Don’t Balance the Budget on the Backs of Our Troops

November 18th, 2009 at 9:38 pm | 26 Comments |

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David Frum acknowledges that I have an idea — a defense stimulus — to help jumpstart the weak U.S. economy; however, he says, he doesn’t exactly agree with me. “Given the extremity of the country’s fiscal challenges,” he writes, “I see no responsible way to sustain a defense budget over four percent of the [Gross Domestic Product] GDP.”

Given that Republican lawmakers seem unwilling to even entertain my idea, I suppose I should be grateful to Frum for even acknowledging my proposal — and I am. Still, Frum contributes to the confused nature of the debate by propagating misleading data and information.

While America would do well to increase defense spending to five percent or more of the GDP — this to better correspond with historic wartime spending levels — there is little to no chance that this will happen. In fact, as defense analyst Thomas Donnelly observed in recent congressional testimony, President “Obama’s plan to ‘freeze’ the defense top-line [budget number] will see that level fall again to three percent [of the GDP] at the mid-point of a projected second term in office.”

Thus, keeping defense spending at even four percent of the GDP would be a tremendous achievement. Unfortunately, congressional Republicans — led by Senators McCain and Graham — are doing little or nothing to champion this crucial and necessary cause.

(By way of historical comparison, during World War II the United States spent more than a third of its GDP on defense. The corresponding figure during the Korean War was 14% of the GDP; and, for the Vietnam War, it was 9.5% of the GDP. At the height of the Cold War, under President Kennedy, nearly 10% of the GDP was spent on defense.)

Mitt Romney, however, has shown leadership on this issue: by calling for a significant increase in the military modernization budget.

“When I add up the demands of all these defense missions,” Romney told the Heritage Foundation last June, “I do not come up with budget cuts. As a simple matter of budget mathematics, we cannot fulfill our military missions without an increase of $50 billion per year in the modernization budget.”

It’s not that four percent is a magic number; it’s not. But as Romney explained, “I can see no reasonable scenario by which America can spend less and still provide our servicemen and women with the modern equipment and resources that they need to defend us.”

Moreover, in the absence of some minimum mandatory level of defense spending, there is a serious risk — and perhaps the likelihood — that defense spending will be crowded out by other competing budgetary demands. And in fact, as Donnelly pointed out, this is now happening. Stimulus 1.0, for instance — all $787 billion of it — is conspicuous for its lack of military spending.

Yet, providing for the common defense is the federal government’s number one responsibility — a responsibility expressly prescribed by the Constitution of the United States. The “right to healthcare,” by contrast, is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, not only is the defense budget being cut as a percentage of the GDP; but crucial weapon systems are being cut outright or eliminated entirely, and modernization is being squeezed. The Obama administration has eliminated, for instance, the Transformational Satellite program and eight new Army combat vehicle types. Heritage Foundation defense analyst Mackenzie Eaglen explains well why this is happening:

If modernization spending simply held steady through 2011, that would still lead to a $22 billion (inflation-adjusted) reduction in such funding — a 10 percent cut. However, the Obama administration isn’t trying to spread its defense cuts over a five-year budget plan. Modernization spending will tumble by $30 billion in 2011 compared with fiscal 2010.

Additional defense dollars thus aren’t going to needed weapon systems for our troops; they’re going instead to increase pay and benefits, especially healthcare. And for this we can thank George W. Bush and the Republicans in Congress: because the GOP seems no less willing than the Democrats to make military members and their families loyal wards of the state. Indeed, as Donnelly told Congress:

At the end of the Cold War — when the force was much larger — healthcare accounted for about four percent of defense spending. During the Bush years, that doubled and current trends would take it to 12% by 2015.

Most of this increase is due to a single benefit, ‘TRICARE for Life,’ enacted in 2001. This extended the benefits of the military health insurance program to members, their families and survivors of their lifetimes. (Formerly, they [beneficiaries] were transferred to Medicare coverage upon reaching age sixty-five.) Thus, the GAO [Government Accountability Office] has found that TRICARE costs have been growing at an annual rate of 16%, doubling the cost to the defense budget from $17.4 billion in FY2000 to $35.4 billion in FY2005.

