The President’s military budget is 30 percent higher than last year’s, the biggest budget hike since the Vietnam War. It’s 15 percent higher in constant dollars than the nation spent on average during the cold war, according to Lawrence Korb in testimony before the House Budget Committee. Korb, Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan and now speaking for Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, pointed out that this year’s “increase of $48 billion alone is more than the total military budgets of every nation in the world.” Yet Congress will probably give Bush what he wants–and more–because of his high popularity ratings and the fear of being branded soft on terrorism.
This budget abandons all hope of reforming wasteful military procurement and distorts America’s priorities at home and abroad. And who benefits? The military-industrial complex, pork-minded legislators and an Administration that puts the interests of military contractors ahead of the nation’s, knowing the increases will be paid for with money filched from Social Security, Medicare, education, social programs and people who aren’t rich enough to get a tax cut.
Remember when Donald Rumsfeld touted his plans to transform the military? He vowed to cancel a generation of cold war-era weapons, slash waste and forge a quicker, smarter, more mobile force to meet future threats. A year and a war later, emboldened by its victory over the Taliban, the Administration has restored the cold war weapons. It’s embarked on what appears to be wars without end. To justify its stratospheric military spending it manufactures a menace–the axis of evil. There is no pretense that any of these countries were connected with the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks. Yet, as Jonathan Schell wrote here, “a radically new policy was presented as a mere expansion of an existing one…. it turns out that phase two is not a war on terrorism at all but a whole series of much larger wars to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction–history’s first disarmament wars.” Politically, Bush has apparently decided that phase one, the war on Osama bin Laden, no longer has legs. He needs a permanent conflict if he is not to suffer the precipitous drop in popularity his father did after the Gulf War.
The Administration’s talk of overthrowing Saddam Hussein has rightly alarmed Europeans and is fraying the alliance against terrorism. Only Israel approves of placing Iran in the cross-hairs. Targeting North Korea appalled the South Koreans, touching off anti-American demonstrations during Bush’s visit to Seoul.
While finding additional billions for defense, the White House torpedoed a European attempt to gain a commitment from the industrial nations to double their foreign aid budgets–although US spending is now the lowest of all those nations. The Administration intends to fight terrorism with guns rather than invest in democracy, education, healthcare or economic development. And its new budget signals the return of unilateralism, meaning Washington will reject any restraints on its actions by the United Nations, NATO or other multilateral bodies.
Democrats who think they can give Bush what he wants for defense and focus on expanding domestic programs are making a bad mistake. After the defense budget is passed the Administration can argue there’s no money left for domestic needs. People who oppose Bush’s endless wars must challenge his military budget and warn the country about where he’s taking it.