The First Cut is the Deepest


While the Democratic and Republican candidates for president blather on about non-issues like who will be meaner to immigrants, who will use the most water on torture victims, who wanted to be president at the youngest age, who’s the best Christian and other such nonsense, and while Congress and the president dance their meaningless dance of pretend conflict, let’s for a moment ponder something more momentous.

What if the US just packed up and left Iraq and Afghanistan, and brought the troops all home, shut down the 750-odd overseas bases we operate around the globe, and slashed our military budget by 75 percent?

That would be an instant savings of roughly $365 billion per year.

Now, the first thing we need to do is address the criticism that such an action would be abandoning the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, whose countries we have been systematically destroying for the last four to six years.

Okay. I agree we have an obligation here. So let’s allocate say $50 billion in annual aid to those two countries, to be funneled through international aid organizations, from the U.N. to CARE and the Red Cross/Red Crescent.

That still leaves $315 billion in funds to play with.

We also have to address those who will ask fearfully if we aren’t opening ourselves to attack from our many enemies abroad.

But hold on a minute. If we cut the US military budget down to a paltry $115 billion a year, that would still leave us with by far the largest military budget in the entire world. The next biggest spender on its military is China, at $62.5 billion, followed by Russia, at $62 billion. That is to say, our military budget, if slashed by three quarters, would still be about equal to Russia’s and China’s military budgets combined. And that only tells part of the story. Most of China’s army is a repressive police force, required to keep order in what is a widely despised dictatorship, and would never be available for foreign adventures. (That’s why China, with a million or more soldiers, hasn’t ever invaded Taiwan, with a population of just 23 million. The army China could spare for an invasion would probably be no larger than the one little Taiwan could field to defend itself.) The same can be said for Russia, which is eternally in danger of splitting apart into myriad smaller states, and has to be held together by threat of force. Figuring that neither China nor Russia is likely to attack us anyway, given that one needs us to buy all the junk they make, and the other needs us to buy their oil, maybe we should look at those “axis of evil” states and their ilk, that might think we’re easy pickin’s if we were to slash our military spending.

Well, maybe not. It turns out if you add up all the military budgets of America’s other “major” enemies-those so-called “rogue” states like Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria-and throw in a few extra possible hostiles for good measure like Myanmar, Somalia and, oh, what the heck, Grenada (you never know when that troublesome little island might have another revolution!), it comes to a grand total of $15 billion spent on military stuff. That’s less than one-seventh of what we’d still be spending.

And of course we wouldn’t be alone. Our allies-Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Israel, Holland, Canada, Italy, Australia, South Korea and Spain for example, though there are surely more who would come to our aid in a crisis-collectively spend another $258 billion on their militaries (and yet even today we have our military based in many of those countries. Go figure!). So we would hardly be at anybody’s mercy.

We could even take a few billion of that $115 military budget and shift it productively from our huge and useless strategic nuclear program (you know, the one that just lost six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles for 36 hours, and flew them across the country, unprotected and unnoticed) over to operations like border patrol, satellite monitoring, and the Coast Guard, where it might actually help protect us, instead of just funding futuristic weapons that will never be used for anything but helping generals justify their stars by having units to command.

So here we would be with still, by a factor of two, the largest and most advanced military in the world, but at peace and with $315 billion a year suddenly freed up and at our disposal.

What might we do with all that money?

Well, for starters, if we accept for argument’s sake that the Social Security System is running at a deficit and will eventually be defunded (which, by the way, I do not for a minute believe), actuaries say that injecting about $130 billion a year into the fund (the equivalent of increasing everyone’s SSI payroll tax by 2 percent) would solve the alleged problem indefinitely, allowing all current and future Americans to count on an inflation-adjusted secure retirement forever. So let’s do that. Then there’s education. Currently, the federal government spends about $58 billion a year on education. That gives us classroom sizes in our cities of 30-35 kids (40 here in Philadelphia). That’s not education-that’s child abuse (and teacher abuse). So what say we boost that amount by 50 percent-a much better educational reform than a lot of stupid “No Child Left Behind” testing regimens. Then there’s healthcare, on which the government spends a paltry $52 billion, leaving us with declining life expectancies and infant mortality rates, particularly among our poorest citizens, that are a scandal. Let’s boost that spending by 50 percent, too.

Geez! We still have another $130 billion left!

The federal government right now only spends some $40 billion a year on science, energy and the environment. That includes nuclear power and waste containment, and the entire NASA budget. Given the global climate change disaster we’re facing, we should probably double that, with the added $40 billion going all to environmental research, don’t you think?

Now we’re left with $90 billion.

Well, it turns out that’s about what the government spends on “social programs.” You know, like welfare-the thing that we were supposedly ending? Truth is, of course, that over the last decade, the number of poor people and hungry people in the US has been rising, not falling, so maybe we should rethink that “ending welfare as we know it” mantra, and start thinking about improving the lives of those at the bottom of the ladder. That extra $90 billion, by doubling social programs-especially if it was spent on housing and job creation-would go a long way towards making America a better place for all. It would also reduce crime significantly, meaning we’d have a whole lot of money freed up that currently goes to police and prisons, so we could spent that money on other good stuff too.

So who’s going to make this eminently sensible proposal?

I’m frankly sick to death of hearing about how “tough” our next president is going to be.

Our current president has shown just what being tough is good for: nothing. The country is less safe, we’ve got 80,000 returned soldiers suffering from life-long injuries, we’ve made enemies out of friends all over the world, and this country’s been going down the tube, with joblessness rising, the economy teetering and the once mighty dollar headed for Third World currency status.

Until I hear political candidates start talking about slashing military spending-and I mean on the order of 75 percent, none of this nickel-and-dime stuff, and about funding the things that really need funding-I’m not even listening to these moronic campaigns.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is “The Case for Impeachment“, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.

He can be reached at:



CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.