warned us of- an addiction to the war machine.

The argument is not on whether we should cut our military budget to the bone, but really whether we’re spending the people’s money right. While we can’t afford to do things our public need, we somehow have money to waste on war. Ending this addiction can solve many other problems and improve life for the people. It’s a necessary step to making life better in America.

Read big thing 4 here.

Read big thing 3 here.

Read big thing 2 here.

Read big thing 1 here.

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