‘Washington Rules’ and our path to permanent war

The United States maintains a military establishment far far  far in excess of anything that could reasonably be called necessary to defend the country from any real threat to “national security” as that term would be defined by any other more normal country.

The current moment, with the “threat” to cut military spending (unless the Supercommittee can agree on a different way to make a small reduction in the projected future deficit), is producing a steady stream of ludicrous statements. For example, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calls the threatened sequestration “devastating” and warns that the cuts “will make us unable to protect against a range of threats.”

That’s rubbish. Or at least it’s rubbish if the concept of “threats” to “national security” means to the United States anything like what it has meant to nations throughout history.

Based on its ability to deter an attack on the homeland, based on its ability to completely overwhelm any conventional military opponent (if it even had any), based on its ability to project power to all corners of the globe, and based on what it spends for “defense” compared with the expenditures and capabilities of any potential foe or even combination of theoretical foes, the United States is surely the safest country in Earthling history.

These crazy, over-the-top (and yet virtually indisputable) statements come from my reading of one of those books that forces a person to take off the blinders.

I refer to “Washington Rules” (2010) by Andrew Bacevich.

Andrew Bacevich
Andrew Bacevich

Bacevich, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army now professing on history and international relations at Boston University, traces what he calls (in the book’s very subtitle) “America’s path to permanent war” since the end of World War II. Staying on the path requires us to subscribe to a set of “Washington rules” that stand reality (as far as who is safe and who militarily dominates and threatens whom) on its head so that we can listen without derision to statements like the relatively mild ones from Panetta that I quoted just above.

Much of the book is a historical tracing, from World War II to the present, of the evolution of the Washington Rules (which are rules of how to think and how to talk as much as rules of how to act). But just to lift a few summary statements from the introduction and the first chapter, Bacevich writes that the first component of the Rules is that history has summoned the United States, and the United State alone, “to lead, save, liberate and ultimately transform the world.”

The means of this transformation “emphasize activism over example, hard power over soft, and coercion (often styled ‘negotiating from a position of strength’) over suasion. Above all… the credo obliges the United States to maintain military capabilities staggeringly in excess of those required for self-defense.”

During the Cold War, Bacevich writes, “a people who had long seen standing armies as a threat to liberty, now came to believe that the preservation of liberty required them to lavish resources on the armed forces.”

Our side, of course, won the Cold War but, curiously, “once the Soviet threat disappeared, mere primacy no longer sufficed. With barely a whisper of national debate, unambiguous and perpetual global military supremacy emerged as the essential predicate to global leadership.”

To maintain the consensus behind these rules, “certain views are privileged, while others are declared disreputable.” But “the rules themselves have lost whatever utility they may once have possessed, with their implications becoming increasingly pernicious and their costs increasingly unaffordable.”

One of the dangers of acquiring such overweening military power, Bacevich writes, is that “reliance on military might creates excuses for the United States to avoid serious engagement; Confidence in American arms has made it unnecessary to attend to what others might think or to consider how their aspirations might differ from our own.”

Bacevich identifies what he calls the “catechism of American statecraft,” to which “mainstream Republicans and mainstream Democrats are equally devoted,” which includes these tenets:

1. The world must be organized.

2. Only the United States possesses the capacity to prescribe and enforce such a global order….Leadership, in this sense, implies that Washington demonstrate a voracious appetite for taking on new obligations, never acknowledging that limits exist on how much Americans can afford.

3. America’s writ includes the charge of articulating the principles that should define the international order. Those principles are necessarily American principles, which possess universal validity.

4. Finally, a few rogues and recalcitrants aside, everyone understands and accepts this reality. Despite pro forma grumbling, the world wants the United States to lead.

“When it comes to projecting power, the United States exempts itself from norms with which it expects to comply.” For example, the role of world policeman requires “that the United States should maintain a far-flung network of bases and other arrangements to facilitate intervention abroad emerges as an essential predicate.”

