The Myth of Democratic Defense Cuts

Obama's defense spending is higher than Bush's

One of the problems with liberals, as conservatives know, is that no matter how much money they are given to spend, it's never enough. The social and economic problems they lament are impossible to eradicate entirely, so more spending is always in order. After all, it is bound to do some good. Spending less? Never an option.

But it turns out conservatives are not immune to that impulse. They just apply it to the programs they like instead of the ones liberals like. And their favorite of all is defense spending.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial writers fear that any day, we will be naked unto our enemies. President Obama, they warn, wants to lavish money on everything but the military. America faces an array of threats, and "Obama's budget isn't adequate to those challenges."

Really? Cindy Williams, a defense scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former assistant director of the Congressional Budget Office, points out that Obama wants to spend 2 percent more in the next fiscal year than President Bush allocated for this year, and 9 percent more than we spent last year.

Bush also planned for the defense budget (apart from Iraq and Afghanistan) to shrink slightly each year starting in 2010. Obama's blueprint calls for the defense budget to remain about the same. "Spending will actually be higher under Obama's plan than under Bush's," says Williams.

But as conservatives have been known to point out, Washington policymakers have funny ways with numbers. Last year, the Defense Department asked for an increase of nearly $60 billion in the 2010 budget over what had been planned. The Obama administration declined but agreed to a smaller increase.

So conservatives should be pleased, right? Wrong. Since the increase the Pentagon got is less than it wanted, they claim Obama is "cutting" defense spending. By that logic, if you ask for a 50 percent raise and get only 10 percent, you've suffered a pay cut.

The real question is not why Obama wants to spend so little on defense but why he wants to spend so much. Since 2001, our military outlays have soared by 40 percent, after adjusting for inflation. And that's not counting the costs of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We not only spend more than anyone else, we spend more than everyone else. Globalsecurity.org reports that in 2004, the United States lavished $623 billion on the military. All the other governments on Earth together managed only $500 billion. Even this gap understates our dominance, because most of the other top spenders are U.S. allies.

No nation can dream of challenging us in the air or at sea. We have a huge nuclear arsenal capable of inflicting mass annihilation on a moment's notice.

Meanwhile, the demands on our military are easing rather than growing. Under the agreement Bush signed with the Iraqi government, which Obama has reaffirmed, we are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. The threat from al-Qaida has been greatly reduced.

Still, looming threats can always be found. The Washington Post had a story the other day about China's military expansion, which has enlarged its budget to more than $100 billion in 2008. This trend worries the Pentagon. "Given the apparent absence of direct threats from other nations," says the Post, "the purposes to which China's current and future military power will be applied remain uncertain."

But our spending that year was more than $600 billion. And China, come to think of it, is not the only country spending a lot on the military despite the absence of direct threats from other nations.

Benjamin Friedman of the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington notes something generally overlooked in Washington: "In a literal sense, the United States does not have a defense budget." Our military outlays go for all sorts of purposes—"the purported extension of freedom, the maintenance of hegemony, and the ability to threaten any other nation with conquest." But defending the nation's basic security? That's a small share of our military outlays.

If we focused on what is vital for our safety and independence, we could spend a lot less money. But if there is no limit to what we have to do to police and remake the world, there is also no limit to what we can spend.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  • Suki||

    Is he proposing real defense increases, to like defend us, or is it more of what he has been doing since he got sworn in?

    Just wonderin', sigh.

  • DJF||

    Since most of the money is spent not on defending the US but on defending so-called allies, on protecting against non-existent enemies and in enforcing globalism I think that calling it "defense spending" is something that Orwell warned about.

    The US could easily cut "defense" spending in half and have far more then enough to defend the US. This would free up a huge amount of money, talent and effort for actual useful activities while transferring the defense of foreigners onto the foreigners themselves as it should be. If they want defense they should do it themselves and not expect the US to waste their lives and money on it.

  • ||

    we could probably half the defense budget by swearing off the purchase of advanced weapons systems. Most of them are geared toward outdated forms of warfare anyway.