Of course, military members and their families require and deserve healthcare. But there are more cost-effective ways to provide healthcare than through the federal government’s quasi-socialized TRICARE bureaucracy.

A voucher-based system geared toward private-sector medicine and health savings accounts, for instance, would save the government money and effect better healthcare for our troops. However, enactment of this reform would require intellectual and political leadership by the Republican Party, which is instead brain dead and timid.

Consequently, Donnelly told Congress, “benefits consume an increasing slice of the Pentagon’s baseline budget.” In 1985, for example, the Pentagon spent $1.42 in weapons procurement for every dollar it spent on personnel; but by 1998, that figure had been reversed: “For every procurement dollar, the Pentagon spent $1.55 on personnel,” Donnelly said.

Meanwhile, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps rely on antiquated equipment, much of which is older than the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who operate that equipment. The Army, for instance, hasn’t taken delivery of a new combat vehicle type since the early 1980s. Most Americans, by contrast, drive vehicles that were designed and built in the 21st Century.

Similarly, with his cell phone, digital camera, iPod, and global positioning system (GPS), the typical civilian teenager has more technology at his disposal than a young soldier or Marine. The Army is trying mightily to remedy this problem by “networking” the force; but funding constraints make this a difficult and unnecessarily time-consuming process.

Why not, then, champion a defense stimulus that plays to the central strength of the American economy in the 21st Century? Why not champion a defense stimulus that will harness computer processing power and other information technologies to create new and unprecedented opportunities for our soldiers? Why not champion a defense stimulus that will accelerate the networking of U.S. forces, and accelerate as well the development of new combat vehicles that can accommodate that network?

Surely, this is the right thing to do for our soldiers; the right thing to do for our economy; and the right thing to do politically.

But Frum’s most significant error is his assertion that the United States may have to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan prematurely, by January 2011, to get its economic house in order. But facts are stubborn things, and the facts simply don’t support the notion that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are exorbitant drains on the federal budget.

In fact, quite the contrary: “War-time costs have averaged just about one percent of the GDP,” Donnelly told Congress. And even with the surge in Iraq and a potential surge in Afghanistan, war costs would only “rise to a level of about 1.2% of GDP,” he added.

But even if wartime costs rose to 10 times that amount, these are still costs the United States must bear: because that is what victory demands. And in war, as General Douglas MacArthur explained, there is no substitute for victory. Sacrifice if you must any number of domestic-social welfare programs, but don’t sacrifice the nation’s defenses. And certainly don’t risk losing a war because you are concerned about its impact on the federal budget.

It is disappointing and disconcerting to hear Frum call for what is in effect a premeditated defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan — all because he has found his inner bean counter. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are eminently winnable — provided our political leaders remain steadfast and committed to victory. And victory mustn’t be sacrificed on the altar of the federal budget; and neither should military modernization for our troops. America needs a defense stimulus now.

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26 Comments so far ↓

  • teabag

    Let me guess. You are a defense industry lobbyist.

  • John Guardiano

    Teabag,
    Guess again; I’ve never lobbied in my life! However, I have served (as a Marine) in Iraq. I have seen soldiers and Marines who lacked adequate body armor. I have seen soldiers and Marines who had less communication capabilities in theater than they had at home back in the states.

    But even if I was a lobbyist, how does that render my argument wrong or mistaken? Why not address my specific points and arguments? Why try to discount what I write based on who and what I might be professionally? Isn’t that intellectually lazy and irresponsible?

    I know that addressing an argument requires thought and effort, but isn’t that how we should attempt to win arguments? By substantively engaging them forthrightly and honestly?

    Unfortunately, there is entirely too much of this intellectual laziness and professional discrimination in our public discourse. Indeed, people on both the Left and the Right dismiss arguments without ever substantively engaging those arguments because, well, we know what “those people” think. We know how “their kind” views the world.

    I’m disappointed that you’ve fallen victim to such intellectual laziness . Please, if you disagree with me, then by all means, vent your disagreement. But is it asking too much of you to do so in a reasoned and substantive manner?