Washington Rules

The United States maintains 300,000 troops abroad at 761 sites in 39 foreign countries. Who else could aspire to such an arrangement without being perceived by Washington as an existential threat to world peace?

And, “precisely because American purposes express the collective interests of humankind, Washington expects others to view U.S. military power, the Pentagon’s global footprint, and an American penchant for intervention not as a matter of concern but as a source of comfort and reassurance.”

OK, enough for now. I highly recommend the book (which is out in paperback). And I can’t help but feel that even quoting from it at such length and with such approbation might be enough to get me on a list somewhere for closer watching.

The Washington rules, it seems to me, can remain a consensus only so long as they are not discussed too openly or too clearly and as long as they are drowned out by the usual chorus of alarmism over the threat to our nation and the world if the budgetary crisis should require the United States to close a base or skip a weapons upgrade.

For the book’s motto, Bacevich chose this from “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot: 

“Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood.”

Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/09/2011 - 11:46 am.

    I can hardly wait to see what follows, but if an individual human were to express the “Washington Rules” in suitably individual terms, s/he would – quite properly – be regarded as mentally ill, and a candidate for institutionalization. Megalomania is ugly whether practiced by an individual or by a nation. We would still have far more defensive capability than necessary if we cut our armed forces in half, but the screams of hysteria from defense contractors and their understandably self-interested employees, and thus from their sycophants in state and federal legislatures, would be deafening.

    Bacevich’s take on the subject dovetails disturbingly neatly with the foreign policy we’ve followed that’s examined in Jack Matlock’s “Superpower Illusions.” I’d argue that, with differences in detail, this view has been expressed at least as far back as J. William Fulbright’s “The Arrogance of Power” in the 1960s, but, as Bacevich suggests, has been drowned out by the chorus of fear-mongers and those whose business it is to invent and manufacture weapons systems. I believe a certain Mr. Eisenhower had a few departing words about the “military-industrial complex” that might be instructive in this context.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/09/2011 - 11:56 am.

    Ever wonder why the US is not “competitive” as a world economy?

    The US taxpayer/worker bears the burdens of an enormous defense establishment and an inefficient health care system. Those extra costs, which no other industrialized country bear, add a cost of $12,000 per worker. That extra $12,000 per year per worker must somehow be contained the final price for any good or service produced by that worker.

    The politicians say those expenditures are the way it needs to be.

    But we are at the point of where it cannot be afforded any more.

  3. Submitted by Jo Marsicano on 11/09/2011 - 12:03 pm.

    Thank you, Eric. Wow.

    A refreshing expose of the undergirding orthodoxy responsible for our military insanity. Would love a second installment detailing the profit-making nature of the military since WW II, and how that invariably fed the military-industrial complex that has become a keystone of our national religion.

    For this article alone I’m going to dig into my pocket and find some money to donate to MinnPost.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/09/2011 - 12:06 pm.

    Mr. Basevich’s book sounds as though it builds on his earlier “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism” — an excellent look at our erroneous estimation of our own power and “specialness.” And, of course, our unlimited dollars to spread around the defense industry and the world.

    Would that he were our Secretary of Defense.

    Or our President. He would no doubt give us a big dose of Reality and help us see ourselves and the world in a new, more accurate way.

  5. Submitted by BILL MCKECHNIE on 11/09/2011 - 12:12 pm.

    You are right on in recommending this book. We could cut our military forces and bases in half and still be able to clobber the rest of the world without much effort. We don need nor can we afford to have a military industrial complex. Let those companies make solar panels, hydrogen powered cars and the like and pound their weapons into plowshares. Finally we should invest in Peace Studies at the International Peace Gardens in North Dakota on the border with Canadal.

  6. Submitted by barry bonoff on 11/09/2011 - 12:35 pm.

    I think like Eric Black, I only wish I could write and be as succinct as he. The subject of America’s over power is awesome. bb

  7. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/09/2011 - 01:12 pm.

