A Failed State

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Spending America Into Ruin

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis Recently by Eric Margolis: Light at the End of the Afghan Tunnel?

One of history’s most important lessons is that politicians should never be given a free hand to borrow money to cover the costs of wars, overseas adventures, or military spending.

More empires have been brought down by reckless spending than by invaders. The late Soviet Union, which wrecked its economy by buying too many tanks, is the most recent example. Now, the United States appears headed in the same direction.

Even so, President Barack Obama calls the US $3.8 trillion budget he just sent to Congress a major step in restoring America’s economic health.

In fact, it’s another potent fix given to a sick patient deeply addicted to the dangerous drug of debt.

Washington’s deficit (the difference between spending and income from taxes) will reach a vertiginous $1.6 trillion this year. The huge sum will be borrowed, mostly from China and Japan, which the US already owes $1.5 trillion. The United States has put its fate in the hands of two nations who bear it little good will.

Debt service will cost Washington $250 billion, and may reach over a third of the total Federal budget within the next decade. Washington is still paying for past wars while considering starting a new one against Iran.

To understand the immensity of one trillion dollars, one would have had to start spending $1 million daily soon after Rome was founded and continue for 2,738 years until today.

Obama’s total proposed annual military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret "black programs" (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan (including bribes); 225,000 military "contractors" (mercenaries and workers); and veteran’s costs. Add $75 billion (nearly 2.5 times France’s total defense budget) for 16 poorly functioning intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees who keep tripping over one another.

The Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far) will cost $200—250 billion more this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama’s Afghan "surge" of 30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion — more than Germany’s total defense budget.

These figures do not account for wear and tear on US military equipment, costs of reconfiguring the US military to wage colonial wars in the Third World, or the cost of replacing worn-out equipment. Pentagon bookkeeping is about as flexible as Enron’s bookkeeping.

No wonder US defense stocks rose after Peace Laureate Obama’s "austerity" budget.

Military and intelligence spending relentlessly increase as the official unemployment figure hovers near 10% and the economy bleeds red ink. Some estimates put real unemployment at over 20%.

America has become the Sick Man of the Western World, an economic cripple like the defunct Ottoman Empire whose inept financial management was legendary.

The Pentagon colossus now accounts for half of total world military spending. Add America’s rich NATO allies and Japan, and the figure reaches 75%.

China and Russia combined spend only a paltry 10% of US on defense.

There are 750 US military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan and South Korea. President George W. Bush doubled military spending — much of which accrues to Republican states — to wage his faux war on terror.

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Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. America is on a permanent war footing. Many Americans believe the president’s primary role is as a war leader rather than chief executive of the republic.

Like Bush, President Barack Obama is paying for America’s wars through supplemental authorizations — i.e. putting them on the nation’s already maxed-out credit card. Wage war now — pay later. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.

This presidential and congressional jiggery-pokery is the height of public dishonesty.

America’s wars ought to be paid for through taxes, not bookkeeping fraud. If US taxpayers had to actually pay for the Afghan and Iraq wars, these conflicts would end in short order.

America needs a fair, honest war tax. But hardly any politicians — save the courageous and honest Rep. Ron Paul — dare admit this hard truth.

The US has clearly reached the point of imperial overreach. Military spending and debt servicing are cannibalizing the US economy, the real basis of its world power. Besides the late USSR, the US also increasingly resembles the dying British Empire in 1945, crushed by immense debts incurred to wage WWII, unable to continue financing or defending the imperium, yet still imbued with imperial pretensions.

It is increasingly clear the president is either not in control of America’s runaway military juggernaut, or working with it.

Sixty years ago, the great President Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait I keep by my desk, warned Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. Six decades later, partisans of permanent war, fear-mongering, and world domination have joined Wall Street’s money lenders to put America into thrall.

Increasing numbers of Americans are rightly outraged and fearful of runaway deficits. But many do not understand their political leaders are also spending their nation into ruin through unnecessary foreign wars and a vainglorious attempt to control much of the globe — what neocons call "full spectrum dominance" — using the canard of terrorism to justify an imperial policy that often closely resembles that of the old British Empire.

If Obama were really serious about restoring America’s economic health, he would demand military spending be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars, and break up the nation’s five giant Frankenbanks that now control 40% of all deposits.

But the president won’t, of course, and neither will Congress. They would see the nation go over the financial falls rather than change course.

February 9, 2010

Eric Margolis [send him mail] is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada. He is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.

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