Today is the 50th anniversary of Ike’s military-industrial complex speech (his Farewell Address), wherein he warned:
We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.
The US debt just passed $14 trillion. The military accounts for almost 1/4 of our spending. Seems like a natural place to start cutting. The problem is, the military is hugely important to us. Why?
1) Soldier worship
Soldiers’ duties and our responsibilities to them have drastically changed. No longer are they just killing machines following orders. We don’t have lines of cannon fodder marching across fields. The numbers of dead mean a lot more than they did even a few decades ago. There is also a sense of responsibility to make sure that soldiers are taken care of to the best of our abilities, offered the finest prosthetics and rehabilitation.
I’ve never been comfortable with the heightened level of respect soldiers get above everyone else. Sure, if they are literally fighting instead of you or making sure the bad guys don’t come and knock on your door, I get that. But is that really true? If we left Iraq and Afghanistan, would we really be in risk of an attack on the American homeland? The only way I anticipate that is if we entirely ignored Afghanistan and the Taliban re-welcomed terrorist groups. But would we really let it get to that point? No. No one would.
The other part of what we’re doing in these countries is employing counter-insurgency strategies to win hearts and minds, such as building schools and infrastructure, etc. If we really have no money, why are we spending money elsewhere on things that our country needs? And why do we then credit soldiers for doing things in other countries that we don’t reward people for doing in our own? Because they’re in harm’s way for… What?
2) Goal-oriented thinking
We won’t leave Afghanistan because we haven’t accomplished the mission yet. The mission of what?
a) Reducing/destroying al-Qaeda’s operational capabilities
Al-Qaeda is in other countries, too. They’re in Pakistan, Yemen, etc. Are we going to go into every country to hunt them down in broad strokes? No. Obviously, this is not a war that can be won that way.
b) Putting in a Western-style, democratic government
Centralized government doesn’t work in Afghanistan. Even if it did, nothing we’ve done has reduced the corruption. We’ve demanded to Karzai to keep certain people out of his government and he’s refused.
c) Saving the women and children
Perhaps we’re there for humanitarian reasons. Will whatever we set up for women’s/children’s rights outlive the soldiers on the ground? Whatever societal constructs that are there will not be solved by external forces.
d) According to this Foreign Policy article, combating the drug trade
Really? Come on. World’s leading supplier of opium.
According to the UN: In 2007, 92% of the opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan.
That’s after we’d been in the country for how many years? Exactly.
Opium plant eradication/substitution hasn’t worked. And we haven’t even done a particularly good job coordinating with Afghanistan’s neighbors to stem anything.
3) Job protection
The Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation fighter plane, has had funding cut by the Pentagon and then restored by Congress multiple times. Why? To protect the jobs of people in local districts. Wonderful for the person that wants to stay in office and their constituents that put them there, not so good for the rest of the country who needs to pay for it.
Wouldn’t it be common sense to, at the very least, let the Pentagon cut what it wants to?
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has mentioned cutting benefits and raising costs for various elements of the Pentagon’s healthcare system, but admits that a lot of it might not go be enacted by Congress. Why? Because the military just cannot be cut. It looks bad. We care about them to the point of not caring about ourselves. And to the point of not trusting them to take care of themselves, either.
As much as it’s wonderfully humane to help other countries with our “arsenal of freedom”:
a) They don’t necessarily want the ‘help’ that we’re offering.
b) We can’t pay for it with money we don’t have.
We’re finishing up with Iraq to whatever point that we finish wars and pack up, but Afghanistan remains a war of choice. Being in Afghanistan the way we are, with the amount of money we spend on a daily basis, no longer makes sense.
If you’ve maxed out your credit cards, it’s probably not the best idea to do grocery shopping for your neighbors.