If there is a consistent thread in Republican proposals, other than tax cuts for the wealthy, then it is their constant demand for increased military spending. Is this an “image” issue? Are Republicans always raring for a fight? Being the consummate “bully” in the playground was a difficult ploy to discard in school, and when our society often rewards “toughness” in the business world, then this “winning formula” can become ensconced in later years, as well.
Did you notice how invigorated the Party became when a “John Wayne” type climbed upon the stage with six-guns glistening at the RNC? Texas “cowboys” may have stayed at home, but the Party never rallied around the likes of intellectuals like Gov. Jon Huntsman. When either Gov.or took the podium, however, the Pavlovian response from the Party faithful was almost visceral. Style over substance became the subtle rallying cry. No one suffered from “Low T” in that room.
It has always been accepted “mantra” by both political parties that we need a strong military to keep our enemies at bay and to ensure our future security. No one disagrees with this primary principle of foreign policy. The debate, however, has always been a question of degree, especially if it means cutting into valuable social programs at a national level when an apparent threat is not imminent. The issue, however, like most, requires a deeper inspection to get to the truth. As with all things in the body politic, the path to truth is often facilitated if we only “follow the money."
It was as far back as 1961 when President Eisenhower warned the nation about what he called a “dire threat” to our democratic government. His very words were: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Who else was better to comment on military spending than the retired five-star general that led the allies to victory on D-Day? He delivered these words of wisdom in his presidential farewell speech.
His concern was that he had observed during his tenure an ever-growing linkage between the military and the large-arms manufacturing industry. The concentration of power and money was formidable following wartime, resisting any peacetime attempts to pare back hefty government contracts for munitions and armaments. The “playbook” for ensuring a constant future money flow was in the making and still exists today.
In our classes on economics, we were taught early on about the choices a nation must make between military spending and other civilian programs, or between “guns and butter," the common phrase appearing in textbooks. Politicians across the planet have invoked this comparison from time to time to shout for more defense expenditures, claiming that “guns” make us tough, but “butter” makes us “fat." From the portliness of many Republican governors, it would appear that many have a butter preference, too.
What is our defense budget? It is actually difficult to get your hands around this one. Budget approvals arise from a series of overlapping resolutions in Congress, while the incremental costs for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been accounted for separately, “off the books," so to speak. In general terms, our annual military spending is roughly $700 billion, with another $150 billion for marginal war costs. Latest cumulative figures on the two wars are $1.38 trillion. Breakdowns are difficult to come by, too, but estimates are that fewer than one in four dollars relate to personnel.
How do we put these figures in perspective? The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (“SIPRI”) can help us out here. This organization conducts research on conflict and cooperation related to international peace and security and produces a downloadable file detailing the annual defense spending for 154 countries across the globe. We command the top spot, as one might suspect, but you have to add up the next 17 nations to equal our commitments. China is a distant second, less than 19% of our total amount. When is enough, enough?
So, why the love for arms and munitions by Republicans? Money, of course, and lots of it, but the need for constant repetition, perhaps, goes back to the Reagan years. Nearing the end of the Cold War, President Reagan insisted on building up the military, making highly public demands due to the threat of communism. Military morale was down at the time, but doubling defense spending over five years to $287 billion in 1985 revitalized the corps’ fighting spirit. The increased spending also was another form of government stimulus, helpful during the recovery years of his administration. One could say that President Reagan was a “Keynesian” from an economic perspective.
Critics charge that Reagan unnecessarily imperiled world peace, but there were many positive outcomes in rebuttal, especially in polling results from the electorate. Campaign strategists always repeat a successful election “playbook," regardless of the times or circumstances. Republicans now clamor for another $2 trillion in military spending, even when the generals in charge declare there is no need.
In the recent foreign policy debate, Romney vaulted once more to a more moderate stance. He literally sent his hawkish advisors, John Bolton, Dan Senor and other neocons from the Bush years packing to the shadows until after Election Day. No sense scaring the wits out of “Moms” by hinting at war when he desperately needs more women to vote on his behalf. Obama’s foreign policy positions suddenly became “Moderate Mitt’s” safety net.
As with Romney’s tax plan, his math to balance the budget does not work, either. There are not enough dollars in social programs to make a sizable dent in the deficit. Military spending must also decline, not increase, as one would expect after concluding two wars. The military-industrial complex must be reined in for once. Their profits need to be re-directed to rebuild our decaying infrastructure and manufacturing base. Lean Forward!
If you like writing about US politics and Campaign 2012, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.