Don’t Call It a ‘Defense’ Budget

This isn’t “defense.”

The new budget from the White House will push U.S. military spending well above $2 billion a day.

Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it.

“Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors,” the New York Times reports Tuesday morning (February 2).

It isn’t defense to preclude new domestic initiatives for a country that desperately needs them: for healthcare, jobs, green technologies, carbon reduction, housing, education, nutrition, mass transit . . .

“When a nation becomes obsessed with the guns of war, social programs must inevitably suffer,” Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out. “We can talk about guns and butter all we want to, but when the guns are there with all of its emphasis you don’t even get good oleo. These are facts of life.”

At least Lyndon Johnson had a “war on poverty.” For a while anyway, till his war on Vietnam destroyed it.

Since then, waving the white flag at widespread poverty — usually by leaving it unmentioned — has been a political fact of life in Washington.

Oratory can be nice, but budget numbers tell us where an administration is headed. In 2010, this one is marching up a steep military escalator, under the banner of “defense.”

Legitimate defense would cost a mere fraction of this budget.

By autumn, the Pentagon is scheduled to have a total of 100,000 uniformed U.S. troops — and a comparable number of private contract employees — in Afghanistan, where the main beneficiaries are the recruiters for Afghan insurgent forces and the profiteers growing even richer under the wing of Karzai-government corruption.

After three decades of frequent carnage and extreme poverty in Afghanistan, a new influx of lethal violence is arriving via the Defense Department. That’s the cosmetically named agency in charge of sending U.S. soldiers to endure and inflict unspeakable horrors.

New waves of veterans will return home to struggle with grievous physical and emotional injuries. Without a fundamental change in the nation’s direction, they’ll be trying to resume their lives in a society ravaged by budget priorities that treat huge military spending as sacrosanct.

“At $744 billion, the military budget — including military programs outside the Pentagon, such as the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons management — is a budget of add-ons rather than choices,” says Miriam Pemberton at the Institute for Policy Studies. “And it makes the imbalance between spending on military vs. non-military security tools worse.”

Of course the corporate profits for military contractors are humongous.

The executive director of the National Priorities Project, Jo Comerford, offers this context: “The Obama administration has handed us the largest Pentagon budget since World War II, not including the $160 billion in war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The word “defense” is inherently self-justifying. But it begs the question: Just what is being defended?

For the United States, an epitaph on the horizon says: “We had to destroy our country in order to defend it.”

norman-solomanAs new sequences of political horrors unfold, maybe it’s a bit too easy for writers and readers of the progressive blogosphere to remain within the politics of online denunciation. Cogent analysis and articulated outrage are necessary but insufficient. The unmet challenge is to organize widely, consistently and effectively — against the warfare state — on behalf of humanistic priorities.

In the process, let’s be clear. This is not a defense budget. This is a death budget.

Norman Solomon

Originally published in Common Dreams. Reprinted with the author’s permission.


  1. Edpeak says

    Thank you for saying this, many of us have said this for years, it’s not “defense”

    Wes should add that, worse, it is making us LESS safe. One fraction of the Afghan war budget to spend on tracking down and bringing to justice those in Al Qaeda would do much more to protect us, occupation leads to more civilians murdered (from their family’s point of view that is the right word) and just recruits for Al Qaeda, in effect

    Another fact rarely stated, the $750 or so on militarism spends per YAER about what the healthcare bill (even if like the right-winters you don’t want to count the savings which make it revenue positive) spends for 10 years. So About 10% cut in militarism (and we should cut 50% and more) would pay for all that, so we need to tell our neighbors they are being lied to about the deficit issue that would really reduce the deficit: slash military bloat that’s making us less safe right now with adventures

  2. says

    It is only partly correct to call the defense budget a death budget. It’s really a death plus catch-all budget, where the word ‘defense’ serves as a flag in which to wrap and thereby sell (at least to right-wingers) various programs, not all of which bring death.

    The much maligned C-17 transport, for instance, can be and has been a unique instrument of relief. (Interestingly, despite all the would-be-progressive noise against the C-17, neither the administration nor other critics have connected the dots and specified a plan for alternative employment of the displaced workers.) Internet got going first under DoD auspices as Arpanet.

    All that said, what’s crazy is not only the budget for death, but where and what deaths are budgeted. There’s big bucks for years of painful and pointless deaths chasing the Taliban – thereby merely imitating the late Soviet Union’s failure in Afghanistan.

    However, there seems to be no budget for a bit of preventive death like taking out the Iran and N Korea nuke efforts and materially aiding regime change there, or even for a single warning strike to the likes of Bashir’s genocidal Sudan. If we are going to talk realistically about ‘humanistic priorities’, these sorts of projects actually merit some support in today’s world.

    And of course, as usual, the ‘defense’ budget doesn’t actually do the basic job of defending the USA land frontiers from uninvited unarmed unorganized entrants!

  3. says

    It has become painfully obvious that Obama has truely become “the great false hope” and certainly not in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther Kin Jr. (that swept him into office) and that he either complies or acts out of cowardice and/or ignorance from the puppet stringers that determine his every move.

    The Democratic Party has drifted unacceptedly in the past few generations from a Liberal/”Quasi-Leftist” Tendency of the Capitalist Party to a Centrist, Elitist Economic and Military Imperialist Tendency of the Capitalist Party.

    The whole world is moving to the Left. The USA hegemony is the last bastion of Capitalist oppression.

    We must form a grassroots groundswell to imagine, develop, propose, educate, and implement an active economic and political alternative to the status quo.

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