I watched last night as Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann did their war correspondent bit on MSNBC, reveling in the departure from Iraq of the last U.S. combat brigade. At first it looked like the departure of all American combat troops, but the Pentagon said there were actually five or six thousand combat personnel still hanging around over there.
That’s in addition to the 50,000 or so American troops who will be staying behind to train Iraqi forces. The last of the U.S. “combat” troops are actually scheduled to come home at the end of the month. When will the 50,000 “trainers” come home? Who knows?
But Rachel and Keith still made quite a fuss about this “historic moment.” If you didn’t know better, you might have thought it was the end of America’s ongoing military adventures. But I’m sure you know better.
There’s that thing in Afghanistan for instance. General Petraeus has been making the media rounds, preparing us for an extension of the American occupation there. Meanwhile, there’s a “secret war” going on in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – drone strikes, covert actions, that kind of thing.
Gotta find those terrorists and kill ’em before they come over here and kill us, don’t ya know.
It seems America is destined to be at war forever. Not because of the threat of terrorism. Not because of imperialist ambitions. And certainly not because of a mission from God to bring “democracy” to the oppressed people of the world.
I think it’s because of the economy.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pointed out in a recent article that reducing “defense” spending would mean a massive loss of jobs in several American states. And loss of jobs means loss of votes for the politicians representing those states. So, any attempt to cut back on America’s military industrial spending will meet with stubborn resistance in Congress.
Reich observes that almost four million Americans are directly employed by either the military or military-related companies and corporations. This makes the military-industrial complex “America’s biggest – and only major – jobs program.”
Defense spending has spiraled out of control in America. The New York Times described the situation this way:
There has been a feeding frenzy at the Pentagon budget trough since the 9/11 attacks. Pretty much anything the military chiefs and industry lobbyists pitched, Congress approved – no matter the cost and no matter if the weapons programs were over budget, underperforming or no longer needed in the post-cold-war world.
Commenting on the recent attempt by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to make common-sense cuts in the defense budget, Lawrence Davidson writes in “Reader Supported News”:
In total, the U.S. spends close to a trillion dollars a year on “national defense” and “national security” related items. There is so much redundancy, inefficiency, and sheer fluff in all of this that Reich concludes that “national security is a cover for job security.”
One could probably cut the entire array of defense related expenditures by one quarter to one third and never lose a beat of one’s security-related heart. That would be a quarter to a third of a trillion dollars that might be spent on schools, mass transit, health care, parks, sewer and water systems, alternative energy, job training and retraining, low-cost housing, the arts, fixing potholes, ad infinitum.
In other words, funding all the things that help make up a vibrant civilization. But the advocates for such things, even the paid ones in Washington, seem not to be able to compete.
In March 2005, 750 scientists at the National Institutes of Health lamented that money for basic research into infectious diseases was going instead into “bio-terror research.” Things have not improved since then. But how many of us really care? Not the vast majority of those employed by the military-industrial complex. Locked into their “me first” localism, they can proclaim that they have theirs, and the rest of us can go to … the unemployment lines.
As for those unemployment lines, well, they’re getting longer again. An AP report today reveals that the number of jobless applying for benefits reached the half-million mark last week for the first time since November.
Imagine how many people would be out of work if we didn’t have those terrorists to worry about.