    Having spent eight years in the submarine service with the mission of vaporizing the Soviet Union upon receipt of the CIC’s message, I have some credibility to comment on this.

    Let’s face it. People on the Left don’t like the idea that the United States is the most powerful nation in the history of the world. But they have no national defense credibility so who cares what they think? Even at a time when the lion lies down with the lamb, I want to be the lion.

    At the same time, I could suggest ways to maintain that position of power at half the current defense budget but it would be democrats who would scream the loudest.

    Here’s a partial list:
    1. Close all foreign bases except those in Asia and the Middle East.
    2. Cancel all development and production contracts for new generation ships and planes to be revisited in five years.
    3. Eliminate all funding for military dependents. Reduce your active duty roster to unmarried personnel only. If you want to get married, leave the service. Convert your unmarried clerks, cooks and truck drivers, male or female, gay or straight, to unmarried combat arms people.
    4. Eliminate the VA hospital system. Issue special ID cards to wounded veterans to be treated at any civilian hospital free of charge (billed to the government).
    5. Fight wars with active duty forces only. Stop using reserves and national guard. With the result of item 3, not too many reservists or NG would be eligible anyway.

    This would result in a defense budget of less than half what we have now without compromising our defense capabilities, in fact, our capabilities would probably be enhanced.

  8. Submitted by D.J. Scholtz on 11/09/2011 - 01:26 pm.

    Now, if there were an independent presidential candidate with Ron Paul’s knowledge and determination to wrestle down the military machine combined with a political stance that isn’t so “insane” (I believe that was Eric’s apt description of him some weeks ago), could something good start happening. . . . .?

  9. Submitted by Jim Roth on 11/09/2011 - 01:31 pm.

    Good suggestions, Dennis.

  10. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/09/2011 - 02:04 pm.

    I say let’s implement #7’s suggestions, and then take the REMAINDER of the military budget and cut IT in half.

    Then if we don’t like the problems which arise out of his suggestions, there’ll be plenty of money available to rectify them.

  11. Submitted by Peter Swanson on 11/09/2011 - 02:49 pm.

    Let me guess, Eric. You were a hawk before you read this book. And it is a good thing that you took the “blinders” off and stopped believing “rubbish.” The truth is “virtually indisputable.” No confirmation bias here.

    “And I can’t help but feel that even quoting from it at such length and with such approbation might be enough to get me on a list somewhere for closer watching.”

    Yup. Anyone who disagrees with you is a member of the totalitarian secret police.

    Great book review.

  12. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/09/2011 - 04:09 pm.

    I used to be regarded as very much a political moderate, and still think of myself as one. Only among certain segments of the right-leaning population would that be regarded as “left.” Be that as it may, if I’m “left,” I’m also not bothered at all by the U.S. being the most powerful nation in the history of the world, solar system, or even cosmos. But when the only tool you have is a hammer, as the saying goes, every problem begins to look like a nail. And if the only tool you have is a hammer, you don’t really need 900 hammers. You can’t use that many, and the cost of acquiring them, finding a place to store them until the one you ARE using wears out, etc., can get in the way of other things you need to pay for. Food comes to mind. Housing. Transportation. Etc.

    I’d also suggest that service in the armed forces doesn’t give someone any more credibility regarding national defense than someone who’s never put on a military uniform – unless that service was in a position high enough in the military hierarchy to make policy – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, for example. If not, a “specialist” in one service is a “specialist” in another service in the sense that your job is to follow someone else’s orders, orders you had no part in producing, to implement a national policy you had no part in creating.

    With that in mind, Mr. Tester’s suggestions are at least plausible. I can think of plenty of reasons why politicians left and right from many states would oppose them – what about all those defense contracts and jobs? – but there’s a certain rough-cut practicality to all of them. Not sure the “get rid of the VA hospital system” one would work – lots of recent wounded vets have fairly gruesome injuries that necessitate specialized treatment and facilities, and it doesn’t make budgetary sense to duplicate facilities if we don’t have to – but it would at least be worth considering.

