The U.S. government is deeper in debt than it has been since just after World War II. When Bill Clinton, who actually reduced the federal deficit as a portion of GDP, left office, the Congressional Budget Office projected an $800 billion dollar yearly budget surplus for the years 2009 to 2012. Now CBO projects an annual budget deficit of a whopping $1.2 trillion.
Although Republicans are blaming Barack Obama for this gargantuan budget gap, George W. Bush is responsible for 53 percent of the total, according to the New York Times. Another 37 percent is due to the recession of the early part of the decade and the global meltdown that began in late 2007. Obama is responsible for only 10 percent of the total. Yet the reason that Obama’s portion is so small is because George W. Bush, a big-government Republican, was in office for eight years, and Obama has been in office less than six months. Obama has been spending at a phenomenal rate — on a pork-filled stimulus bill and an expansive domestic agenda.
Thus, Obama is guilty of making Bush’s legacy of massive red ink even worse. Obama’s budget would double the projected deficit over the next 10 years. By 2019, federal spending is projected to be an eye-popping quarter of the nation’s GDP. By contrast, for four decades federal taxation has averaged about 18 percent of GDP. These massive deficits, accumulating as a monstrous national debt, could cause hyperinflation and the prolonged economic stagnation (stagflation) that would make the 1970s look like an economic picnic.
Yet a liberal Democratic president and Congress seem determined to pass an ambitious domestic program, including expanded health care coverage — even after two costly wars and an irresponsible expansion of Medicare under Bush have already led the nation into financial ruin. The big entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, will eventually have to be cut, but politicians are too scared to do so now. The biggest chunk of the non-entitlement budget is defense spending — sucking up almost $700 billion a year, including the cost of the two wars. Thus, defense spending must be slashed.
Although Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has altered defense priorities, he has not proposed massive defense budget cuts — unlike Congressman Barney Frank, who has courageously proposed a 50 percent cut in Pentagon funding. The two main obstacles to significantly slashing the defense budget are vested interests that support unneeded or Cold War-era weapons and the persistence in grandiose and interventionist objectives by the American elite when shaping U.S. foreign policy, even in the face of economic cataclysm.
Even if the Pentagon halted the Cold War-era F-22 fighter program and eliminated the unneeded DDG-1000 destroyer and the Virginia-class submarine programs, as it should, it would save only $7 billion per year. If it scrapped the questionable V-22, a transport aircraft for Marines, it would save only $2.8 billion. Canceling a costly missile defense system and the Army’s next generation armored vehicle, and nixing the expansion of that service’s personnel, would also save tens of billions. That two-thirds of the Pentagon’s major weapon systems experience significant cost overruns and average two years behind schedule indicates that the defense procurement system is a failed socialist enterprise.
Yet if we want to cut the Pentagon budget by almost $350 billion a year, these laudable cuts only get us so far. To really put a dent in the $1.2 trillion dollar deficit, the U.S. must end the counterproductive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, instead of bringing the forces home, simply dismantle them. Much of the Pentagon’s budget pays for personnel and military operations. Thus, instead of expanding the Army, the nation needs to dismantle all forces stationed abroad on land and sea and some of those based at home.
In other words, the nation must take the radical step of designing a much more modest military that fulfills only the Constitutional mandate to "provide for the common defense," instead of maintaining a global armed presence and constantly intervening in the affairs of other nations — that is, being offensive. Adopting the more restrained foreign policy of a republic, instead of the current expansive posture of an empire, and significantly shrinking the standing armed forces would return America to the fine tradition of the nation’s founders.
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.
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This story was published on July 16, 2009.