  • ||

    Two questions:

    (1) Isn't this the same tactic pioneered back in the old Gingrich/Clinton budget battles, where a reduction in the rate of increase was a "cut"? Of course, back then, each side was making the opposite argument.

    Ah, politics.

    (2) Isn't this the same Obama who rested his rosy budget scenarios on being able to cut defense spending below the levels reached during the Iraq surge?

  • jtuf||

    Thanks for pointing out that military spending is increasing rather than decreasing. Philosophically, there is a big difference between military spending and welfare spending, because maintaining a military is a legitimate function of government. I would pull back America's military presence before cutting the budget. The savings from reducing our commitments could go towards raising pay for military personal (which has not kept up with inflation for the past couple of decades) and increasing the breaks between tour duties back to previous levels. We should start closing bases in other countries in the order they were opened. That would put the bases in Cuba, Japan, and Germany at the top of the list.

  • ||

    Most of them are geared toward outdated forms of warfare anyway.

    List them, as well as, your qualifications for determining what is outdated.

  • Charles Montgomery||

    Philosophically, there is a big difference between military spending and welfare spending, because maintaining a military is a legitimate function of government.

    LOLkitties!

    The "why" to that is completely missing.

    I'm sure it's your preference, but Mr. Galt might disagree. Subsidizing run of the mill defense industries holds back the super-genius defenders who could save us!

    Uh.. from whatever..

  • Charles Montgomery||

    LOL

    Please imagine, for a moment, that I closed my italics tag after jtuf's judgment about what is a 'legitimate' role for the gov't.

  • TofuSushi||

    All defense spending does is frighten innocent people into attacking us.

    Israel does it to Palestine all the time.

  • DJF||

    jtuf
    """""I would pull back America's military presence before cutting the budget. """""

    I agree. Cutting back defense without cutting back commitments is the wrong way to go, its like guaranteeing Freddie and Fanny without actually putting any money aside to pay off that commitment

    However once you start cutting commitments it's a lot easier to cut spending. If on the other hand you guarantee the world that you are going to defend them then you will find that what the US spends now is not anywhere near enough. Today much of the US military is tied up with two small wars in two medium size countries. Yet the politicians are increasing the number of countries which they say the US will defend.

    Talk is cheap which is why the politicians keep on increasing the number of people, companies, countries that will be defended or bailed out but does anyone want to actually pay the bill for such guarantees? How about doubling taxes, since as I pointed out much of the US military is tied up in two countries, in order to actually have the resources to defend the rest of our "allies" the US should actually be spending a lot more on so-called defense.

  • jtuf||

    TofuSushi, I challenge you to name one innocent person who attacked Americans.

  • Charles Montgomery||

    TofuSushi

    The good news is that the US managed to completely marginalize American Indians. Our occupation is a complete success and without rebellion.

    So according your Israel/Palestine metaphor, we don't need a defense budget at all. Well, maybe 20 bucks in case AIM ever reforms and kicks in on a rifle.

    What a relief!

  • TofuSushi||

    jtuf,

    Ever hear of 9/11? What about the previous WTC attack?

    Yea, play dumb on those.

  • jtuf||

    DJF, we're on the same page. I would like to see the US eventually focus on just defending itself. Although we've got to give the World plenty of notice and withdraw in steps to avoid a power vacuum.

  • TofuSushi||

    Don't worry, MNG will be here later with more facts.

  • jtuf||

    TofuSushi, I know all about 9/11 and the previous WTC attack. I just don't consider the individuals who perpetrated those attacks "innocent".

  • Taktix®||

    By that logic, if you ask for a 50 percent raise and get only 10 percent, you've suffered a pay cut.

    Or if you work based on the promise of a bonus of X, then you receive 10% of X...

  • TofuSushi||

    TofuSushi, I know all about 9/11 and the previous WTC attack. I just don't consider the individuals who perpetrated those attacks "innocent".

    Then why did they attack us?

  • ||

    Whoa, jtuf, are you arguing with a spoof troll?

  • TofuSushi||

    APOG,

    Who are you calling a spoof?

