In a column in "The Washington Post," Fareed Zakaria quotes former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as saying there are more members of military marching bands than members of the United States foreign service. The United States spends more than the next seventeen countries most generous to their defense budgets.
In the last couple years' debates on the national deficit, much has been made of cuts to "entitlements." Implicit in the label "entitlements" is the notion people are used to being on the dole and such items are fair game for the budgetary axe. Social Security is not an "entitlement," but something for which people have paid. Social Security taxes drop off after a certain level of income, so that cherish and pampered one or two percent does not suffer. Instead, people, through the distortion of the lens of such outlets as Fox, look at Social Security as some sort of alms or giveaway. Medicare is one of the most popular programs run by the Federal government. Its funds are derived from payments people have made through their taxes. To cut these programs is to take more money away from the middle class and pass it---through continued Republican redistribution of the wealth---again to that precious one or two percent at the top.
Defense spending is a security blanket of something worse than false hope. Foreign terrorists do not attack the United States with conventional weapons. One of our 12---or is it 13 now, with the addition of the U.S.S. Gerald Ford?---aircraft carriers cannot hit a terrorist cell as it attempts to use a car bomb. Some people might derive a sense of security from the notion we have so much firepower, but what we have used those weapons to do has alienated a lot of people, and turned some people into terrorists. Our drones, as one Pakistani teacher said this week before Congress, when they kill innocent people---"collateral damage"---imbues hatred of the United States into the loved ones of those who were killed.
We recently leqarned one innovative defense contractor billed the Pentagon $17,000 for an oil pan. One should price out oil pans at Target or, if one wants a more specialized store, AutoZone. I doubt one costs $17. David Brodwin---not a liberal, by any reasonable measure---wrote in U.S. News & World Report that if the United States were a private corporation with a division (here, the Department of Defense) with costs run amok, that division might be told to reduced expenditures to a multiple of that of a competitor. This would help cut waste in the Pentagon budget.
There are expenditures in the defense budget that cannot be cut. We have a standing military force (something the Framers sought to avoid but is unavoidable in the 21st Century). We provide medical care, education benefits and pensions to veterans. But we do not need 13 aircraft carriers when the second-largest aircraft carrier force in any other navy in the World is---one. At the same time short ourselves on infrastructure and education to pony up for military goods, nations like China spend on education and hack into our computers to steal the latest information on advanced weapons development.
Social programs create jobs. Defense spending is inefficient in creating jobs. Once a tank is built, that's it. After a road is built, it enables commerce. Once a bridge is built, it helps carry forward the commerce of that highway. Education is one of the most valuable components of our infrastructure.
We should scrap new weapons programs, put military contractors under sharper scrutiny, and realize long-term security lay more in diplomacy than in military hardware. This is the 21 Century. Our approach today harkens back to the 19th Century. Teddy Roosevelt said to walk softly but carry a big stick. He won a Nobel Peace Prize, however, for his role in negotiations to end a war. We have the stick. Our stealth technology gives us a quiet walk. We need competent talk---as produced by education and a focus away from war---to more fully protect this country.
And just so I am clear, and frequent Civil Discourse Now guest Jeff Cox does not get too upset, I think the number of people in military bands is fine, so long as other cuts in the budget of the Department of Defense are made.