    V/R
    John

  • MI-GOPer

    John, TeaBagged is one of those far Left, DailyKos trolls that daily earns his special title around here of Village Idiot.

    You guessed correctly when you asked if he was being intellectually lazy and irresponsible… you classified his conduct correctly when you noted his flippant comment was not reasoned or substantive. He rarely ever achieves reason or substance around here but I hear he’s got a killer fan base at the democrat underground.

    I wonder if the Democrats attacking the military budget and our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t more about a base or core distrust of the military and those in it than the excuse in vogue of “we can’t afford it” anymore? I mean, the whole concept of running up staggering and unprecedented deficits on the budget and on trade and then trying to find credible Democrats saying they need to cut defense to prove budget resolve?

    It’s boggling. It’s probably buggering, too.

  • rbottoms

    It is disappointing and disconcerting to hear Frum call for what is in effect a premeditated defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan — all because he has found his inner bean counter.

    Did I miss the part where you advocated a tax hike to pa for this increased spending? Certainly not, because Republicans believe all spending on the Pentagon is a good thing whereas fixing bridges, paving roads, and upgrading schools is wanton waste.

    We outspend the world several times over and quite a bit of it for weapons designed to fight the Soviets on the plains of Germany. Enough already.

    Robotics, hardening electrical and information grids, anti-virus & anti-hacking protections, drones, and quality of life for the troops, all for it. Billions more for planes to support an outdated Airforce mission are monumental waste of resources and cash.

    I challenge every so-called conservative to read P.W. Singer’s “Wired for War”. It change any reasonable person’s mind about where out defense dollars ought to be going.

    Certainly not for overpriced unworkable systems designed to hit a bullet with another bullet which is essentially what Star Wars defense systems are. Several dozen ships with missiles featuring AI enhanced software designed to target rockets in the boost phase make much more sense than bouncing lasers off of mirrors and rigged tests for interceptors designed to pick off warheads (and 1,000 decoys) already plowing through the atmosphere which is what SDI has been for twenty years.

    Robots to find IED’s instead human Marines makes sense.

    Building 10,000 drones and the software to mesh their sensors to watch over a battlefield, flown by teams of specialists in Nevada make more sense than a dozen more overpriced stealth planes.

    Especially aircraft that cost $500,000 a pop, which can’t even handle being left out in the rain each of requiring a pilot we have to spend $3,000,000 to train.

    What we have currently is a gigantic welfare system for Haliburton, Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed.

    Time to get smart and spend smart, to stop preparing for the last war and get ready for the next one.

    I wonder if the Democrats attacking the military budget and our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t more about a base or core distrust of the military and those in it than the excuse in vogue of “we can’t afford it” anymore?

    Screw that.

    This Democrat served 13 years in the Army. Something the Chickenhawks in the 101st Keyboard Battalion can’t be bothered to do.

  • oldgal

    “But even if wartime costs rose to 10 times that amount, these are still costs the United States must bear: because that is what victory demands” Fine, as long as someone explains to me what comprises victory in our current situations – this has yet to be done.

  • MI-GOPer

    rbottoms, the guy who gets kicked out of nearly every conservative and GOP blog he spews his ranting hatred upon says: “Screw that. This Democrat served 13 years in the Army. Something the Chickenhawks in the 101st Keyboard Battalion can’t be bothered to do.”

    Richard of San Francisco, aka rbottoms, tried to use that fake credential before and several commenters on other blogs called him on it, tested him with questions he couldn’t answer and except for the truthful comment he is a democrat –hardcore, screw the military kind of Democrat– his answers were found wanting… in fact, one commenter called him a liar. I know, I know; strong words on the anonymous internet blog-o-sphere.

    Hey, it happens. Of course, on none of Richard’s websites or profiles does he mention he was ex-Army… but as a Marine, I can tell you the army isn’t really part of the military… it’s military-lite and Richard is the chickenhawk taunting Democrat of disreputable “fame”.

  • Kevin B

    the army isn’t really part of the military…Good to know. A great place to start with budget cuts.

