Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blood Money

This is an Yglesias post:

America Spends A Lot on Defense

Yesterday, congress appropriated a $680 billion for the Department of Defense in FY 2010. Chris Preble observes that, shockingly enough, this $680 billion isn’t even the whole bill:

The defense bill represents only part of our military spending. The appropriations bill moving through Congress governing veterans affairs, military construction and other agencies totals $133 billion, while the massive Department of Homeland Security budget weighs in at $42.8 billion. This comprises the visible balance of what Americans spend on our national security, loosely defined. Then there is the approximately $16 billion tucked away in the Energy Department’s budget, money dedicated to the care and maintenance of the country’s huge nuclear arsenal.

All told, every man, woman and child in the United States will spend more than $2,700 on these programs and agencies next year. By way of comparison, the average Japanese spends less than $330; the average German about $520; China’s per capita spending is less than $100.

Preble says that this enormous expenditure “flows directly from our foreign policy.” But it’s worth also saying that our foreign policy flows from the vast scope of our defense spending. My biggest concern about the war in Afghanistan isn’t overblown feasibility concerns, but the failure to take seriously David Obey’s point that we should put this in some kind of cost-benefit framework. Arne Duncan doesn’t have a $700 billion per year budget to play with as he tries to help American kids learn. Jay Rockefeller doesn’t get to say “I could make this health plan really good by kicking the ten year cost up to $7 trillion.” People are starving in Ethiopia for want of a fraction of the DOD’s daily budget in food aid.

I would point out that a cost/benefit analysis, while perhaps useful, doesn't really get to the heart of the issue, which is that the U.S. is essentially a war-making nation. War is our biggest export; war is our specialty, war is our contribution to the world.

When you have an war machine this big, as Yglesias points out, it ceases to be the result of a warlike policy. Rather, a warring policy becomes the result of the machine.

A military/industrial complex that consumes nearly a trillion dollars each year has simply become too strong. The people and corporations that profit from it will fight tooth and nail to keep that money flowing. And the only way to keep it flowing is to keep the country in a state of war. And, just as importantly, to keep other countries in a state of war. The military industrial complex is a profit making machine, and it makes its profits by selling the ability to kill. And so it has every incentive to keep the wars going.

Remember this when you hear the calls to invade Iran, or to escalate in Afghanistan, or to attack North Korea, or to continue to send arms to Israel. It's a business, this war. It may, as General Sherman said, be hell. But it's business first.

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