My blogging arch nemesis, The New Conservative, used a previous post from my homebase concerning America’s readiness to see military reform focused not on spending more, but on spending better as an excuse to hammer Clinton for failing at the very same task. And while I’m not going to disagree that Clinton could have done more to reform the military, it’s inarguable that Clinton did, in fact, significantly reign in military spending. Here are the relevant numbers:
- $453 billion – the average annual defense budget for the nine years before Clinton took office.
- $377 billion – the average annual defense budget during Clinton’s time in office, a 16.7% decrease.
- $496 billion – the average annual defense budget during Bush’s time in office, a whopping 31% increase not even including the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are largely funded through supplementals not included in the official defense budget.
These numbers are in GDP adjusted dollars to make the comparisons as fair as possible. The raw data for these calculations is available here. If anyone finds trouble with my math, please let me know.
Now, we all know that cutting defense spending is second only to cutting Social Security on the political no-no list. The military industrial complex employs several hundred thousand employees. It frequently helps to prop up the economy. And they are represented by some of the best lobbyists in the business.
But couldn’t we get those same economic results by investing in technology we all know we need? Like a new transportation infrastructure — high speed rail in certain areas, new roads and bridges, a new high-bandwidth internet that reaches deep into even the most rural communities. Why not spend on that? Our military will never be able to protect us from economic threats. And frankly, a bloated military still mired in Cold War thinking is ill-equipped to protect us from terrorist threats. But if we give our citizens access to the best technology, if we invest in green technologies, we could create jobs that don’t require us to build unnecessary implements of death. We could scale back our overseas campaigns, engendering good will. And we can knee-cap the terrorists’ agenda by bringing genuine humanitarian aid and progress to those parts of the world most susceptible to terrorist recruitment. Our foreign policy should be based on stability, preferably in democratic systems, as well as the economic and educational development of the poor and powerless countries strewn throughout the Middle East and Eurasia.
I don’t see why this needs to be a partisan issue. I think both sides should be able to agree that spending just under a half trillion dollars on defense (more if we include Iraq and Afghanistan) is too much by any standard. And of course, the more we spend on military equipment, the more persuaded we are to put it to use, which only escalates the cycle.