President Bush's outrageous military budget has nothing do with fighting terrorism but everything to do with pumping up the profits of the Administration's generous political donors in the defense industry. So, the question is: Will the Democrats have the guts to stop this betrayal of the public trust?
Ever since some lunatics, mostly citizens of our longtime ally Saudi Arabia, used $3 knives to hijack four planes on the same morning, President Bush has exploited our nation's trauma as an opportunity to throw trillions of dollars at the military-industrial complex to build weaponry for a cold war that no longer exists.
That is the subtext of the more than $700 billion defense appropriation requested by Bush in his budget, released Monday. Sure, it includes $141.7 billion explicitly dedicated to fighting "the global war on terror"--but that much-abused phrase falsely encompasses the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or the perpetrator, Al Qaeda. In fact, that amount rises to $235.1 billion when the additional supplemental funds to cover Iraq for the remainder of this budget year are added in.
At least in Iraq, we created enemies we can now fight. The bulk of the rest of the military portion of the federal budget, $481.4 billion for the Defense Department and an additional $22.5 billion for other departments' defense programs, is intended to fight an enemy of advanced military power that is nowhere to be found--not even among the dreaded "Axis of Evil" nations.
For example, this budget allocates billions to continue building stealth aircraft designed to evade Soviet defenses the ex-superpower never managed to create.
The United States' military budget is greater than that of the next fourteen biggest military spenders combined. Even if not one additional dollar is allocated to the advanced weapons systems now in the works, there is not a nation on Earth that would dare challenge US dominance in the air or on the seas for decades to come. The enormous imbalance in US military spending is not about defense but rather profit.
As Dow Jones's MarketWatch reports, "Wartime spending has helped the big defense contractors post healthy fourth-quarter earnings with strong prospects for 2007. The new budget suggests the defense industry hasn't yet peaked, analysts said."
In fact, US defense spending now rivals that of the Reagan weapons buildup at the height of the cold war. Yet, there remains no plausible explanation of what these weapons programs have to do with defeating terrorists.
Indeed, the spending priorities of the Bush Administration indicate a continued mindless indifference to the lessons of 9/11, as outlined by the bipartisan 9/11 commission. Instead of using a surgeon's precision and a detective's diligence to excise the malignancy of terrorism, Bush's heavy-handed militarism has inflamed the very religious and nationalist passions terrorists thrive on. The President's "war" analogy obscures the fact that our "enemies" do not have an army, but rather a cause.
No, the Bush budget makes sense only as a slush fund for the defense industry execs and stockholders, a group also blessed by Bush's tax cuts. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., put it, the budget request "uses deception to hide a massive increase in debt and its priorities are disconnected from the needs of middle-class Americans."
In Bush's defense, he is just paying off a political debt: Donations of $200 or more from defense industry individuals and PACs to Republicans have averaged $10 million in the past three election cycles, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Unfortunately, even though the Democrats consistently receive only half as much in political payola from the military contractors, they have seemed just as slavishly loyal to the industry's lobbyists.
So the test for the recently victorious congressional Democrats will be to resist the temptation to go along with a patriotic-sounding military budget that may produce jobs in their districts and campaign contributions in '08 but that has nothing to do with fighting terrorism.
If they go the craven route, they will once again join this President in wasting our nation's resources by pretending to fight a world war against a militarily sophisticated enemy that exists only as a contrivance of his speechwriters' rhetoric.