02/01/2011 02:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Americans: If You're Going to Cut, Cut Military Spending, Not Safety Nets

Cutting the deficit is all the rage in Washington, D.C., these days, and members of both parties are all too willing to put vital public structures like Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block. The implication is that we can't afford to fund luxurious programs that do extravagant, outlandish things like preventing the elderly from slipping back into a 50-percent poverty rate. This implication is a lie. We have plenty of money. See the so-called "defense" budget for proof.

Here's what Andrew Bacevich had to say about this situation in his most recent column:

The Pentagon presently spends more in constant dollars than it did at any time during the Cold War -- this despite the absence of anything remotely approximating what national security experts like to call a "peer competitor." Evil Empire? It exists only in the fevered imaginations of those who quiver at the prospect of China adding a rust-bucket Russian aircraft carrier to its fleet or who take seriously the ravings of radical Islamists promising from deep inside their caves to unite the Umma in a new caliphate.

What are Americans getting for their money? Sadly, not much. Despite extraordinary expenditures (not to mention exertions and sacrifices by U.S. forces), the return on investment is, to be generous, unimpressive. The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields of the post-9/11 era is this: the Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate "military supremacy" into meaningful victory.

To illustrate Bacevich's point: We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Marjah by U.S. forces, a move that began the escalated military campaign enabled by President Obama's huge troop increase. What have we gained in that year in Afghanistan?

  • Country-wide, 2010 was the most violent year of the war so far. Ten thousand people died in war-related violence, including roughly 500 U.S. troops, thousands of civilians and who knows how many insurgents.
  • We spent roughy 20 million on killing each enemy fighter in Afghanistan. Yet, Taliban growth is such that despite reportedly losing more than 5,000 fighters this year, NATO estimates their numbers remain steady across the country.
  • Numerous polls show that opposition to the war is at an all-time high, with 63 percent opposing the war. When you do the math, that's more than 196 million Americans who want our troops to come home.

Now, ask yourself, "Are these results worth the $2 billion per week we spent on the Afghanistan War last year?" The answer is very clearly, "No."

Americans have been asking themselves this question this year, if the latest polling from The New York Times and CBS News is any indication. The pollsters were interested in Americans' feelings about whether and how to cut the national budget. The results show that when forced to pick from among various big-ticket government programs, people in the U.S. very clearly prefer cuts to military budgets before items like Social Security and Medicare. Here's the percentages of people who favored cuts in various programs:
  • military spending: 55 percent
  • Medicare: 21 percent
  • Social Security: 13 percent

Here's how they'd prefer to do it, too:

  • Reduce troops in Europe/Asia: 55 percent
  • Eliminate weapons programs 19 percent
  • Reduce pay of veterans: 12 percent
  • Reduce size of military branches: 7 percent

In other words, if Congress forced the American people to choose how to cut spending, Americans would choose to save money by bringing troops home. If policymakers really wanted to play it safe, they'd start by cutting funds intended to be used to deploy troops to Afghanistan. A whopping 63 percent of Americans now say they oppose that particular war, making it the perfect place to cut first.

It's been almost a year since President Obama launched his escalated military campaign, and we've seen no progress towards our strategic goals in the region. If our policymakers were really serious about cutting wasteful government spending, they'd start with this war that's not making us safer and not worth the costs. Significant troop reductions from Afghanistan this year would not only bring down the deficit in the long run, but also would give the American people what they've been asking for for months: an end to this brutal, futile war.