With all due respect to Mr. Felzenberg and Mr. Gray, I’m not sure that our Libya campaign shows the folly of cuts in defense spending. One might argue as easily that our $1 trillion or more in defense spending shows the folly of the Libya campaign. We’re lobbing missiles that go for about $750,000 a copy into a country for the entirety of which I would not trade the change behind my sofa cushions, inasmuch as Libya strikes me the very definition of a negative asset, one that we are in the process of taking custodianship over. (Why are we doing that, again? In order to give the Arab League a chance to break the land speed record for stabbing us in the back? Which took about three minutes.)
Yes, I wrote $1 trillion. Even though the last DOD budget was only — only! — about $550 billion, supplementary war funding brings the number up to about $663 billion. But lots of military spending takes place outside of DOD: at NASA, at DOE, DHS, Veterans’ Affairs, etc. And NASCAR, for Pete’s sake. Throw in all that, and the interest payments on debt incurred for previous military spending, and you get a number between $1 trillion and $1.4 trillion, depending on how you count it up. I’ll be conservative and call it a cool trillion.
That’s a lot of money for a national-security system that has repeatedly, predictably, reliably failed to address our actual security threats. The borders remain open, and our customs-and-immigration policing is a joke — which is extraordinary, considering that the worst attack on this country was pulled off by 19 guys with box-cutters and tourist visas, i.e., not the sort of attack you stop with an aircraft carrier or a fighter wing. (If our system for reviewing visa applications had achieved even the crudest measure of mere competence, there would have been no 9/11, and 99 percent of Americans would remain blissfully ignorant of Afghanistan’s location on the map.)
If the experience of the last ten years has taught us anything, it should be this: We can bomb our enemies into the Stone Age, but we cannot bomb them into the 21st century. We can, however, keep Saudi nationals, Yemenis, Egyptians, etc. out of the United States — at least until we are very, very certain that the people we’re letting in are not threats, or apt to encourage homegrown threats. And doing so is cheap, at least compared to trying to build liberal societies in Iraq and Afghanistan or patronizing revolutions in Libya. Securing our borders is a much, much better investment than regime change in Libya, which either is or is not the objective of the United States, depending on who is explaining the view from the White House.
There is a finite number of trillion-dollar expenditures that the U.S. government is capable of financing when it is borrowing 40 cents of every appropriated dollar. Who wants to find out what that limit is?
A major crisis in U.S. public finances would do more to endanger the American people, and to destabilize the world political order, than Colonel Qaddafi could dream of. And that is the irony of the view that holds military spending sacrosanct: Today’s excessive spending means that there will be, inevitably, reduced resources for tomorrow’s essential government functions, among which national defense should be the No. 1 priority. On our present course, a decade or so hence the cost of servicing our debt will, by itself, equal or outpace today’s military spending. Our economy simply will not sustain a debt of the size we are headed for and a military of the size we insist we need. When Washington’s credit is maxed out, one of those things is going to have to get the short end of the stick, and I do not think that we are likely to voluntarily default on the national debt. Intelligent, modest cuts to military spending today can help prevent radical cuts to the military, and a disorderly retrenchment, tomorrow. And tomorrow is coming.
God help us if we should have an actual military emergency around the same time the fiscal crisis is upon us. The troubles we have today are minor compared to the ones we are preparing for ourselves.
Surely, we can find some savings in that $1 trillion.