National Defense

The Squeal of the War Hogs

Why do Lindsey Graham and John McCain think half a trillion dollars is not enough to defend the country?


During a recent visit to New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham said that if he were president he "would literally use the military" to force congressional approval of a bigger defense budget. Later the South Carolina senator's spokesman said Graham was only kidding.

It's too bad that Graham and other Republicans are not kidding when they say our national security is threatened by inadequate military spending, because that is also a joke. A little perspective shows why.

In a February 27 letter to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) bemoan the cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act, saying "it is difficult to overstate the destructive impact on our military that has been wrought by the BCA." But McCain and Reed—the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Armed Services Committee—are up to the task.

"The effects of these arbitrary spending cuts have been devastating to the capabilities, readiness, morale, and modernization of our armed forces," they write. "American lives are being put at risk by the caps on defense spending mandated in the BCA." The result, they say, is "a national security crisis of our own making," with potentially "catastrophic" results.

Hawks like Graham and McCain, joined by at least 70 Republicans in the House, want us to believe it's impossible to defend the country for a mere $523 billion, the Pentagon's base budget for the next fiscal year under the BCA. That amount, which is slightly higher than this year's budget, does not include whatever our various wars will cost—another $50 billion or so, according to President Obama's estimate.

In real terms, the amount of money that Graham and McCain consider recklessly small is more than the U.S. government spent on the military in 2005, when it was in the midst of two wars that have been winding down in recent years. The Pentagon's base budget is higher than it was in 2006 or in any year during the previous decade. Were we merely lucky to have escaped catastrophe back then?

Cato Institute analyst Christopher Preble notes that defense spending averaged $458 billion a year in current dollars during the Cold War, $601 billion a year under George W. Bush, and $687 billion from 2009 through 2014. Contrary to Graham et al.'s fear mongering, Preble says, the BCA has not resulted in "a precipitous decline in military spending relative to where we were a generation ago."

The war hogs' warnings look even sillier when you compare our defense budget to spending by other countries. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world's population, accounts for nearly two-fifths of global military spending. It allocates more money to the military than the next eight biggest spenders combined.

The United States is a large country with peaceful neighbors. Yet it spends more than $2,000 per capita on defense—as much as Israel, a tiny country beset by enemies, and more than twice as much as European democracies such as the U.K., France, and Germany.

One begins to suspect that our so-called defense budget is spent on a lot of things that have little or nothing to do with defense. Consider the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which dragged on for a dozen or so years and will ultimately cost taxpayers more than $4 trillion, not to mention the thousands of lives lost.

Are we $4 trillion safer than we would have been without those wars? Boondoggle does not come close to capturing such disastrous misappropriations.

"For the American people and their elected representatives to devote additional resources to national defense," McCain and Reed write, "they must be confident that the Department of Defense is making the best, most efficient use of our limited taxpayer dollars." Given the track record of the politicians who decide how to use the military, such confidence would be dangerously misplaced.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. “Why do Lindsey Graham and John McCain think half a trillion dollars is not enough to defend the country?”

    Because they’re mouth pieces for the various “defense” industries?

    1. For the same reason an alcoholic doesn’t think a fifth of wild turkey is enough to get them through lunch time.

      1. oh, the fifth will work for lunchtime. the added funds are for after lunch – can’t have any let up!

      2. Only this alcoholic doesn’t pay for his habit; the taxpayer does. This doesn’t give him much incentive to cut back…

    2. Yes Charles, this on top of the “aid” we give to Israel and lots of other countries that have stronger economies than ours. Money that comes right back to the US by purchasing our planes, tanks, etc., enriching defense contractors. Money that we don’t have so we have to borrow it and pay interest on it, thereby increasing the future debt even more.

      Plus, why the hell do we still have soldiers/bases in Germany, Italy, Japan, etc. Are they really a threat to us?