    It’s hard not to agree with #5, even if the rest never get out of MinnPost. I’ve long felt that reservists and National Guard ought to be called up only for genuinely defensive (meaning at the U.S. border or its equivalent) and/or natural disaster kinds of emergencies. I think in terms of tornado / hurricane / earthquake relief and cleanup, or similar sorts of catastrophes.

    I’m pretty sure Mr. Tester is correct that adopting those 5 items would have a huge impact on our defense budget, and having our armed forces basically adopt the Pony Express mantra (“Unmarried males and orphans only”) would likely make them more focused on the mission at hand. It also creates potential problems – in my experience, ex-military folks, especially long-timers, are not always the most tolerant of people, since giving and following orders is fundamentally at odds with democracy – but it’s an issue that could be addressed.

    Halving our defense budget probably guarantees that, no matter how popular “Washington Rules” might become, these kinds of changes won’t be adopted by Congress any time soon. Too much money, especially from the right wing, goes to support pet military projects of one kind or another, and the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about the 1950s is, and has been, a current reality, with tremendous clout not just in the Pentagon, but in Congress and the White House as well.

  13. Submitted by Lance Groth on 11/09/2011 - 04:12 pm.

    You know, Dennis (#7), if you didn’t start off by dissing most of the people on this site, some of your ideas might go over better.

    Lefties don’t like the U.S. being powerful? Complete nonsense. I for one am most grateful that I can live well and peaceably, and sleep safely at night, courtesy of the military power that protects this nation. My uncle was career Air Force, served in WWII (Army Air Corps), Korea and ‘Nam, and retired a Lt. Col. My Dad served in the Navy in WWII. They have my respect and gratitude, as do all their comrades. At the same time, power need not equate with imperialism. Perhaps we agree on that?

    Lefties have no national defense credibility? Again, nonsense, with no basis in fact. A leftie guided this nation through WWII. Another leftie faced down the Soviets in the Cuban missile crisis. A third leftie (actually, centrist, in my opinion), the current president, has prosecuted the “war on terror” to greater effect than his predecessor. All presidents, of both parties, have met their responsibilities as CIC. When it comes to national defense, we are all Americans, and I frankly find your statement to be offensive – and needlessly so, I might add.

    As to your budget cutting list, I find it to be eminently sensible, in the main. I’m not completely sure about how much closing the VA system would save, as that is a system that works well and has kept costs well controlled over time, but I’ll spot you that anyway. I say, let’s implement the list. I have no idea why you think Dems would scream loudest about it.

    Great empires fail due to imperial overstretch, and the U.S. is rapidly approaching its limit. We need to focus more on our own Republic, and less on global empire, and close as many foreign bases as we can, consistent with our legitimate security needs, before the cost of maintaining them ruins us. Ditto for the constant string of new weapons systems – although I am a big believer in maintaining our technological edge.

  14. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 11/09/2011 - 04:25 pm.

    Dennis Tester’s suggestions seem all right except for possibly eliminating the VA. I’d be shocked if putting vets into the private health care system saved any money at all, and the expertise of treating those with service-related health issues would be lost.

    I spend 10 years plus with a major defense contractor and would agree that the global rules represented here have some truth. But unless the book talks about oil and its role in our international policies, I’m afraid it’s missing the elephant in the Pentagon.

  15. Submitted by Joe Musich on 11/09/2011 - 05:15 pm.

    Maybe David Simon could do a series like The Wire was structured featuring interactions of the components of the military, industrial, political, money trader and energy complex set not in Baltimore but on the entire planet.

    As to #7, jimmy Carter has some military experience and I would bet might like some of your ideas. Keep the door open and the snark factor at bay, dude.

  16. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/09/2011 - 05:25 pm.

    Dennis: re: “4. Eliminate the VA hospital system. Issue special ID cards to wounded veterans to be treated at any civilian hospital free of charge (billed to the government).”

    Would this bill then be part of the defense budget (I don’t believe that it is now)?
    If so, it would actually increase defense spending; if not, it’s simply an accounting shift.