  • ottovbvs

    “But even if wartime costs rose to 10 times that amount, these are still costs the United States must bear: because that is what victory demands.”

    ……….spending roughly 11% of GDP in Afghanistan and Iraq is justified?……this statement is so bizarre I’m afraid it calls into question Mr Guardiano’s contact with reality as does his parading of military expenditures in WW 2 which was the greatest war in history involving the deaths of over 50 million people against two opponents who represented an existential threat to this country……..this comparison with Afghanistan/Iraq is preposterous……..

    “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are eminently winnable ”

    ………You don’t define winning in Afganistan but this is a highly suspect proposition……..as that army/marine analysis authored by Petraeus points out the troops/population ratio for a counter insurgency war is 20-25/1000 so Afghanistan is going to require over 600,000 troops for an extended period of say 10-20 years to turn the corruption ridden drug state headed by Karzai into a reasonable facsimile of a functioning country…….btw once you include rotations this is going to mean a committment nearer to a million…….all these troops are going to have to come from the US as other NATO members are planning withdrawals (Canada) or are very lukewarm (Britain/Germany)……..the addition of McChrystal’s 40,000 is going to add about 40 billion to the existing cost so an additional 500,000 would mean another half a trillion or so…….and to what end?…..so Mr Guardiano from his wheelchair can boast about our victory against the Taliban while Al Quaeda transferred their operations elsewhere long ago…….to govern is to choose and that means choosing rational options that result in positive benefits for the US not investing in pyrrhic victories.

  • ottovbvs

    MI-GOPer // Nov 19, 2009 at 7:59 am

    “Hey, it happens. Of course, on none of Richard’s websites or profiles does he mention he was ex-Army… but as a Marine, I can tell you the army isn’t really part of the military… it’s military-lite and Richard is the chickenhawk taunting Democrat of disreputable “fame”.

    ……..more wisdom from mi-goper

  • MI-GOPer

    Just the truth, automaticBS. We know you can’t handle the truth, right?

    Like when you write: “… all these troops are going to have to come from the US as other NATO members are planning withdrawals (Canada) or are very lukewarm (Britain/Germany)……..”

    Wait, what happened to the Obama Messiah’s campaign promise to work with NATO allies and make Afghanistan the real “War of Necessity”? The Obama & the Democrats repeatedly promised they’d drop the Bush Administration’s CowBoy Diplomacy and secure support from NATO. They could do it, Bush couldn’t; elect Obama… that was their message day-in, day-out.

    Of course, they lied. The Democrats and people like you and Richard of San Francisco will say anything to get the Democrats elected… so why should we keep believing all these lies? For decades and decades –whether a candidate, a party platform or a president– the Democrats have cut the military budgets, they’ve destroyed military morale, they’ve injured America’s capacity to exert military muscle abroad and protect American interests, they’ve cut & run from our allies and embraced our enemies. They’ve abandoned weapons systems that took a generation to design and build. They’ve appeased Russia and China and any enemy that kicks a little sand in their face. They tolerated despots and dictators murdering true democrats in the streets of capitals across the world. And they are now embarked on unilateral disarmament of America’s intelligence community.

    Candidate, party platform or president. Decades of the same, tired track record.

    Obama Messiah is no different. You are no different. Why should any American, based on what runs in the blood of yellow-dog Democrats, believe anymore lies from your side?

  • ottovbvs

    MI-GOPer // Nov 19, 2009 at 9:01 am

    ……..more wisdom from mi-goper…….The European aren’t going to send anymore substantive reinforcements to Afghanistan for Obama or Bush …….it has nothing to do with who is US president and everything to do with a the fact it would be a dumb move……I appreciate you can’t tell the difference

  • balconesfault

    I’m with Oldgal here.

    Right now, the way I see this “war” defined, we could be committing to this level of funding for … well, forever?

    I don’t see us ever “defeating” terrorism, in the sense that we’re absolutely safe from terrorism when the “war” is over.

  • sinz54

    The question of WHETHER we should be escalating in Afghanistan is a separate topic from how we pay for whatever effort is made there. The goal of defeating al-Qaeda is non-negotiable: Preventing another atrocity like 9-11 cannot be traded off for a tax cut or a health care program or anything else, since it’s our very freedoms as Americans that are at stake.

