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Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon

Posted: February 2, 2010 01:30 PM

Don't Call It a "Defense" Budget

What's Your Reaction:

This isn't "defense."

The new budget from the White House will push U.S. military spending well above $2 billion a day.

Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it.

"Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors," the New York Times reports this morning (February 2).

It isn't defense to preclude new domestic initiatives for a country that desperately needs them: for healthcare, jobs, green technologies, carbon reduction, housing, education, nutrition, mass transit . . .

"When a nation becomes obsessed with the guns of war, social programs must inevitably suffer," Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out. "We can talk about guns and butter all we want to, but when the guns are there with all of its emphasis you don't even get good oleo. These are facts of life."

At least Lyndon Johnson had a "war on poverty." For a while anyway, till his war on Vietnam destroyed it.

Since then, waving the white flag at widespread poverty -- usually by leaving it unmentioned -- has been a political fact of life in Washington.

Oratory can be nice, but budget numbers tell us where an administration is headed. In 2010, this one is marching up a steep military escalator, under the banner of "defense."

Legitimate defense would cost a mere fraction of this budget.

By autumn, the Pentagon is scheduled to have a total of 100,000 uniformed U.S. troops -- and a comparable number of private contract employees -- in Afghanistan, where the main beneficiaries are the recruiters for Afghan insurgent forces and the profiteers growing even richer under the wing of Karzai-government corruption.

After three decades of frequent carnage and extreme poverty in Afghanistan, a new influx of lethal violence is arriving via the Defense Department. That's the cosmetically named agency in charge of sending U.S. soldiers to endure and inflict unspeakable horrors.

New waves of veterans will return home to struggle with grievous physical and emotional injuries. Without a fundamental change in the nation's direction, they'll be trying to resume their lives in a society ravaged by budget priorities that treat huge military spending as sacrosanct.

"At $744 billion, the military budget -- including military programs outside the Pentagon, such as the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons management -- is a budget of add-ons rather than choices," says Miriam Pemberton at the Institute for Policy Studies. "And it makes the imbalance between spending on military vs. non-military security tools worse."

Of course the corporate profits for military contractors are humongous.

The executive director of the National Priorities Project, Jo Comerford, offers this context: "The Obama administration has handed us the largest Pentagon budget since World War II, not including the $160 billion in war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan."

The word "defense" is inherently self-justifying. But it begs the question: Just what is being defended?

For the United States, an epitaph on the horizon says: "We had to destroy our country in order to defend it."

As new sequences of political horrors unfold, maybe it's a bit too easy for writers and readers of the progressive blogosphere to remain within the politics of online denunciation. Cogent analysis and articulated outrage are necessary but insufficient. The unmet challenge is to organize widely, consistently and effectively -- against the warfare state -- on behalf of humanistic priorities.

In the process, let's be clear. This is not a defense budget. This is a death budget.