  2. Their are so many horrible people in congress I don’t know what to say here any more.After the meat grinders of the Afgan occupation and Iraq war and occupation,and they want to double down ,never admitting mistakes..Their is no military that can come close to the U.S. military.I believe the D.OD. could take a 25%cut and be fine.They eed to make hard choices,and eliminate wastefull programs and eliminate many worthless bases and bring home troops from Europe,Japan and Korea..R

    1. “The dogs of war don’t capitulate,
      They will take and you will give,
      And you must die so that they may live
      You can knock at any door,
      But wherever you go, you know they’ve been there before
      Well winners can lose and things can get strained
      But whatever you change, you know the dogs remain.
      One world, it’s a battleground”

      1. Which ones Pink?

  3. I believe we ought to have a relatively large and strong military. However, our military procurement and spending has become increasingly wasteful and frivolous. Overhaul the procurement process, hold real open competitions for programs, concentrate on training and readiness instead of the latest gadgets.

    When I joined the Marines in ’89 – at the absolute height of the American Cold War military, there was still a frugal mindset. We didn’t drive around in an truck when a Humvee was sufficient, We didn’t call in an airstrike when mortars would do and we didn’t ask for a guided missile when a dumb bomb would suffice. That mindset seems totally gone.

    1. However, our military procurement and spending has become increasingly wasteful and frivolous. Overhaul the procurement process, hold real open competitions for programs, concentrate on training and readiness instead of the latest gadgets.

      The services have very little capability to reform the acquisition system. It’s largely dictated by Congress. Congress is responsible for the waste and then gets to blame it on the services. Such is politics.

  4. Every time this topic comes up, I check Wikipedia for the numbers. We now has 546K soldiers on active duty – and 718K full-time civilians in working for the DoD, Guess which group pulls down more salary and benefits on average?

      1. Can I has haf million soldierz?

    1. Don Rumsfeld is so lucky in his critics. Thanks to his critics being almost entirely Sheldon Richman type retards ranting and raving about blood for oil, no one seems to have noticed how fucked up his ideas about the military were and how much damage he did. It was Rumsfeld who built out the civilian force so much. It was a marriage made in hell between Rumsfeld and the Democrats in Congress. Rumsfeld was delusional and honestly thought getting civilians to do things was cheaper than using soldiers and the Democrats were happy to see more public employees. The whole thing was insane.

      It was also a giant fraud. Congress sets the size of the uniformed force in every defense authorization. Most of the public thinks that is the size of the military. That used to be the case. It is not anymore because Rumsfeld took huge numbers of slots that were being filled by soldiers and converted them to contractor and civilian. Instead of eliminating the uniformed slots, he converted them to other specialties. So it became a way to increase the size of the military without telling the public. It allowed Congress and the Bush and now Obama administrations to claim they fought the wars without really increasing the size of the military, which was bullshit.

      1. Yep. My best friend is in the USAF reserves. The last time he deployed he told me some stories about how incredibly byzantine and wasteful the military is. His job was to unload planes. Unless the plane had a few “special” items. Then a private contractor would unload them. Several of the items were specialized and a different contractor would have to unload each one. So the contractors spend 95%+ of their time doing nothing, but make a six figure salary from the DOD.

        1. I was in Kuwait and Iraq for 8 months in 2011. The amount of contractor graft, especially in Kuwait, made me sick. I didn’t want to ever go back. And I say this as a person who generally likes doing that kind of stuff and always figured I would get the itch and want to go again every few years. Not now. And it is not because the food sucks or I would miss my wife or I really even care if the war is a good idea or not. It is because I can’t stand the stealing.

    2. + retirement benefits.

  5. “You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

    – Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

    My ideas about national defense are a bit different than those of the FedGov, but then my objectives are different than theirs also.

    1. We are a commercial nation. So, we need a big powerful navy. We never want to be vulnerable to our cities being bombed, so we need an air force and should be spending like crazy on missile defense.