    I recall how when Rumsfeld met with some troops in Iraq, they peppered him with angry questions about up-armoring the Humvees so they wouldn’t be sitting ducks for IEDs. At the time, liberals sided with those troops against the Bush Administration, as they did on everything else.

    Now that liberals are in charge of the wars, they’re the ones who have the responsibility to ensure that our troops have ALL, and I do mean ALL, the equipment necessary to carry out whatever missions they’re given, in a cost-effective way. Let’s make sure that they do.

    “rbottoms” has a valid point for once: In those past years, past wars, when national defense was a significant percentage of GDP, the U.S. considered it a no-brainer that our taxes had to pay for those wars. I still remember 1968, the day that LBJ announced an income tax surcharge to pay for our Vietnam effort.

    Despite what “ottovbs” thinks of me, I am NOT one of those conservatives who thinks that all taxation is bad and taxes can only go down, never up. If I thought Obama had a viable strategy for Afghanistan that required a tax increase to avoid a bigger deficit, I would be all for it. I would prefer that this be a gasoline tax hike rather than an income tax hike. But that’s a detail.

  • genYconservative

    Another reason to invest in defense spending…

    Sept. 21 Defense News article, “China Defense Minister: We Can Compete with West.” In the article, China’s defense minister is quoted for saying, “It could be said that China has basically all the kinds of equipment possessed by Western countries, much of which reaches or approaches advanced world standards. This is a very remarkable achievement, which not only reflects the level of modernization of our army, but also tremendous changes in national science and technology strength.”

  • sinz54

    balconesfault: I don’t see us ever “defeating” terrorism, in the sense that we’re absolutely safe from terrorism when the “war” is over.
    Of course not.

    But what we can do, is define a goal and then work towards it, instead of waving our hands.

    I define it this way: We will have won the War on Terror when we can go back to living the way we did before 9-11: No shoe inspections at airports. No PATRIOT Acts. No turning our political conventions into armed camps.

    Back then, we knew about Islamist terrorism and we had suffered through Islamist terrorism–especially the 1993 WTC bombing. But we never had an attack like 9-11, which devastated a large part of a city, killed thousands, plunged our nation into a recession, and sent the nation into a state of shock and fury. Israel, which has suffered from terrorism since its founding, had never had an attack that huge either. It was unprecedented.

    al-Qaeda loves these spectaculars. A few years ago, they tried to blow up TEN airliners over the Atlantic Ocean with liquid explosive bombs. If they had succeeded, the carnage might have exceeded 9-11.

    When Americans think about terrorism these days, it’s THAT type of terrorism that scares them, as it should. It was to prevent THAT type of terrorism that we imposed so many security measures on ourselves. And we must work toward the day that we don’t have to fear such massive spectaculars, with the deaths of thousands of innocents at one blow. The proof will be that those security measure can be safely relaxed.

  • sinz54

    ottovbs: The European aren’t going to send anymore substantive reinforcements to Afghanistan for Obama or Bush
    But during the 2008 campaign, Biden promised that they would. I recall that he specifically said that they “would no longer be able to use Bush as an excuse.”

    This was another campaign promise of Obama-Biden that was broken.

  • MI-GOPer

    automaticBS tries to spin away with: “The European aren’t going to send anymore substantive reinforcements to Afghanistan for Obama or Bush …….it has nothing to do with who is US president and everything to do with a the fact it would be a dumb move.”

    Sorry automaticBS, that wasn’t the point. Nice spin, though. Been taking notes on how BlankHead does it, have you?

    The point was Obama and the Democrats ran on a pledge that they COULD get our allies to pony-up, man-up in this “War of Necessity” –as your own president called it.

    Now, we learn he can’t. We saw him botch relations with allies like England. We saw him botch relations with allies like the French so badly that now the French look resolute and tough compared to Obama. Ouch, that hurts a lot; where is our national pride?? Obama has pissed off the Czechs after they stuck out their political necks for us. Obama has pissed off the Poles after they, too, stuck out their necks for us and our interests.

