Thursday, May 5, 2011

Let's get Serious about Cutting Spending (Defense Spending)

A few weeks ago, Congressmen Paul Ryan released his vision for the future in the form of a budget that cuts $4-6 trillion and pays off the national debt by 2050.  While I commend Congressmen Ryan for his vision, more needs to be done.  In the budget, their was no mention of Social Security reform or Defense cuts.  To be fair, Ryan has a proposal for Social Security reform that would turn the system over to a privatized personal account based system but this reform didn’t make the budget because of the reality that Republicans only control one house of Congress.  This proposal is a great step forward and will be pursued, I would assume, after the 2012 election cycle.  What should be pursued now is defense spending cuts, which outside of the entitlement programs (all together) is the biggest expenditure in the budget.  

Currently, the U.S. spends over $700 billion in defense per year and operates over 700 bases in more than 135 countries around the world.  If you calculate all defense spending around the world and compare that number to the United States’ number, the U.S. spends 42.8 percent of all world spending of defense.  The next highest percentage is China at 7 percent.  This number is a very conservative number because the number does not include the majority of the Department of Homeland Security, and any interest on the debt that is defense related.  Clearly, this is an area of spending that needs to be addressed.

Before I get into specifics of what should be cut and how to cut.  First we need to realize that MAJOR reforms should come first.  By this I mean withdrawing troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan and ending this ridiculous “military action” (pronounced undeclared war) against Libya.  Also, the Department of Homeland Security needs to be eliminated and the agencies within in either cut completely or merged with other agencies that have similar objectives.  Also, the intelligence community is in desperate need of major reforms.  Currently their are 16 (that I could find, probably more) intelligence agencies.  Let’s start out be whittling that number down to five- the CIA, FBI, DEA (technically an considered intelligence agency), and for the final two: an Army intelligence agency and a Navy intelligence agency.  Also keep in mind that that I am for an end to the war on drugs and the DEA, but small steps.  Now each of the agencies need massive and major reforms to streamline intelligence, but I am not by any means an expert on this issue, so I’ll stop at just saying we need reforms.  Other smaller, yet very important reforms that won’t necessarily save a lot of money are also needed.  Most importantly, this means completely abolishing the draft and repealing the PATRIOT Act.

Now lets take a look at defense cuts.  Currently, Defense spending accounts for approximately 5 percent of GDP, while before 9/11 it accounted for approximately 3 percent of gdp, with a 45 year average of 5.3 percent.  To start out, let’s cut 10 percent of defense spending the first budget cycle (2012 budget).  This cut should also be applied to every federal department and agency as a starting point, but that is an issue for another upcoming blog post.  Getting back to defense, after the initial 10 percent cut, the entire Department of Defense needs to thoroughly audited and be assessed in terms of what spending is essential and what is not.  This audit should be done by a non-governmental firm, of course all precautions will be taken to secure classified information, and each of the military bases oversees should be paid special attention to in this audit.  After completion of this audit, pull out your machete, because its slashing time.  At a very minimum, defense spending should be rolled back to 2000 levels (3 percent of gdp), this cut would occur over a period of 5 years.  Critics (most of which will be Republicans) will say that a cut that size will leave the the U.S. vulnerable to attack.  These critics will probably suggest a defense budget at that or around that 5.3 percent 45 year average.  The problem with that number is that for most of that 45 year stretch, the U.S. was engaged in the Cold War with a Communist threat in the Soviets and if you haven’t noticed, we no longer are in that situation.  High defense spending was necessary to defeat the Soviets, but no longer is.  What Reagan did (increasing defense spending) was needed and caused the Soviets to decay and rot from the inside.  Most Republicans now have this notion that high defense spending means better and more security, but that simply doesn’t jive with the rest of conservative thought and belief. Conservatives believe (and know) that more spending programs such as the War on Poverty and massive spending in education doesn’t make those programs better, it in fact in those instances, it made the problem worse.   

The battle for the control over spending and the debt has many fronts, but one of them must be Defense cuts.  The Ryan budget is a great first step, but defense spending must also be included in cuts to the budget.  In this article, I have mostly talked about spending cuts and not sweeping reforms in foreign policy, but reforms are just as important because they change how we spend taxpayer dollars on defense.  These reforms are not easy and will not be easy to implement.  One example is ending all foreign aid and not propping up countries like Israel and giving money to their enemies.  These policies are destructive to both our security and Israel’s.  The U.S. can no longer afford to be the police of the world and simply can’t afford to pay for the defense of other countries. Organizations such as NATO and the United Nations delegitimize our sovereignty and our security. Despite what many conservatives believe, terrorists don’t attack us because of what we believe, they attack us because we support the governments that oppress them.  The former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, terrorism expert Michael Scheuer stresses that they come here precisely because we are over there.  Scheuer stated, “On no other foreign policy issue since the Cold War’s end has the truth been so easy to establish on the basis of hard facts but so hard for Americans to see...that Muslim hatred is motivated by U.S. interventionism more than any other factor.”  If terrorists did attack us for our freedom, prosperity or religion why wouldn’t they attack a more economically free country such as Liechtenstein or Hong Kong or the home of Christian faith, the Vatican.  As I’ve already stated, these solutions are not easy, but they are essential to paying off our debt and to our security and our liberty.

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