Defense Cuts on the Table? Don’t Believe It

Now that Washington is suddenly having a nervous breakdown over the long-term deficit, even military spending cuts are supposedly “on the table.” In any sane world, they should be, since 1) we shell out more on defense than every other nation in the world combined; 2) the Pentagon sucks up more dollars today than it did during the height of the Cold War, even though we don’t have an enemy remotely comparable to the U.S.S.R.; and 3) we don’t get a whole lot for our money (unless you count Iraq and Afghanistan as wild successes).

So, yeah, great that military spending is on the table. Except that it’s not. At least that’s what Andrew Bacevich is saying over at Tomdispatch, and he’s generally pretty reliable on these things. (A politically conservative former military man and B.U. professor, he’s the author of, among other books, The New American Militarism, The Limits of Power, and, most recently, Washington Rules.) For all the talk about no more sacred cows–even, sincerely, from the Defense Secretary himself–the Pentagon budget remains off-limits.

But why? For start, says Bacevich, the DOD has thrown up a four-layer protective shield that keeps it “untouched and untouchable.” The layers are:

1. Institutional self-interest: the Pentagon, Congress, lobbyists, the defense industry (the Military-Industrial Complex, if you will)–they all have a vested interest in maintaining the gold-plated status quo.

2. Strategic inertia: The U.S. came out of World War II as the richest, most powerful nation in the world. American policy makers quickly decided the best way to preserve this status was to project power–through fleets, military personnel, and bases–all over the world. Which costs a lot of money.

3. Cultural dissonance: We–ordinary Americans–used to serve in the military (as in World War II)–which is to say that patriotism meant some kind of sacrifice. No longer. But we can still feel good about the ourselves–and our country–by “supporting our troops” and reflecting that if young men and women are willing to fight and die for this country, then it must be worth fighting and dying for.

4. Misremembered history: For a long time, America had a robust and respectable anti-interventionist tradition (George Washington sits squarely in it). But then came World War II (“the Good war”), when anyone who’d argued against taking on Hitler looked, after the fact, like a dupe or worse. From then on, anti-interventionism got lumped in with (morally suspect) isolationism, and nobody wanted to touch it. Today, both political parties are “war parties.”

Taken together, says Bacevich, these four barriers “insulate the military budget from serious scrutiny. For advocates of a militarized approach to policy, they provide invaluable assets, to be defended at all costs.”

This post originally appeared on The Progressive Book Club.

Photo credit: Kevitivity via flickr


Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran7 years ago


Gloria H.
Gloria H7 years ago

I guess, we will have to decide if we really need want congressmen and senators to represent us. I feel if they can change the Constitution, then we should be able to deny them from representing us. Just like the people of Egypt felt stagnant for all those years. Somebody please send me a list of what our Congress or Senate have done since they were first elected to office. Mostly, they have impeded progress, never vowing to help the people who elected them. We have kids on the streets, families on the street due to the Bush meltdown. No, they give our money to everyone and anything who wants it. It's our money and it should be spent fixing our country. The entire infrastructure is falling apart and yet they waste time trying to tear Our President down instead of trying to improve they want to destroy. Which one of them has adopted any kid that is in the system that was not wanted, yet they want to tell all women that they must have that baby. Tell them when I want their advise I'll ask for it! Maybe they think we are just puppets? We ALL need to let them know, we care about our country!!!!!!

Roger R.
Past Member 7 years ago

FAKE TERROR and the GAMES of the super rich:

plus it's a really great site.

Tana Williams
Tana Williams7 years ago

We give billions in aid to both Iraq and Afghanistan, most of which has gone to lining the pockets of corrupt gov. people. Add that to what it costs to keep military presence in those two countries and the cost probably runs to the trillion dollar mark.And neither of these two countries have anything approaching a government that can stand on it's own two feet. It's like having an addict in the family, until you say "No more" the addict doesn't have any reason to straighten out his/her life. I think it is way past time to say No more to these two countries and walk away. Whether they satand or fall is on them and we could use the billions saved to support education, social services, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and so much more. It is time that our gov starts worrying about us, the citizens of THIS country, rather than the support of other countries. Actually, we should pull all military from those two and "invade" Haiti, where we could do some real good, instead of funneling money to the corrupt regime.

Marıanna M.
Marıanna M.7 years ago

zuzana you are so wrong and by being should pay 7 usd per gallon while everyone else pays 5 or less. and what do you know about american core values hahahahah

Parvez Z.
Parvez Zuberi7 years ago

It's High time that USA Govt start looking after the welfare of their people rather the interfering in other country business by sending the troops and spending money with no results

Phil R.
Phil R7 years ago

The end of the cold war was supposed to result in a cut in American defense spending...this was.the so called "peace dividend". George HW Bush initiated a draw down in the military that was continued by the Clinton administration.

"The process that started in 1990 under George H.W. Bush was ultimately reversed under the presidency of his son, George W. Bush, with the defense budget soaring to today's levels. When budget numbers are adjusted for inflation, the United States is now spending more on defense than at the height of the Reagan years, according to Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments."

David C.
David Connally7 years ago

@Zuzana D. "Thanks God for the military, no cuts ...I am just afraid that this is in the hands of a person who caters to CAIR, who does not subscribe to american core values."

America did quite well with minimal military spending for 150 years. The Americans of this period didn't subscribe to American core values?

John E.
John E7 years ago

Is it true that the war machine industry is looking forward to the approach of Armageddon?
Perhaps they calculate that due to peak weapon sales, all the money in the world will at last be theirs ...

And then .....???

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle7 years ago

Bacevich is a smart man, and accurate in what he documents as the "four-layer protective shield." (what could also be called, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.) I think another reason politicians can keep the military-industrial complex going, is the fear they inject into our discussions about "terrorism" and another "9/11."

We need SMART policies and arms, not a preponderance of arms. The graft and theft is well-documented. And as far as the argument that cutting back, will eliminate jobs, .... let's retrain people in productive industries, not those of killing capacity. Our country is hemorrhaging money into two wars and unnecessary weapons, when we need the money for Americans to live productive lives, building our country, not tearing down others.

Could we begin THINKING, ... and acting upon this? It will take citizens to be intelligent and call the war-mongering politicians on their further plans. REMEMBER: Citizenship is a verb. -- Martha Eberle