The time has come to cut the US military down to size.
Last November, the Pentagon admitted what critics have known for years: It cannot pass an audit that would let Congress, the media and taxpayers know what it does with the trillions of dollars that have been lavished on war and preparing for war by this country.
By all accounts, the US accounts for more than a third of all global military spending. The next biggest spender on its military, China, only spends a fifth as much as the US. And remember, as a full-fledged police state and a country whose peripheral provinces have to be kept under tight military control lest they move towards independence from Beijing, much of China’s huge military is actually involved not in threatening other countries or even defending China, but in maintaining government control domestically. Russia’s military spending, which actually declined last year, is actually lower than for tiny Saudi Arabia, which can’t even control tiny neighboring Yemen without vast assistance and military aid from the United States.
Let’s be honest: The United States faces no significant threat from any nation in the world.
Sure I know: Russia and even China have nuclear weapons that, if launched en masse at the US could destroy this country. But everyone knows such an action would be to commit national suicide. With its vast nuclear arsenal stowed in patrolling submarines, in protected silos ready to be fired off in minutes, and in bases around the world, including some quite close to China’s and Russia’s borders, the US not only could destroy both countries many times over in response, but is actually able and prepared to attack either country or both countries first, perhaps even preventing them from retaliating successfully (See Michio Kaku’s and Daniel Axelrod’s excellent and terrifying book To Win a Nuclear War: The Pentagon’s Secret War Plans which, using secret US documents, exposes how for decades beginning even before the end of WWII the US prepared and is still preparing for a first-strike, all-out attack to kill hundreds of millions and totally destroy both Russia and China while preventing any significant counter-attack).
The reality is that it is the US which is the most threatening and destabilizing force in the world today. It is US military spending, and the US role as the world’s largest arms merchant, selling and giving away more than 34% of all weapons and military equipment in the global arms market to a total of 98 countries, that drives global military spending. Russia, at a puny 22% of all arms sales, is distinctly second rate in the world arms market.
None of these weapons sales by the US make the world a safer place. They all, along ever-increasing spending by the US on its own military, and its continuing use of that military to intervene in, invade and threaten other countries, contribute to the hugely costly and harmful effort by other nations to build up their own military in response to the US and its client states.
The losers in this zero-sum game of one-upmanship are the peoples of the world, who are denied good schools, decent health care, sound economies, democratic governments, modern transport systems, and perhaps worst of all, spending on environmentally safe development of energy infrastructure that could prevent the destruction of the entire global ecosystem.
And that includes us, the people of the United States. Deliberately frightened by the amped-up propaganda put out by government agencies like the Pentagon, Homeland Security and the Justice Department, we cower and accept having more than 54% of all federal discretionary spending — a sum that has reached over $1.6 billion this year, equal to all income taxes and corporate profit taxes collected by the IRS — expropriated by the Pentagon and other “national security” agencies. That is money that could be providing us with a first rate educational system, free college for all who desire and qualify for higher education, a modern transit system, revitalized cities, and a modern energy system based on the non-carbon-based sources like solar power, water power and geothermal power that would not contribute to rampaging climate change. Instead we have a school system that makes me cringe whenever I drive past a school building here in Philadelphia (the nation’s fifth largest school district) or in New York City, or when I read that only 12 percent of Los Angeles’s public school children go on to college.
It is simply madness that has led us to this point. Madness by a ruling elite that only cares about grasping an ever larger share of the national and global wealth, madness by a corporate media that cares only about gaining an ever-larger share of readers/viewers even if that is achieved by offering people scare stories about health threats, crime, scary immigrants and terrorism instead of genuinely needed reports on environmental threats, political corruption and America’s true role as a rogue nation in the world, and madness among a public that has been led to believe that it has no real ability to change things except to go meekly to the polls once every two or four years to vote for carefully screened candidates of two parties controlled by corporate bribes.
I have traveled to much of the world (so far not yet Africa), and it is an eye-opener to see the incredible advances that have occurred in recent decades in previously backward countries like China, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea. Just take China, where I lived on and off for six years in the ‘90s. During that time, Shanghai, which had no subway system in 1990, built an underground rail system as large as New York’s (400 miles of gleaming marble-and-glass subway stations and smooth, quiet tunnels), and morphed from a sleepy ruin of a colonial-era city of crumbling buildings to a huge metropolis of towering skyscrapers and international commerce, even featuring a maglev airport train that whisks passengers the for 30 miles between the international airport and the city center at almost 200 mph. Many other Chinese cities have undergone similar transformations. I have visited European countries where citizens enjoy tax-funded universal health care at a far lower national and per capita cost than we face here in the US and have well-funded government retirement schemes that allow the elderly to retire without any drop in their living standard, all the while having worked at jobs that paid them better than in the US and gave them six or more weeks a year of paid vacation. Countries that also offer their nation’s youth free college education and far greater opportunities for upward social mobility than does the vaunted US with its myth of “anyone can make it here.”
