Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why the budget deficit?

The 2010 midterm congressional and state gubernatorial elections were largely fought over the issue of the economy--the failure of the Obama administration to create significant job growth. The Republicans criticized the administration for adding to the deficit with deficit spending. Yet what are the major sectors of the annual federal budget? Defense spending, personal entitlements such as social security and medicare/medicaid spending, etc. Republican lawmakers are unwilling to cut any of them.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Swedish government-funded think tank that specializes in following defense spending and arms control issues, published figures of the leading 2009 defense spenders in their 2010 annual yearbook. The United States with $661 billion in defense spending that year had 43 percent of world defense spending and more than the combined total of the next 17 countries combined! America's closest competitor with just under $100 billion was China, the country that also purchases much of our dept financing in the form of U.S. Treasury Bonds. Our only real potential near-term enemy among the top spenders was Russia with $61 billion or a tenth of our defense spending.

The defense spending is justified as being required by the Global War on Terror (GWOT)--I guess we have to keep spending until no American is afraid any more! Much of the spending goes to finance two active wars in the Middle East, wars that are incredibly expensive because not only is the military fighting them an all-volunteer military unlike those that fought our major wars in the last century, but the support services are being contracted out to private contractors in no-bid contracts.

The American military found itself fighting two wars that it did not train to fight because after the Vietnam experience it made a conscious decision not to train for or fight counterinsurgency wars. The fact that these are the most common type of wars in the Third World, the area where the United States was most likely to fight after the end of the Cold War, was irrelevant to the brass. So in 2004 the brass found itself fighting two wars that it had deliberately not prepared for. The Bush administration deliberately kept the number of troops deployed to Iraq for the postwar occupation very low--lower than historical levels for successful occupations. This was because the Bush administration wanted to support an agenda of aggressive democracy building in the Middle East on the cheap! The insurgency in Iraq escalated rapidly and was then finally brought under control only when the excesses of the Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists persuaded many of the Sunni tribes to switch sides and back the United States. This, rather than the surge, was the decisive factor in 2007.

The United States is now preparing to withdraw from Iraq, having brought (a rather dysfunctional variety of) democracy to the country at the cost of removing Iran's major foreign enemy. We are fighting a war in Afghanistan, where the insurgents have a sanctuary within the territory of our "ally" Pakistan and Al Qaeda is virtually absent on the ground.

As a result of the large number of severely-traumatized wounded from landmines and improvised-explosive devices (IEDs), the U.S. has also incurred large expenses for decades to come in the form of medical care for our veterans. But these costs appear in the Veterans Administration budget, part of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, rather than in the defense dept. budget.

The real war on terror is an ideological struggle within Islam between moderates and conservatives on one hand and radical fundamentalists on the other. It is really akin to the Cold War rather than to World War II--something that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld finally admitted on CNN's State of the Union today.  George Kennan, the originator of the doctrine of containment in 1947, later complained that successive administrations had misunderstood the concept and militarized it. This is what the Bush administration did with the war on terror.

This new cold war should be primarily fought by the State Dept. and by private citizens. Bush appointed a woman with corporate experience but with no background in the Middle East or real knowledge of Islam to head up America's information effort in the Muslim world. She spent much of her time fielding embarrassing questions from the American media about how the war in Iraq would affect her information effort.

In 1960 as he was getting ready to depart from office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us of the military-industrial complex. This term was picked up by the American Left and used as a catch-all explanation for American foreign policy throughout the Cold War. I did not believe it then nor during the period of transition during the 1990s. But the explanation is making much more sense today. Usama Bin Ladin is hiding out in some village in Pakistan, the senior ranks of Al Qaeda are mostly dead or imprisoned and yet we continue to fight two wars in the Middle East.

Could it be that the military-industrial complex is after all driving American foreign policy?  We continue to produce weapons that are much more appropriate to the superpower rivalry of the Cold War, in quantities that are also appropriate to that era.  We continue to maintain two separate reserve components for both the Army (Army Reserve, National Guard) and Air Force (Air Guard, Air Force Reserve), as well as a Coast Guard and Naval Reserve. Whenever there is a major deployment we have mixing and matching of units and personnel from both components, which creates a nightmare for finance for the soldiers and airmen. Our "model democracy" prevents us from consolidating the separate reserve bureaucracies and thus creating greater efficiency. It also prevents the Pentagon from cancelling weapons systems that the Pentagon brass doesn't really want. 

If you don't believe me, just wait until a presidential candidate proposes real fundamental defense reforms. Then see who provides financing to his leading opponents in the form of soft money contributions from groups like the Coalition for a Strong America or Keep America Strong, etc.


  1. Interesting (of course more so, because I agree ;-) Thanks for arguing with facts and exploring the historical context; it's a refreshing change from a lot of the political overgeneralizations these days!

  2. Tom, fascinating read as usual. Without trying to sound like Jerry Seinfeld, I've got to ask...what's the deal with the no-bid defense contracts? Is that an across-the-board policy for support services, or is there bidding for at least some services? Are there just a lack of viable bids? Is it a speed/timing issue...they need a service immediately and don't what to waste time going through the bid process? Is there any rationale for the no-bid policy on the part of DoD that a normal person would find reasonable? No-bid just sounds like a bad idea unless there is other reasoning that i'm's why people get in trouble for it, at least at the state level. Hmm...

  3. Fascinating post, Tom, and amazingly well researched which gives it a sense of real authority.

  4. Tim,
    The no-bid contracts were instituted partly because of the pressure of war planning in 2002. Kellog, Brown & Root, a division of Haliburton, of which Dick Cheney had been vice president before becoming vice president of the U.S., had the dining services contracts with U.S. peacekeeping forces in the Balkan deployments in the 1990s and 2000s. But I believe that it was basically payback to the defense contractors who supported the GOP.