    And Pakistan questions American intent and resolve when asking for their help against alQaeda and we dispatch Madam Hillary to lecture them on catching Osama bin Laden?

    Wow. The days of CowBoy Diplomacy under Geo Bush 43 are looking pretty damn good by comparison.

  • balconesfault

    sinz: We will have won the War on Terror when we can go back to living the way we did before 9-11: No shoe inspections at airports. No PATRIOT Acts. No turning our political conventions into armed camps.

    Sorry. We will never get back there. Period. Isn’t going to happen.

  • MI-GOPer

    sinz54 notes: “al-Qaeda loves these spectaculars. A few years ago, they tried to blow up TEN airliners over the Atlantic Ocean with liquid explosive bombs. If they had succeeded, the carnage might have exceeded 9-11. When Americans think about terrorism these days, it’s THAT type of terrorism that scares them, as it should. It was to prevent THAT type of terrorism that we imposed so many security measures on ourselves.”

    Obviously, sinz54, you don’t agree with the Obama Administration in going back to treating all these terror threats as just law enforcement matters? Eric Stedman –I mean Eric Holder– says it is a law enforcement matter now for the civilian courts to work out. Of course, it doesn’t help his old law firm is protecting several of the terrorists and providing legal counsel for them to get off scot-free.

    Plus, the Obama declared the War on Terror is over in his WorldWide Apology Tour stop in Cairo… how can there still be terror threats? We’ve read it here on this blog… some Democrats think it’s Russia’s and India’s job to police the terror threat in Pakistan. Not America’s.

    Thousands of miles from America… what’s to worry about? I think you’re just stuck on fear-mongering; relax… the economy is nearly rebounded thanks to the Stimulus Spending Spree! Be happy. Vote Democrat.

  • ottovbvs

    13 sinz54 // Nov 19, 2009 at 9:41 am

    ‘The question of WHETHER we should be escalating in Afghanistan is a separate topic from how we pay for whatever effort is made there.’

    ……..Obviously you’ve never heard of cost/benefit analysis

  • ottovbvs

    MI-GOPer // Nov 19, 2009 at 10:02 am

    ……As I said you don’t understand the difference…..thanks for proving it

  • ottovbvs

    balconesfault // Nov 19, 2009 at 10:09 am

    “sinz: We will have won the War on Terror when we can go back to living the way we did before 9-11: No shoe inspections at airports. No PATRIOT Acts. No turning our political conventions into armed camps.

    Sorry. We will never get back there. Period. Isn’t going to happen.’

    ……..Sinz says the darndest things at times……this was another beaut for the collection

  • MI-GOPer

    AutomaticBS chimes in with: “As I said you don’t understand the difference…..thanks for proving it.”

    I don’t think I did, BS-boi… but then you are reality-challenged as a troll, no?

    Thank you for admitting that Obama & the Democrats lied when promising Americans that they would be able to bring NATO and our allies to Afghanistan’s “War of Necessity” and help relieve American troops of the burdens of war and the nearly complete responsibility for combat operations.

    It’s such a huge improvement over the Bush Era of CowBoy Diplomacy that you and your fellow far Left pals cried about for 4 yrs.

    Oh wait, Obama didn’t get jack from the allies or NATO as he promised? The Democrats are getting ready to cut & run from Afghanistan too? We’re giving the terrorists unlimited access to worldwide media while they visit Manhattan?

    Please, BS-boi, say hello to Alice in Wonderland when you run into her in your version of reality.

    The difference is pretty clear to all but those who fight to focus in on the real issues –like BS-boi.

  • ottovbvs

    MI-GOPer // Nov 19, 2009 at 11:54 am

    …….another contribution from the Emily Post of the Soo

  • MI-GOPer

    Please, BS-boi, say hello to Alice in Wonderland when you run into her in your version of reality.

    The difference is pretty clear to all but those who fight to focus in on the real issues –like BS-boi.

  • GunnerD

    John,
    long time no hear. Send me a PM will you? I’d like to re-connect my 4thCAG friend.
    Semper Fi,
    Erik