    The rest of your proposals look quite reasonable.

  17. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/09/2011 - 05:53 pm.

    Mr. Tester’s thoughts would be equally compelling without the Pavlovian response to the thought of leftists and democrats. It appears to me that Mr. Tester’s proposals would suffer at the hands of virutally every member of Congress, regardless of party or political philosophy and probably in direct proportion to the financial impact on his or her district or state.

    The business of government is rarely the business of reason. We build new nuclear carriers not because the Navy makes a case for them but because shipbuilders want to build them and their representatives are happy to accomodate the builders and their employee voters. We maintain bases around the world as much for the purpose of supporting the local economies and maintaining their governments’ political support as we do anyone’s defense (with very limited exceptions). Virtually every military expenditure has its constituency.

    None of this is new. I’m sure the arms dealers were thick around General Washington, peddling muskets, powder and balls. Hell, they probably dogged Hannibal across the Alps and built the Trojan horse on a time and materials basis before that.

  18. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/09/2011 - 06:25 pm.

    Exactly how does spending seven years living in a tin can give someone added credibility about modern warfare, our contractor based expeditions, and current events?

  19. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/09/2011 - 07:57 pm.

    Well, cutting our bases scattered around the world would be easier than some. After all, there are no Congressmen whose districts’ economy depends on the bases. But after that, when we get to cutting unnecessary weapons system, expect major outcries about job losses. Not about weakened defense capability, but about “job losses.” Which tells you that, for Congress at least, the Defense budget isn’t about national defense. It’s all about pork.

  20. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/09/2011 - 08:04 pm.

    It doesn’t, Alec.

  21. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/09/2011 - 09:21 pm.

    The VA actually has much, much higher satisfaction rates than private market health care and is a hell of a lot more cost effective. Funneling public dollars to private enterprise seems to be the ultimate goal. Profiteering probably always existed, but now it has gone to an extreme.

    We would rather pay a 19 year old KBR kid $90,000 a year to do what a private used to for $20,000 a year. We pay contractors to build our barracks overseas, and reward them when they ground the wiring to the plumbing, electrifying the soldiers showers. While contractors steal billions we are distracted when homeless supporters might get a few million. We shut the homeless organizations down, and reward the contractors with more billions.

    War profiteering has never, ever been this absurd and extreme. There was no Blackwater or KBR equivalent in WWII or even Viet Nam.

    Now, I only served 9 years in the Infantry and four years in the signal Corps. In my year in Baghdad I worked closely with Raytheon, KBR, General Dynamics, Blackwater, etc. I earned a Bronze Star Medal, Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, etc.

    Of course, I’m just a liberal, and I guess we know nothing of national security or service to our country. I never did serve in a sub either.

  22. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/10/2011 - 12:36 am.

    Americans like to think of themselves as noble, pure, and good, and indeed, many people do fit that image.

    However, due to our overgrown military establishment, the face we often present to the outside world is that of a bully: “Do things our way and give us what we want or we’ll invade you or try to subvert your government.”

    Traveling in many countries around the world, I’ve found that people overseas generally like Americans as individuals, but they do not like either our militarism or our assumption that everyone wants to be just like us.

  23. Submitted by Joel Gingery on 11/10/2011 - 05:53 am.

    Mr. Bacevich advances an interesting hypothesis. What is the evidence? Viet Nam? Haiti? Somalia? Iraq? Afghanistan?

    Here is an excerpt from a recent column by Tom Engelhardt http://www.truth-out.org/all-american-nightmare/1320762231

    Bush’s American Dream was a kind of apotheosis of this country’s global power as well as its crowning catastrophe, thanks to a crew of mad visionaries who mistook military might for global strength and acted accordingly. What they and their neocon allies had was the magic formula for turning the slow landing of a declining but still immensely powerful imperial state into a self-inflicted rout, even if who the victors are is less than clear.

