Save our Future, Cut Defense
November 1, 2005
AUSTIN, Texas -- Leap I lightly, with the grace of a gazelle, over such
mundane news items as indictments at the White House and Supreme Court
nominations. All the better to continue my crusade to focus attention not on
what's wrong, but on how to fix it.
Forget, for a carefree and frivolous moment, the manifold failings of the
only president we've got. Instead, let's see if we can figure out how to get
out of this pickle. More than one pickle, I grant you -- this administration is
a pickle factory. Thinking helmets on, team.
Before we even begin with some useful lists of "Let's stop doing this and
try doing that, instead," we should salute the Values Crowd with the sincerest
form of flattery. I suppose we could have a giant Values Debate, with Bill
Bennett on one side and Bill Moyers on the other, but even values have fallen
into the partisan pit these days. We need to go at our problems in some way
that doesn't immediately set hackles up so that the only point of the exercise
becomes to beat the other side.
How about, instead of a Contract With America, we see if we can get some
agreement on what kind of country we would like to see America become.
Here's a starter: I would like America to be a country where we spend more
money on educating people than we do on the military.
On a panel in New Haven, Conn., the other night, Ray Suarez of PBS answered
the "How do we fix it?" question with the proposal that we make K-12 our top
priority. He suggests this would have so many unexpected side effects --
ranging from science to race relations -- it would effectively be a
I'm not asking you to endorse that idea, but do consider the astonishing
magnitude of such a shift. It's difficult to get a compete grasp on how much we
spend on the military, since not all of it is under the Department of Defense.
The Department of Homeland Security, for example, pays for much of the "war on
terror." But basically, the Pentagon is now getting about $500 billion
a year, or 52 percent of the discretionary federal budget -- according
to the Center for Budget Priorities.
("Discretionary" basically means what Congress and the president have any
say over. The rest of the budget goes to stuff we have already committed to and
can't get out of, like paying interest on the national debt.)
Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, whose purpose is to educate the
public on how the federal government spends our money and what priorities are,
suggests cutting 15 percent from the military budget and redirecting it. The
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation says we now spend more on our
military than the rest of the world combined spends on theirs. There is no
country that could conceivably defeat us militarily, though we certainly do
manage to get ourselves stuck in some unpleasant places. Anyone who has watched
the poor National Guard getting called back to Iraq again and again can figure
out quite a bit of this money is not being well spent.
Just for starters, is there anyone -- anyone -- who thinks we need more than
1,000 nuclear warheads in order to have a credible nuclear deterrent at this
time? By cutting back to 1,000, we can save $13 billion right there.
Another $26 billion would be saved by scaling back or stopping the research,
development and construction of weapons that are useless to deal with modern
threats. Many of the weapons involved, like the F/A-22 fighter jet and the
Virginia Class submarine, were designed to fight the defunct Soviet Union. All
of this is according to Lawrence Korb, whose credentials are endless -- senior
fellow at the Center for American Progress, senior adviser to the Center for
Defense Information, former vice president of Raytheon, etc. The $26 billion
does not include the old Star Wars program, now called missile defense, which
could be cut back to basic research for a savings of $7 billion.
I'm trying to give you some sense of scale here. According to Korb's
research, we could take $60 billion out of the defense budget, 15 percent of
the total, without remotely affecting military readiness. Any think tank, left
or right, can come up with a similar scenario for cutting military spending
without harm to security -- the details may differ, but you will find a
surprising degree of overlap, as well.
OK, so we could shift $60 billion into education without even breathing
hard. Then, how would we continue toward of a goal of putting more into
education than on stuff to kill people? For starters, we could try having fewer
enemies in the world. Then we wouldn't need so many ways to kill them, eh? And
how do we get there?
Nothing simple about this effort -- anyone who thinks international
relations and diplomacy are simple, straightforward subjects has not been
paying attention. This how-do-we-fix-it series is a conversation, not a
lecture, and all suggestions are welcome. You can e-mail your suggestions to me
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators
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