My Turn: The greatest threat to our national security?


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Whatever the effect in North Korea of President Trump’s threat, to reply with “fire and fury” to that country’s provocation, in launching a potentially nuclear bomb-bearing missile that could reach the U.S., has caused alarm here at home.

President Trump may feel emboldened by the whopping $696 billion defense budget increase passed by Congress in June. Trump perpetuates the Bush/Cheney militarism that replaced the Clinton administration’s diplomacy.

Military related spending in one form or another is where virtually all our tax money goes, with defense contracts carefully parceled out to nearly every congressional district and thus virtually assuring votes for military spending. The cancerous growth of this budget line item impedes on all the other items in the body of the budget, weakening all those programs that actually provide for the well-being of the taxpayers. Runaway military spending has become the greatest threat to our national security.

In his farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned the country against the rise of “the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist” And, it did. In 1953, just after Stalin had died, he told his speech-writer, Emmett Hughes, “I am tired … of just plain indictments of the Soviet regime.”

He added that he didn’t want to “make another one of those indictments” — a brave attitude given the Cold War fears raised in America. Robert Schlesinger recounts the Hughes meeting and what the president did next: Eisenhower, his “jaw set, stared out the window onto the South Lawn. The tiny speck of an F-86 Sabre buzzed across the sky…. ‘Here is what I would like to say. The jet plane that roars over your head costs three quarter of million dollars ... What world can afford this sort of thing for long?’” He then added that an armaments race at best, such spending amounted to “robbing every people and nation on earth of the fruits of their own toil.”

The waste of tax dollars on military spending that concerned Eisenhower is miniscule compared to what that spending has become. Ike would have been devastated to see what the latest fighter jet fleet is costing taxpayers. With all its overruns and failures, the F-35 program has now run up projected costs of over $1.5 trillion.

The growth of defense spending was set in motion with the Cold War, when in order to gain public approval of more military spending, Sen. Vandenburg advised President Truman that he would have to “scare the hell out of the American people.”

Such huge increases were unwarranted, even during the Cold War. Whatever was perhaps necessary then is no longer the case; the Soviet Union is no more, and the ceaseless U.S. arms buildup is now based on creating one mythical threat after another, including Iraq, and now Russia. No other country has anything like the weaponry of the U.S. — not even close. The U.S. spends as much on its defense as all the leading powers combined. The incestuous “military-industrial complex,” keeps its corporate lobbyists at the heels of Congress and uses our taxes to propagandize us.

In 1986, Gore Vidal gave a talk at Washington’s National Press Club on the transformation of America into a “National Security State.” Vidal showed the press clubbers how military spending consists of much more than the Department of Defense budget; when all the related military costs are included — interest on the debt (the result of such military increases), NASA (mostly military uses of space), Dept. of Energy (mostly nuclear weapons), veteran’s affairs — military spending absorbs approximately all the tax revenue, leaving borrowing to pay for everything else in the budget.

Were Vidal alive to do an update, he would have to include the new government bureaucracy added by President G.W. Bush, the Department of Homeland Security, plus the costs of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which is not included in the defense budget. Trillions of dollars are involved: $4.79 trillion, according to the Watson Institute at Brown University in 2016, before the latest approved increases. The National Press Club journalists laughed at Vidal’s jokes and clearly admired his talk — he was often invited to speak at these lunches — but none of them reported on his findings after they pushed away from the lunch table.

The military spending increase comes just as President Putin has called for a 25 percent decrease in Russia’s defense spending — a bit of news ignored by our media, since it conflicts with the current demonization of Russia and Putin. Even without any spending cuts, the Russian defense budget consists of a mere fraction of what the U.S. spends. The $80 billion increase approved by Congress is itself more than Russia’s defense budget of $65.8 billion. Putin’s call for a reduction would lower the Russian defense budget to $48.4 billion.

In his farewell address, Eisenhower foresaw a temptation made more acute by growing technological capability to kill and destroy: that in a crisis, leaders might “feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution ...” Is this what Trump now intends by threatening “fire and fury?”

Jerome Donnelly is a retired university professor who has spent parts of the last than 20 years living in New Salem. He originated and co-authored “Human Rights: A User’s Guide.”