      What we don’t need is a giant army. We need a good army. We never want to be in the position of Europe where you can’t project power anywhere no matter what. At the same time, in this day and age the weapons are so lethal and the consequent troop density so small, all a really big army is good for is occupying places and fighting insurgencies, which is rarely worth doing.

      The problem is that neither side is serious. No amount of spending will ever satisify the hawks and reason and the rest of the get the US out of North America caucus will forever want defense cuts no matter how small the defense budget is. Worse, neither side ever addresses the real problem of how inefficiently the money is being used. We spend more money on defense adjusted for inflation than we did at the height of the Reagan build up. Back then we had an Army with 18 divisions, a huge air force and a 500 ship navy. We are clearly getting a lot less for our dollar today. And that is the biggest problem that no one seems to want to even mention much less solve.

      1. No amount of spending will ever satisify the hawks and reason and the rest of the get the US out of North America caucus will forever want defense cuts no matter how small the defense budget is.

        To be fair, in the current context when the hyper-hawks have complete control of the budget, how is the reason position any different from yours, in terms of practical politics. Essentially, their position amounts, in practice, to opposing perpetual expansion of the military budget. No cuts of any magnitude are even on the table.

        1. Sure. But the hawks could say their position is in opposition to the perpetual cutting of the military budget. Both sides are right and that is the problem.

          1. Except the hawks are arguing the increases aren’t large enough. They are not arguing against cuts. And it may sound nice to say the other side will always insist on more cuts regardless of the size of the military there is zero evidence to support that position.

            So no both sides are not right.

            1. The evidence of that is right here. When has reason ever staked out a position on what the proper size of the military should be? Never that I have seen. It always and forever about the military being too big. They never take a position because they don’t have one. Cut the military is their default position. It is all they will ever do. There is never any positive position there explaining how big the military should be under various circumstances. The hawks are the same way. They never explain how much is enough. Both sides are exactly the same in that neither has a coherent explanation of what the size should be. They only know it must always be different than today. They only differn on whether it should be smaller or bigger.

          2. Except when has anyone actually cut? At all?

            That’s where I can’t see where you’re coming from. If guys like McCain or Graham were jumping down trying to keep spending constant, you might have a point. But, defense spending has increased. Every year. To say their position consists of opposition to perpetual cutting demands they show some actual cuts.

            1. In the 1990s after the cold war defense spending went way down in real terms and as a percentage of spending and the GNP. Defense spending is about the only form of government spending that ever gets cut and really cut as in being less than it was before instead of just increasing slower. Go look at the numbers Bill. The world didn’t begin in 2001.

              If guys like McCain or Graham were jumping down trying to keep spending constant, you might have a point. But, defense spending has increased. Every year.

              No Bill, it hasn’t. And I do have a point. Libertarians have no defense policies or coherent thoughts on the subject. They are no better than the hawks. It would be nice if someone would ever call them out for it and try and change that instead of just repeating bullshit about how “defense never gets cut.”


              Look at the numbers Bill.

              1. John is correct when he says that the world didnt begin in 2001. Its strange given that position he quotes a chart from CFR showing spending startin 1988. It makes much more sense to think of the modern military state begining after WWII, with the start of the Cold War.


                Spending on defense has inexorably gone up since that time. That is leaving out spending on veterans benefits which 5 years ago were over 3% of the entire federal budget, as well as the cost of small line items that get left out like Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the other undeclared wars that get tacked on outaide of the military budget.

                In 2012 our defense budget = the social security budget, while folks like John were pulling their hair out over the imminent Muslim imvasion of America caused by sequestration.

                But pay no mind to the silly position that the state ought to pay less for our military when not in a state of war – clearly such a notion is a pie in the sky sophmoric fantasy, what with the great empire surrounded by imminent existential threats at all sides.

      2. 18 ACTIVE Divisions. And a National Guard with real combat capabilities – not just a half-trained pool of bodies to do shit the active component doesn’t want to such as guard prisons.

        You are right – we don’t get shit for our money these days. The graft is too obvious to miss but nobody wants to talk about it.