  • Cabeza De Vaca||

    "we could probably half the defense budget by swearing off the purchase of advanced weapons systems. Most of them are geared toward outdated forms of warfare anyway."

    I don't agree. I think it is important for American defense to have the most advanced weapon systems. What isn't important for American defense, is having troops stationed in over 150 countries worldwide.

  • economist||

    Knock it off, TofuSushi. Everyone knows its a spoof, and not a particularly good one. You had the bad luck to arrive after the concerned observer affair.

  • TofuSushi||

    economist,

    So now you have issues with observers showing concern?

    Internet Nazi alert.

  • ||

    List them, as well as, your qualifications for determining what is outdated.

    Gladly:
    F-22: air superiority fighter which is 2 generations ahead of any other aircraft out there. Air superiority is a role which is important in conventional warefare vs. advanced air forces. none of which we face any more.
    Airborne laser.
    Long range bombers
    Advanced hypersonic weapons
    numerous cold war centric intelligence gathering activities

    My qualifications: 10 years in the Air Force, a degree in aircraft design, 6 years in the intelligence business, millions of dollars personally spent on wasteful and pointless activities kept quiet and out of sight through the veil of national security.

    So why do you think these programs ARE needed, and what are your qualifications for thinking so, MayorOmalleySuxs?

  • ||

    I think it is important for American defense to have the most advanced weapon systems. What isn't important for American defense, is having troops stationed in over 150 countries worldwide.

    I want our troops to be well armed. Advanced weapons don't necessarily equate to better ones. If the gun can aim itself when you stick it around the corner, but jams when you get it muddy - it's pointless. If you have a battlefield network that allows commanders to see what every soldier sees, but that causes the command and control structure to be too hierarchial and causes a logjam of decision making at the top - it's very counter productive.

    The US relies far too much on technology. It costs lives, and hurts readiness.

    We could have the most advanced military technology available if we had stopped developing 15 years ago, so staying on top is no longer the issue, we are several generations ahead at this point.

  • threeofclubs||

    It's surprising how many people seem to think that the public sector is super competent when it comes to military spending.

  • TofuSushi||

    Me too three.

  • ||

    Barack Obama wants to spend 2 percent more in the next fiscal year on defense than President George W. Bush allocated for this year, and 9 percent more than we spent last year.



    Do make sure that you're comparing actual spending to actual spending, not spending allocated in the President's proposed budget in each case. After all, we know that President Obama moved the Iraq and Afghanistan spending onto the budget, whereas President Bush's spending left it off budget and funded with emergency resolutions.

    Spending 2% more on Iraq+Afghanistan+everything else than Bush had allocated for just everything else probably would be a decrease in the everything else spending.

  • EJM||

    It may be time to plug David Axe again. ;)

  • ||

    Indeed, the Weekly Standard makes the following claim:

    In 2009, the Bush administration's baseline budget was $513 billion, and the plan was to spend $523 billion in 2010. The Obama administration announced this week that it would "boost" the 2010 figure to $533 billion. So the Obama budget is bigger than the Bush budget, right?

    The reality, though, is something quite different. Here's where the question of wartime supplementals comes into the picture. The Bush administration's last supplemental requests were for $188 billion in 2008--at the height of the Iraq surge--and a $65 billion installment on the war costs of 2009. The Obama budget adds another $75 billion in war costs for 2009, for a yearly total of about $140 billion. What accounts for the whopping difference between the 2008 spending of $188 billion and the $140 billion to be spent in 2009? It's not, unfortunately, that the success of the Iraq surge or the drawdown now beginning in Iraq are saving much money. Indeed the immediate costs of a safe withdrawal are no different from those of staying on. And, with a second surge--really, a long-term ramping up--of forces in Afghanistan about to begin, the supplemental cost of those operations is going way up.

    What's happening is probably that what previously has been counted as "war costs" is migrating from the supplemental appropriations to the baseline budget. This is what reformers, good-government types, and the folks in the Obama Pentagon mean when they talk about "honest budgeting."



    So, agree or disagree with the policy, it seems to me that the baseline budget for non-Iraq and Afghanistan money is indeed being cut. Unless the noisy "putting the war in the main budget" ends up resulting in a supplemental anyway, designed to prevent any systems from being cut.

