THE BLOG
11/06/2011 11:32 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2012

Planned Pentagon Cuts Are Trivial

Poor, poor Leon Panetta. Our Secretary of Defense has to find a way to cut $45 billion per year out of our $700 billion military budget. That's right, five percent.

At a moment when my students take on ever more debt because of steep tuition hikes which reflect years of education cuts, when our consumption of oil continues to grow because our public transportation is so terrible, when our assistance to poor and homeless people pales in comparison to what other modern societies provide, the Pentagon is forced to shave five percent off its pornographically bloated budget. How sad.

I don't blame Secretary Panetta for the bloated budget. He is a good man who inherited a monster.

Rather, the fault lies at least in part with progressives, who, rather than honestly explaining the dangers of our bloated military, run away from their own ideas and resort to framing and slick messaging to try to make themselves seem hawkish on defense and tough on terrorism.

So, what do progressives need to say? Three things:

First, our bloated military is completely unnecessary. The vast majority of the Pentagon budget is a waste, pure and simple. Why? Because the threats this country faces are not military threats. The United States is protected by our oceanic borders and by nuclear deterrence (which requires very few weapons). The wars this country wages are wars of choice, not necessity. If our military were 75% smaller, it would still be one of the largest in the world, and we would be just as secure.

Second, our bloated military actually makes us less secure. How so? For one thing, our huge military provides political leaders with a constant temptation to get involved in bloody wars (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq) that end up doing no good.

Perhaps even worse, we use our military might to prop up dictators who torture their own people, many of whom come to hate the U.S. and some of whom end up as terrorists. If you look at al-Qaeda's list of demands, you see that ending U.S. military support for the Saudi regime is a top goal. Why do they hate us? It's quite simple. And it has everything to do with our muscular, militarized approach to global affairs.

Third, our military is not bloated because the U.S. faces threats to its security. It is bloated because of the military-industrial-Congressional complex that President Eisenhower warned about more than fifty years ago.

I recently heard a highly-paid, DC-based consultant offer advice to Democrats about how to talk about foreign policy. She was quite an expert at slick framing designed to inoculate Democrats from the charge that they are weak on defense. But the one thing I didn't hear her say is that our bloated military makes us less secure because excessive military force is dangerous.

She can't be blamed for that, because any Democratic office-seeker making that claim would lose votes.

It's up to progressives to give our political leaders some cover by being much louder about the causes and effects of our bloated military budget. In the last few years, progressives have become somewhat more aggressive about these points. But we need to pile it on, year after year, and use research to back up what we are saying. Unless we work harder to change the conversation, we'll never have a chance of making a serious dent in our wasteful, dangerous and bloated military.