    Despite our panoply of bases around the world, despite an arsenal of weaponry beyond anything ever seen (and with more on its way), despite a national security budget the size of the Ritz, it’s not too early to start etching something appropriately sepulchral onto the gravestone that will someday stand over the pretensions of the leaders of this country when they thought that they might truly rule the world.

    I know my own nominee. Back in 2002, journalist Ron Suskind had a meeting with a “senior advisor” to George W. Bush and what that advisor told him seems appropriate for any such gravestone or future memorial to American defeat:

    “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality… That’s not the way the world really works anymore… We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”’

  24. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/10/2011 - 08:09 am.

    @#18 “Exactly how does spending seven years living in a tin can give someone added credibility about modern warfare, our contractor based expeditions, and current events?”

    I have personal experience with items 1 thru 5. Do you?

  25. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/10/2011 - 08:42 am.

    …and the other side of Mr. Tester’s suggestions is the possibility – not a certainty, but it seems to me at least a reasonable possibility – that following his suggestions basically eliminates democracy from our national equation.

    Name a democratic society with a big, permanent, genuinely professional army – made up of men and women whose sole occupation throughout their working lives is the military – that has been around for half a century. There aren’t any that I can think of.

    One of the great advantages (and of course, in wartime, a temporary disadvantage) of our society is that we’ve essentially based our defense on the Roman model of the “citizen-soldier.” In Roman myth, and to some degree reality, the republic was defended by humble farmers who more or less dragged their swords and shields out of storage when the empire was under attack, put on their combat sandals, and went out to smite the barbarian invaders, whoever they might be. When the fighting was over, they put the sword and shield away, changed sandals, and went back to farming.

    The Swiss still adhere to that model, and through most of our history, that’s what the U.S. has done as well. Only in recent decades have we adopted the “professional soldier” model, done away with conscription, and encouraged people to enlist for the long term in the several military services.

    One problem I see with the “professional soldier” model is that military forces – fortunately, in a combat context – do not operate democratically. No one asked Mr. Tester, while he was serving on that submarine, “What do you think, Dennis? Should we attack the Soviet Union today? Send a couple of ICBMs Moscow’s way? Or does the threat seem small enough that we can just do a couple of test drills and then go back to our usual maneuvering?” Enlisted personnel and lower-level officers don’t get to vote on policy.

    That becomes problematical after you’ve spent 20 or 30 years in an organization that’s never, ever had to deal with diversity in terms of what its mission ought to be. It may be populated and staffed by people of every ethnic and religious and sexual persuasion, but “democracy” is not part of its operations manual. For an organization like that, democracy is easily viewed as a very inefficient – and thus undesirable – way to get things done, and there’s no particular reason to develop or maintain much loyalty to it as a political system, in large part because most have no experience with it, and no vested interest in its success. Moreover, the civilians who run the democracy might not see the world situation the same way the commanding officers do, and when that’s the case, a whole lot of the enlisted personnel might be inclined – as the Romans were – to vote for the commanding officer’s view with their figurative swords.

    When Rome shifted over from the “citizen-soldier” to the “professional” army, the Roman republic quickly died, and it became the Roman Empire instead. It’s not that difficult to imagine something similar happening in this society. I’ve no objection to American military strength being sufficient to defend this country and its citizens. I’m more concerned about how that strength is arrived at, and how it’s used.

  26. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/10/2011 - 09:02 am.

    No, Dennis–
    As the inconsistency of your details demonstrates, you have personal experience with the inside of a tin can.

    And to second Alex’s excellent points, the VA also has far lower administrative costs than private health care companies providing the same costs; more bang for the buck.

  27. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/10/2011 - 10:03 am.

    See? What’d I tell you about who would scream the loudest?

    I’d like to see some other people offer suggestions on what they would do to cut the defense spending in half while maintaining readiness. And you don’t even have to limit your ideas to things you have personal experience with like I did.

