Magazine article The American Conservative

Attack of the Pork Hawks: Loving the Pentagon Turns Conservatives into Big-Spending Liberals

Magazine article The American Conservative

Attack of the Pork Hawks: Loving the Pentagon Turns Conservatives into Big-Spending Liberals

Article excerpt

Conservative politicians want to cut spending--except for the military. Where that's concerned, they sound like liberals. In fact, conservatives have adopted several liberal ploys to justify today's bloated military budget.

First, big spenders on the right argue that Washington must continue doing everything that it has ever done abroad. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), one of the leading pork hawks, has denounced the idea of doing "less with less."

Yet the Department of Defense spends most of its money to protect other nations, including those that are populous and prosperous. All together, the Europeans have a larger GDP and population than America and ten times the GDP and three times the population of Russia. South Korea has 40 times the GDP and twice the population of North Korea. Why is the U.S. taxpayer still paying for their protection, 67 years after World War II ended?

Even worse has been Washington's foray into militarized nation-building. The Balkans remains a mess nearly two decades after Washington intervened. The Iraq War weakened America and strengthened Iran. The U.S. has been trying to create a competent, honest, and democratic central government in Kabul for a decade. None of these missions advances U.S. security.

But that raises the second excuse that phony conservatives use to justify a bloated Pentagon. Like liberals spending on education, these right-wingers equate money with results. Thus bigger Pentagon budgets mean increased national security. Only it's not true: greater military spending is strategic waste on a grand scale.

While the world is dangerous, it is not particularly dangerous to America. The U.S. is surrounded by oceans east and west and friendly neighbors north and south. America is allied with every major industrialized state save Russia and China. Washington already has a thousand military installations around the world. The American navy is equivalent to that of next 13 navies combined, 11 of which belong to U.S. allies.

Washington spends as much as the rest of the world--and spends more, in real terms, than at any point during the Korean War, Vietnam War, or Cold War. America could spend less and still possess far larger and more capable forces than anyone else.

Such overcapacity actually encourages Washington to meddle in foreign conflicts that foolishly deplete our military capital. As a result, guys using AK47s and improvised explosive devices tied down the world's greatest power for years in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Terrorism remains a threat, but not an existential one like the old Soviet Russia. Moreover, Al-Qaeda has been wrecked by relatively inexpensive techniques short of conventional war: good intelligence, Special Forces strikes, international cooperation, financial sanctions. In contrast, the invasion of Iraq created an entirely new class of terrorists, some of whom have migrated to other conflicts, such as Libya and Syria.

The third idea spendthrift militarists have recycled from the liberals of yesteryear is using "baseline budgeting" to complain that Barack Obama has "cut" defense outlays. This is the same way Democrats once charged that Ronald Reagan drastically "cut" domestic spending--by reducing the rate of increase.

Total military outlays were $306 billion in 2001. Since then they have risen steadily, breaching the $700 billion barrier under Barack Obama in 2011. In real, inflation-adjusted terms, expenditures increased 74.5 percent over the last decade. In the Obama administration's first two years inflation-adjusted military spending rose 16.8 percent. Outlays last year, in real terms, were 23.5 percent above the Korean War peak in 1953, 22.5 percent above the Vietnam War peak in 1968, and 35.8 percent above the Reagan build-up peak in 1989.


Spending will stop racing ahead this year but not because of real cuts: the administration has only proposed reducing planned increases over the coming decade by $487 billion. …

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