Is it wise to cut military spending?
That, at any rate, is the headline for these three New York Times letters to the editor, only one of which is smart enough to look at the issue from the perspective of Dwight Eisenhower. In addition to being our 34th President, Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander during World War II--the one war that still unites public sentiment. As Russ Weiss notes in his brief and very much to-the-point letter, Eisenhower's warning about the influence of the "military-industrial complex" is very relevant in an age when so-called "fiscal conservatives" insist on more defense spending than all other nations combined, And it's worth comparing Mr. Weiss succinct broadside to the convoluted argument made by Matthew Richard Hipple for "robust basing." Anytime an adjective popularized by Dick Cheney is used to argue for a blank check to the military, more than a little suspicion is warranted.
But, with or without Lieutenant Hipple's letter, more than a little suspicion is warranted about the trillions of military-related dollars spent by our government in the post-World War II era, and particularly over the last quarter-century since the end of the Cold War. Initially, this spending was justified by the "Red Menace," which was also successfully used to destroy much of America's creative community, and blaspheme the name of God by putting it in our national slogan and on our money. Never was it admitted, let alone discussed, that our nuclear arsenal alone gave us, qualitatively and quantitatively, an advantage over both the Soviets and the Chinese that was a more than sufficient deterrent for our national needs. Instead, we got the "domino theory" defense of this spending--which was destroyed in 1989, when the dominoes started falling in the other direction as the economic weakness of the Soviet empire was exposed.
One would have thought that the spare-no-military-expense age would have ended right there--and, for a time, it seemed like there was a chance of that happening. Along came the 9/11 tragedy, however, and the war hawks in Congress and the media jumped for joy. (Don't believe me? Just go back and look at the press coverage from that time.) Once again, they felt they had been given an excuse to open the fiscal floodgates--and public sentiment backed them, swallowing such specious arguments that the Iraq war would pay for itself with oil revenue. Of course, that argument hit just a bit too close to home in exposing the real reason for invading Iraq, but that's a blog post for another day.
You know what happened. Trillions of dollars in debt, the near-collapse of the American economy, and the rise of ISIS in place of Saddam Hussein. By any practical metric, the biggest military disaster in American history. And, in the end, a war that had nothing to do with our strategic needs, because the 9/11 attackers came, not from Iraq, but largely from Saudi Arabia--an ally that supplies us with, yes, oil.
But I digress a bit. True, the Iraqi war exposed the extent to which public policy in the post-Reagan era is controlled by the needs of corporate America. Nevertheless, the concept of America as the world's police force is a popular one--even in countries where the citizens vehemently express anti-American sentiments. And, sadly, that phenomenon is driven by money as well. When a nation does not need to pay for its own defense, it can channel its spending into other areas. Some of this benefits the peoples of those nations, while some of this merely benefits their governments, and the elites that control them.
The fundamental problem with all of this, fiscally and otherwise, is this: we live in an international age where conflict exists not among a handful of nations, but from literally dozens of them. It is simply not possible for one nation to play the role of the world's police force. If the richest nation of the planet cannot afford to do it--and it can't--no one else should bother to try. The truth of the matter is that international cooperation, as embodied in organizations such as the United Nations,is not some pie-in-the-sky dream, to be dismissed by what war hawks and profiteers see as "harsh realities." The real harsh reality is that we are ignoring the need for that cooperation--and paying the price for it, fiscally and otherwise.
From an ideological and technical standpoint, it probably makes sense for us to be the world's police force. Better Obama than Putin in the role of Commissioner Gordon, if you want to put it that way. But, if the rest of the world wants us to play that role, it is past due time for the rest of the world to pay its fair share for us to perform that job.
And, if it can't or won't do it, then it should learn to do it for itself. And let the people's government do a better job of taking care of its people. Perhaps that's the kick in the pants that the world needs to work together.