Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America(Twelve).
I’ll believe it when it finally happens. But the news that Congress might actually stop production of a high-tech, job-generating and, most of all, high-profit weapons system because it fills no legitimate national security function is a considerable victory for President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as well as for logic.
You wouldn’t think it should require great courage to conclude that the 187 F-22s already authorized are enough when the plane has yet to fly a single combat mission in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else. But if usefulness was the criterion for defense spending, it would not have ballooned since the 9/11 attack, accounting for more than half of the federal government’s discretionary budget. Trillions wasted–ostensibly to defeat a terrorist enemy armed with an arsenal that can be purchased for a couple of hundred bucks at any garden-variety hardware store. We would not be spending as much on the military as the rest of the world’s nations combined, friend and foe, if defense spending was anything more than an elaborate political slush fund.
Just check the spectacle of supposedly enlightened Democrats like California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, joined by Connecticut’s Chris Dodd, treating yet another $1.75 billion F-22 allotment for war profiteers as a progressive jobs program. Los Angeles couldn’t find $50 million to keep its summer schools open, but a supposedly liberal senator like Boxer has voted for hundreds of billions over the years for exquisitely expensive military junk. Having lost the courage to make the swords-into-plowshares argument, they act like craven hustlers for the Daddy Warbucks types that support their re-elections. And once again, when it comes to being rational about military spending, John McCain, a Senate co-sponsor with Michigan Democrat Carl Levin of an amendment against funding the F-22, distinguished himself in the very moment when so many of his presumably less hawkish Democratic counterparts failed.
Gates failed to halt further production of the F-22 during his tenure in the Bush administration, but this time the bipartisan military-industrial complex clique was beaten back. The incredibly intricate and therefore expensive plane was designed to defeat an ultra-advanced Soviet air combat ability that was never realized. And it obviously has no purpose in fighting irregular wars against terrorists, as Obama has pointed out. But those who support the plane make the same “the Chinese are the new Soviets” argument that Sen. Joseph Lieberman uses to such great effect to get his $2 billion submarines built in Connecticut to combat an enemy holed up in caves. The absurdity of borrowing money from the Chinese at a furious rate to be able to afford to build weapons to counter weapons that the Chinese have no intention of building rises to the level of a Madoff scam.
The end of the cold war, with its potential for human extinction, was greeted with a great sense of relief by most of the world’s citizenry. For the US, as the first President Bush pointed out years ago, it was an opportunity to “look homeward even more and move to set right what needs to be set right–for half a century now, the American people have shouldered the burden and paid taxes that were higher than they would have been to support a defense that was bigger than it would have been if imperial communism had never existed…. Two years ago, I began planning cuts in military spending that reflected the changes of the new era.”
He and his then-secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, did cut defense spending by 30 percent. President Bill Clinton, ever mindful of triangulating with the hawks, did less. Now we are reduced to being grateful that Obama halts an extremely wasteful F-22 program, even as he makes the claim that this will free up money for his disastrous war in Afghanistan.
That’s not good enough. We don’t need a more “rational” use of defense dollars to fight yet another irrational war. Combating terrorism should never have been thought of in military terms but rather as a matter of international police work that has very little to do with most of the items on our bloated defense budget.
But terrorism is not the major threat to our security; that threat is rather to be found in the failure of public schools, the decay of our economic institutions and the corruption of our politicians. All of those failures combine to produce politicians like Boxer, Dodd and Feinstein, whose idea of looking homeward is not to create a vibrant peacetime economy but rather to hype high-tech weapons systems as the only viable jobs program.