  28. Submitted by Lance Groth on 11/10/2011 - 01:14 pm.

    Re #27 – Having a reasoned debate about an issue as complex and far-reaching as the mission, makeup and deployment of the U.S. armed forces, and the military-industrial complex that supports it, does not constitute “screaming”. Did you expect everyone to say “all hail Dennis and his flawless ideas”, especially after dissing everyone here as having no credibility?

    You put forth a list of ideas, some of which are good, some maybe not so much, particularly as regards the VA. Discussion ensued, much of it well worth the read. Everyone here seems to agree that large reductions can be made without compromising U.S. security. This is progress, no? Why come across as being so angry about it?

    In any case, good discussion. As Charlie noted, you can’t really deal with this without talking about things like oil & other resources, geopolitics, etc. The Pentagon planners are looking ahead to a world with dwindling supplies of oil, fresh water, food, etc., and steadily increasing cost of same, as well as things like climate change and overpopulation as drivers for the decisions nations and peoples will make. These all factor into the threat equation. Unfortunately, many of these things are not talked about openly by the people in power, and it is difficult, to say the least, to make good decisions without complete information and open discussion. The world will certainly continue to become more dangerous. Nevertheless, our military and security apparatus is bloated and needs to be included in discussion of the cuts and reforms that we need to make to avoid going broke.

  29. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/10/2011 - 01:18 pm.

    Dennis–
    I’d suggest that you actually look at the defense budget; it’s available online.
    A large chunk of it is interest on debt (war costs) and veteran’s payments. Are you recommending cutting these?

  30. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/10/2011 - 02:05 pm.

    1) Eliminate private contractors in war theatres, except in an advisory capacity.

    The idea that outsourcing logistics is cheaper is insanity. Literally they paid a KBR kid, $90,000 a year to run police call with Filipinos that they flew in to work for $2 a day.

    They contracted out dining facilities. The contractors charged taxpayers $40+ per solider per meal. We had to waste manpower by assigning soldiers to count heads at the door because the contractors of course kept sending inflated counts. KBR would charge hundreds to send an “engineer” in to an office to change a light bulb.

    Haliburton wired an old building to use as barracks. They grounded it to the plumbing and the soldiers couldn’t use any of the showers for fear of death.

    2) Return from all middle eastern and South East Asian facilities. Occupying those lands makes us less safe, and costs billions. They don’t attack us for our freedom. They attack because we are on their land.

    3) Continue the military’s awesome effort at going green. Then we won’t have any need to be in those crap holes. Navy is going to be 50% renewables/alternative fuel in just 3 years! Fifty percent of our imported supplies are fuel, and cost about $500 a gallon to truck in. Fueling one regular sized cruiser costs about $600k.

    Just those three steps would save us trillions.

  31. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/10/2011 - 08:06 pm.

    Paul Brandon: The Pentagon budget shown on the pie charts does not include the following: veterans’ benefits and veterans’ health care (Department of Veterans’ Affairs), the Coast Guard (Homeland Security), nuclear weapons (Department of Energy), the numerous “off-budget” appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan, and the “black budget” for covert ops, which is seen only by the president and a few others and never revealed to the public.

    I’m not sure exactly where the national debt (into which the military debt is rolled) is housed, but my guess is that the Department of the Treasury, which issues U.S. bonds, is the most likely home for it, so the interest payments on it would fall under that budget.

  32. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/10/2011 - 08:34 pm.

    Our structural budget deficit is in the range of 3% of GDP. Cutting defense spending from the current 4% of GDP to a strong European norm of 2.5% of GDP could take care of about half of that.

  33. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/11/2011 - 09:48 am.

    Karen–
    You are of course right that what we regard as the defense budget is split among a number of departments. The main VA health system is a separate operation.
    I’ve been trying to wade through some of the DoD budget documents (not fun) and I believe (though I’m not sure) that some veteran’s benefits are covered directly in the DoD budget.

    Ultimately, it’s a minor point — we’re paying for it one way or another; it’s the social cost of waging a number of undeclared wars simultaneously without raising taxes to support them.

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