05/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Unkindest "Cuts"--Military Mirages

When UAW members have to give up some of their hours, or forego their hard-earned pensions, or give back part of their salaries, those are real cuts.
But when military spending goes up 4%, after 8 years of Bush/Cheney increases that almost doubled the Pentagon's budget--while supplementing that spending with two unfinished wars, a not-so-secret worldwide spying apparatus, and a new "homeland security" agency--that is not a cut.
When a family loses its home due to foreclosure, or watches its health insurance costs go up due to insurance company greed, or sees its retirement savings disappear because of Wall Street's failures, those are real cuts in family living standards.
But when Secretary Gates announces the end of the F-22 Raptor, when he knows full well that roughly half of each house of Congress has already signed a letter to keep the F-22 alive, is that really a cut in the military budget? Especially when Secretary Gates at the same time quietly doubles the production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a plane that is over-budget, delayed, and not-fully-functional? And on top of that, adds in 4 F-22s to the Iraq/Afghanistan supplemental request, even though one of the big arguments against the F-22 is that it has never been used in either of our current two wars? What are those 4 Raptors doing in the supplemental request?
Look, I am willing to believe that Secretary Gates would like to quit spending DOD money on F-22s. For that, I give him credit. He stood up to the Congress and told them the Cold War with the non-existent Soviet Union was over, so more F-22s were unnecessary.
At the same time, I am not so naïve that I don't recognize that Gates is a talented bureaucratic in-fighter, skilled in the ways of Congress. I'm pretty sure that even as he calls for cuts in the F-22, he understands that Congress is likely to buy more. So by using the F-22 "cuts" as a misdirection play, he is able to get everyone to overlook his big increase in the very costly F-35s. (The F-35s are often called "inexpensive" in the media, which is true only in the sense that each new F-35 costs less than each new F-22. However, the projected life-cycle cost of the F-35 program is on the order of the Obama stimulus plan! This hardly makes it inexpensive.)
Or take the supposed aircraft carrier group cut. Apparently it won't take place until 2030. At age 57, I hope I live long enough to see it happen.
The truth is, a 4% increase is not a cut. And my guess is that Congress will add more, despite Barney Frank's best efforts. (My hope is that whatever military project Maine's two supposed moderate GOP Senators want reinstated to protect local jobs--even though they led the fight that President Obama's stimulus bill was "too big"--that the Administration will be able to trade their votes for real health care for everyone, or EFCA, or climate change. Because they'll probably get what they want, given the makeup of the Senate.)
Much of the traditional media got the story wrong, calling Gates's budget a "cut" in military spending, rather than an overall increase with suggested cuts in certain programs. Even worse, the right wing exhibited its usual hypocrisy on military spending, screaming loudly that President Obama was weakening America by "only" proposing a 4% increase. (The rule is, when you are a conservative Republican or a Blue Dog Democrat, that only domestic spending needs to be pay-as-you-go; when it comes to military spending, hyped future enemies are justification enough.)
On top of that, the MSM and right-wing stupidity got much of the progressive blogosphere off track, resulting in time spent pushing back that the Administration was actually increasing the military budget, without criticizing that increase. The blogosphere was not really defending the increase so much as pointing out that the right-wing attacks were incorrect--but the political effect was pretty much the same--to defend an increase in the military budget, rather than criticize it.
So what's the result? We spend as much money on our military as the rest of the world put together spends on theirs--and most of those nations are our allies! The Pentagon's cost overruns are larger than China's or Russia's military budgets. We lead the world in arms sales and nukes. We spend half of every discretionary tax dollar on the DOD, without even adding in all the secret spy agencies, homeland security, the vast portion of the Department of Energy's budget that's really used to keep our nukes at the ready, our torture and prison apparatus, one more supplemental for our two un-Constitutional wars, and all the other "black box" nooks and crannies hidden throughout the Federal budget that the Congress never even looks at.
And now we're going to increase that budget by at least 4%.
I applaud Secretary Gates for trying to cut at least a few unneeded weapons projects, even though I suspect Congress will probably not let him do so.
But let's keep our eyes on the prize. We need to cut the military budget overall by a large amount. We need to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to help President Obama as he works to slash the world's nuclear weapons. We don't need more aircraft carriers to fight pirates nor do we need more and more very costly fighter planes to fight warlords, we shouldn't weaponize space, we don't need Reagan's missile defense pipedream that still doesn't work, and we certainly should close hundreds and hundreds of military bases all over the globe.
Cut those programs, and we could really cut the military budget. We'd be safer. The world would like us better. And spending that money on health care, mass transit, or renewable energy would produce far more jobs than military spending does.
Those would be the kindest cuts.

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