  • TofuSushi||

    Enemies of the revolution are spreading lies about The Leader. Something must be done. Everyone knows Obama isn't raising defense spending by two percent. He is lowering it by two percent. That's why the people are celebrating his accomplishments in the streets.

  • TofuSushi||

    Besides, no government spending should be cut at a time like this. If any of you fools had read Keynes, you would understand that.

  • DJF||

    Threeofclubs writes
    """""It's surprising how many people seem to think that the public sector is super competent when it comes to military spending.""""""

    Then there are those who object to government spending on roads, clinics, schools and other "pork barrel" stuff in the USA yet love it when the US military is building roads, clinics, schools and other pork barrel stuff in some foreign country

  • Grahmbo||

    I wondered what Cindy Williams (not the actress) was up to. I hadn't heard much about her since her infamous "Our GIs Earn Enough" article. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A33607-2000Jan11.html)

  • TofuSushi||

    10:37 and 10:38 TS were spoofers.

    Now, for a real post:

    What about the Palestinians? Why is Reason ignoring them and talking abotu this?

    Thank you. MNG, take it away.

  • Craig||

    How about the myth of Democratic fiscal conservatism? The economy prospered under Clinton in part because spending increases were modest and budget deficits declined. The recent crash was brought on in part by runaway Bush spending and exploding deficits.

    So why is Obama copying the Bush playbook instead of Clinton's? Why promise to cut the deficit in half in four years, after tripling it in four weeks? Why not just cut it in half now?

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    So why is Obama copying the Bush playbook instead of Clinton's?

    Because Clinton faced an R-dominated congress, while Obama faces a D-dominated congress.

    Besides, somehow split government doesn't seem to work so well anymore.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Yet another article from Steve Chapman, complete with the usual swiss cheese logic.

    The real question is not why Obama wants to spend so little on defense but why he wants to spend so much. Since 2001, our military outlays have soared by 40 percent, after adjusting for inflation. And that's not counting the costs of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    As pointed out above, Obama really is cutting defense spending. Democrats do butter, lots of butter, and guns are optional.

    No nation can dream of challenging us in the air or at sea.

    In a short term conflict, no. In a longer affair, maybe that's not so true. Or don't you count Iraq and Afghanistan? And have you considered what would happen if we invaded Pakistan or Iran either one? We might not look quite so invincible anymore.

    Meanwhile, the demands on our military are easing rather than growing.

    Apparently Chapman doesn't even read the news.

    The threat from al-Qaida has been greatly reduced.

    And so it will be, until the Taliban have unfettered control of Afghanistan again. Which is only a question of time.

    If we focused on what is vital for our safety and independence, we could spend a lot less money.

    Not that Chapman could give us a definition of "vital" that holds water. All he's going to have is the same old canned lines (which is about the only time his logic might hold up -- he didn't have to string it together himself).

    Libertarians like to believe we don't "need" military power beyond keeping invaders out of the USA. But when you trade all over the world and you're the biggest economy on the planet, "need" takes on a somewhat different meaning.

    People overseas don't f*** with US businesses because everybody knows that in a short term conflict, you aren't going to beat the US. Let that military power atrophe too much and you'll find out it's a whole different kind of world out there.

    Like I've been saying, libertarian foreign policy ideas need some work. But that's a long story.

  • Brandon||

    What makes libertarian foreign policy problematic is the decades of non-libertarian foreign policy that would precede it. The US can't announce it's going to suddenly stop interfering and invading wily nily and expect the rest of the world to take the announcement seriously, or immediately forgive us for decades of real and perceived meddling.

    Switzerland doesn't have any problems implementing a libertarian foreign policy. But Switzerland has practiced a libertarian foreign policy for as long as anyone can remember.

  • nike shox||

    is good

  • Alrazaak.com||

    Since most of the money is spent not on defending the US but on defending so-called allies, on protecting against non-existent enemies and in enforcing globalism I think that calling it "defense spending" is something that Orwell warned about.

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