The United States is projected to spend more on defense in FY 2009 than the next 45 highest spending countries combined, yet a push by conservatives
November 21, 2008


The United States is projected to spend more on defense in FY 2009 than the next 45 highest spending countries combined, yet a push by conservatives and the military, backed by arms companies, is trying to lock the defense budget at 4% of GDP.

The unholy triumvirate of Pentagon deskwarriors, arms manufacturers and conservative fans of defense pork are ramping up a pressure campaign right now designed to inflate the military's budget requirements and thus provide a cushion for what they believe will be an Obama administration's pullback from record defense spending levels under Bush. By January, that campaign will be in high gear, with lobbyists and pundits enlisted to push for money to fund everything from missile defense plans against non-existant threats to stealth jets as counter-terrorism platforms against small groups of men with improvised bombs.

The centerpiece of their pressure plan is “Four Percent for Freedom” - a notion that defense spending should be pegged at a baseline of four percent of national GDP, forever amen. It's a dishonest and misleading slogan invented by the neoconservative Heritage Foundation but pushed by Dubya, John McCain, Republican lawmakers, CJCS Admiral Mullen and SecDef Bob Gates - one which if turned into policy will hamstring Obama's budget options, perpetuate a massive world of pork and undermine civilian control of the military. In this quarter's Parameters, the journal of the Army War College, Travis Sharp of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation lays out the reasons why Obama and the nation should say "No" to the triumvirate's lobbying.

The campaign is dishonest from the get-go. It's based on a claim that even Bush's profligate defense spending amounts to only 3.43% of GDP - but it neglects to account for $26 billion in non-DOD spending and $170 billion in supplementary spending on the misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Taken all together, those amount to 4.73% of GDP and a staggering $711 billion dollars - a bailout a year or almost 50% of the governments budget. It's a vastly higher sum, in real terms, than the U.S. has ever spent on defense before and it outstrips, by a wide margin, spending by the rest of the world.

This means the United States will spend significantly more, in inflation-adjusted dollars, for defense in FY 2009 than it did during the peak years of the Korean War (1953; $545 billion), the Vietnam War (1968; $550 billion), or the 1980s Reagan-era buildup (1989; $522 billion).War (1953; $545 billion), the Vietnam War (1968; $550 billion), or the 1980s Reagan-era buildup (1989; $522 billion). The United States is also projected to spend more on defense in FY 2009 than the next 45 highest spending countries combined, including 5.8 times more than China (second highest), 10.2 times more than Russia (third highest), and 98.6 times more than Iran (22d highest). Indeed, the United States is expected to account for 48 percent of the world’s total military spending in FY 2009.

Travis points out that the only way the Bush administration could perpetuate this kind of overspend was through a massive increase in the deficit. If there is to be fiscal responsibility (as conservatives continually preach but don't practise) then that's not an option. Either taxes must rise or spending must be cut. As Travis writes: "Money spent on defense is money not spent on education, deficit reduction, infrastructure, housing assistance, or other important domestic spending priorities." Hamstringing Obama's budgetary options, then blaming him for the fallout, is a prospect sufficient to get many Republicans on board with this 4% conjob. But why should your retirement, your child's education or the future financial soundness of the nation suffer so that Republican's have a stick to beat Obama with, or furnish some dinosaur generals with shiny new toys which are overkill against any range of possible state enemies and don't have any application to today's non-state threats?

Our current armed forces have more than sufficient budget and manpower to deal with the current threat and [fourth-generation warfare] threats. However, they must be reorganized to fight the enemy as he is rather than remaining organized to fight the enemy of the past. The United States could take some current funding away from expensive high-tech weaponry, which may be useless in future Iraq-style conflicts, and redirect it toward enhanced intelligence, diplomacy, counterinsurgency training, language competency, humanitarian assistance, and nuclear nonproliferation programs.

A final argument against any 4% baseline is that it takes the power of the purse away from Congress, and the power of executive decision away from the Commander in Chief, in a very meaningful way. With no ability to set overall budgetary limits, civilian control of the military would be weakened and the current wasteful and pork-laden system would be set in stone beyond the powers of lawmakers.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in March 2008 that current programs are delivered 21 months late on average, five months later than the average in FY 2000. In FY 2000, the total acquisition cost of 75 programs increased from the initial estimate by six percent; by FY 2007, the cost growth percentage had more than quadrupled to 26 percent.30 “In most cases, programs also failed to deliver capabilities when promised—often forcing warfighters to spend additional funds on maintaining legacy systems,” GAO concluded.

This is what the unholy triumvirate want to keep -- a system that keeps the generals politically powerful, each in their own feudal holding, by virtue of the massive budgets they command. One that the arms manufacturers make out like bandits from. One that the political troughers and think-tank lobbists benefit from greatly. If they can make political hay from it too -- all the while neglecting to mention that it's your retirement, your child's education, you family's health, your taxes which will pay for their pork, then all well and good to their eyes.

Keep an eye on the Four percenters, they're going to be vocal and pervasive. The time to start countering their narrative and framing is now.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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