Two Wars, Against the Taxpayer

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If the New York Times can be believed — and sometimes it can — members of the military establishment, and connected contractors, are deeply disappointed in the new president.

It seems that the brass and their allied bomb makers expected a repeat performance of Reagan’s first months in office, when explosive increases in spending began minutes after taking the oath of office. Not so under W.: he is said to be cooling to the idea of increases in military spending. He has even demanded that his Secretary of Defense do a thorough check to root out outdated Cold-War era programs and practices.

The military establishment, fearing that this spending review could take many months, is playing the part of the woman scorned. During the campaign, Bush promised the moon. He echoed all the cliches about how military spending has been slashed during the 1990s. Woe to the armed forces, he said, because $310 billion per year just isn’t enough to run two wars at once-the official goal of the military.

Also, W. said, the military needs to be "modernized." Notice how the government is always demanding your money to modernize itself? Notice how the private sector somehow manages to modernize itself without ripping you off at the same time?

Bush may represent a very rare case of a politician who has come to his senses, in this area, after taking the oath of office. Perhaps he is asking the right question: what part, if any, of this $310 billion is really devoted to defense, in the plain meaning of that term?

Why do we need to prepare for two wars at once? Do we fear two invasions of foreign armies at once? Do we really fear that Canada will put troops on the Northern border at the same time that Belarus lands paratroopers on the Southern border? Do we really have to be ready for that kind of contingency?

Of course that’s not what the Pentagon means when it says it needs to fight two wars at once. In fact, its goal doesn’t have anything to do with defense, traditionally understood. The Pentagon really means they need the money to invade and crush two foreign countries at the same time. This supposition explains why two foreign governments, among the 10 or so in the running, are always held up before our eyes as Thing One and Thing Two.

Right now, the two leading candidates are Iraq and North Korea-countries with medieval standards of living and mortality rates that also suggest affliction by a plague. If those threats seem too implausible, there are other candidates. The top two slots could be held by China, Cuba, Libya, Sudan, Syria, or Iran. As in the movie "Wag the Dog," sometimes the most inconspicuous countries make the most compelling enemies. Perhaps Mauritania, Djibouti, or Malawi are secretly developing nuclear weapons? Has anyone checked?

This whole racket has got to come to an end, beginning with the preposterous claim that somehow our military has been "gutted" or that Americans are somehow vulnerable as a result. In fact, US military spending is absurdly high. We spend five times as much as Russia, the next largest spender. And there is no reason why we shouldn’t spend far less than the Russian government, which is busy subsidizing old-line socialist arms industries and putting down civilian revolts in its far-flung empire.

US spending on the military, according to the very reliable Center for Defense Information, is twenty-two times as large as the combined spending of the top seven countries said to be foreign threats. Add in the spending of US allies and you find that we spend more than twice what the rest of the countries in the world combined spend on theirs.

From 1985 to 1998, total world military spending mercifully fell from $1.2 trillion to $785 billion, exactly what you might expect after the end of the Cold War. This is glorious because it means that more resources are being kept in private hands rather than being thrown down the drain to fund weapons of mass destruction. But during this same period, the US share of world military spending actually increased from 30 to 36 percent.

Contrary to the propaganda, then, US spending on the military has gone up in proportion to overall military spending. The US has become more militarized, more imperialist, compared to the rest of the world.

What’s more, the US has no enemies that it hasn’t worked extremely hard to cultivate. If I were an Iraqi, knowing of the US’s decade-old killer sanctions, which have led to countless deaths and rampant disease, I would hate the US too. Wouldn’t you?

There’s been no adequate compensation given to the countries we’ve senselessly bombed during the last ten years. It’s only thanks to US capitalist exports, which feed and clothe the world, that there is any international goodwill left at all.

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning of the dangers of the military-industrial complex certainly ring true today, ten years after the Soviet Union vanished. We tend to associate his phrase with military brass. But the truth is that Congress routinely gives the Pentagon more money than the military asks for in its year-to-year budget.

Is this because the average pol has a more profound awareness of this country’s military needs than its own military bureaucracy? Not at all: it’s because the warfare state is just as much a racket as the welfare state.

We might say that the government is waging two wars against our bank accounts at any one time: one to fund redistribution in the name of helping us, and another to fund redistribution in the name of protecting us.

But both actions are based on a lie. We know from experience that our well-being and personal protection come not from the government but from ourselves, our families, and our communities. The main threat to our well-being, aside from private criminals, are the public criminals in government who loot us in the name of helping us.

Maybe the commander-in-chief will come to a similar conclusion after his much-needed review is complete.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site, LewRockwell.com.

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