Why is this so? Because the US has become essentially a garrison warrior state — a kind of modern Sparta, obsessed with concepts like “global dominance,” the supposed ability to “fight and win two wars at once” (fully disproven over the past 74 years of lost and stalemated wars), with “force projection” and dreams of achieving “technological superiority.” We have become a country that lionizes generals, that applauds uniformed men and women walking through an airport waiting hall, that calls all its problematic police officers “heroes,” but that ignores its real heroes: the teachers, nurses, EMT personnel, volunteer firefighters, mail carriers, nursing home aides, artists, highway repair crews and yes, even journalists — the lowly folks who really keep the country going and make our lives possible.
If we don’t turn this situation around, renounce our obsession with violence and with war as the preferred solution to international disputes, not only will this country go the way of Sparta and Rome, both powerful states that died of self-inflicted wounds, but we will likely drag the rest of the world with us into oblivion.
The latest reports on the climate front are grim. It turns out that the world’s oceans have been for decades masking the real heating up of the globe that has been the result of humanity’s — and especially US Americans’ frantic appetite for burning ever more coal, oil and gas in pursuit of goods, comfort, speed, wealth and power, absorbing as much as 93% of all the additional heat trapped by increased greenhouse chemicals in the atmosphere over the last two centuries. Now the seas have taken on about all the extra heat they can, and we are likely to start seeing the atmosphere itself heat up dramatically. The North polar region, we know, is soon to lose its entire ice cap in summer, perhaps in a few years but in any even no later than 2030. No less an agency than the US Navy is saying this, and is being given funds by a hypocritical Congress of climate change deniers to establish a whole new Naval Fleet in the Arctic Ocean to “project power” in that newly navigable seventh of the famed Seven Seas, the better to allow US energy corporations to extract even more dangerous oil and gas reserves from under the newly ice-free sea bed safe (at taxpayer expense) from challenges by competing countries with Arctic coastlines like Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark/Greenland. Meanwhile the latest reports on Antarctica, where there is enough stored ice on land to, if it melts, raise the world’s seas by almost 200 feet, are that the ice there is melting all over the continent, not just in the western region, and that it is melting some six times faster than scientists had thought until now (even climate change-denying Fox TV is now reporting on this looming catastrophe).
There is an urgent need for the US, and for the people of this self-described “indispensable” nation to wake up from our torpor, to throw off our fear-induced and greed-driven obsession with military spending, and to turn both inward to the need to develop a humane and sustainable society that benefits all its members, and outward to become a cooperative and non-threatening member of the global community of nations so we can together tackle the grave challenges to global survival that our remarkable but at the same time often aggressive and emotionally volatile and short-sighted species has caused.
I suggest that for a start, we the American people demand that our government, in open public Congressional hearings, subject the Pentagon and all the other “national security” agencies of the federal government — the CIA, Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the Interior Department, the Energy Department, etc. — to a rigorous process of zero-budget accounting, in whichever dollar being requested has to be justified before it can be appropriated and billed to taxpayers. It’s a process long overdue. The Pentagon, for the last 28 years, has been obstinately refusing a Congressional mandate to produce an auditable budget. When it was finally forced by Congress last year to submit to one, it failed abysmally. As I wrote in a Nation magazine cover story last month, the Pentagon has been submitting fraudulent financial reports to Congress for nearly three decades, so we can’t even know what they have spent all our tax dollars on for decades, or even how much they have actually spent!
Only by making them defend their budget requests line by line and dollar by dollar can we really ever decide in a rational manner what we want to spend our money on. Only then can we weigh the $150 million cost of a single F-35 fifth-generation fighter-bomber against the opportunity lost of funding a new high school or hospital, or the cost of another aircraft carrier battle group against the opportunity lost of a new high speed rail line between New York and Chicago or a subway, instead of just two miles of abandoned tunnel, for Cincinnati.
If China, a nation of 1.3 billion fractious people living under an iron-fisted dictatorship, can get by with a military budget of just $174 billion (considerably less than the $198 billion US will spend this year on just its Veterans Affairs budget to care for the damaged troops from its endless wars), surely this relatively domestically tranquil nation could do the same, slashing its military spending by 80% or more.
Want to “make America great again”? The way to do that is not to ramp up military spending as the current administration and Congress are doing, but rather to end our wasteful spending of over a trillion dollars a year on arms, war and so-called “national security” and to instead spend this huge totally wasted share of our national wealth on our own long-neglected social needs and on saving this country and world from an increasingly obvious looming environmental catastrophe.