        1. I was going to the Army staff college when I saw that statistic. It absolutely floored me. We really do spend more today in real terms than we did in 1986. It is appalling.

      3. That was well said John.

        I’m not sure how you stop the waste. Horrendous waste is inherent in any endeavor that doesn’t involve profit motive. When you are spending other people’s money, why not spend a lot of it? Maybe start taking overruns out of officer pay? (Only partially joking.)

        The other side of this requires addressing the National Security/Military Strategies. If the US would get out of the business of being in everybody’s business, we wouldn’t need bases all over the world, with a HUGE cost savings. You can bet your ass that Europeans don’t have the capability to project power all over the Globe and Neither do the Russians/Chinese, at least to the extent the US does. Attempting to be the world’s cop costs a shitload. We should have the capability to project some power, but it’s time to insist, that if such a response force is necessary, our allies need to start taking up their share.

      4. It’s funny you say that bit about the Navy, considering that in the Constitution Article II Section 8 it clearly states that armies shall not be raised but for two years at a time, while the Navy is permanent, yet most “Constitutionalists” flip out when someone says that the Guard and Navy are probably sufficient to maintain national security. It’s almost like the Founders held large standing armies in suspicion or something.

        You’re right though that we do need some power projection. Putting the Marines back under the Navy dept. would be the way to do that.

      5. “We never want to be in the position of Europe where you can’t project power anywhere no matter what.”

        Is this the new Koch and Rand Paul led Libertarian message?
        Sounds like the old message…

  6. If the military has to consider tradeoffs and prioritize spending, the terrorists have already won.

    1. If the military doesn’t start doing that the terrorists will have won. Our military while still excellent in many ways is showing signs of decay that need to be fixed. The problem is they are not things that can be fixed with money. We have too many high ranking officers, too much bureaucracy, a politically correct command climate that promotes based on politics and personal connections rather than merit, and overall way too much stealing. If McCain and Graham and company really cared about the country and the military rather than their fucking retired general officer and contractor cronies, they would be trying to fix those problems rather than begging for more money to prop the system up.

      1. Agreed, and my reading of U.S. military history pretty much confirms that it has always been this way from the time of the Continental Army to today! Check out, for instance, the incompetence of Madison’s Secretary of War during the latter part of the War of 1812.

        1. Yeah. Ironically, probably the most competent the military has ever been to start a war was in 1990 and later 2001. It was the first time we went to war with a true professional military that was clearly the best in the world. Every other time we have either been amateurs who adapted on the fly or utterly incompetent and then professionals but fighting the last war in Vietnam.

    2. I thought if we tossed out the Constitution and built an Orwellian internal security apparatus, the terrorist win?

    3. Hugh, I missed the point at which our resources became unlimited. When did that happen?

  7. You know, I’d ask Messrs. Graham and McCain exactly which specific expenditures (no “combat readiness” or the like) we’re forgoing that we wouldn’t have absent BCA. Let’s hear them defend the individual expenditures on their merits.

  8. Later the South Carolina senator’s spokesman said Graham was only kidding.

    We need a sarcasm font label pin.

    1. *lapel*

      *** waits for coffee to kick in ***

    2. Maybe Graham was having a Mr Mackey like S&M fantasy where some big burly men in uniforms show up and lock him in the Capitol and make him due their bidding?

  9. Is it really the “national security” that is being threatened, or merely the prestige and pilfering of D.C. politicians?

    1. It ain’t national security.

      Too many pigs at the trough.

  10. That ‘Defense Budget” is actually purposely misnamed to fool the taxpayers…. That’s our “War Budget”. If you include all the other costs of our budget related to ‘defense’, the NSA, TSA, CIA, FBI, DHS, (etc) , Veterans Administration, the military portion of NASA’s budget, Foreign Aid (really foreign bribes) and the percentage of the interest on our debt attributable to all that, you’ll come up with about $1.04 Trillion…and that’s absurd.

  11. Sullum leaves out THE critical word -READINESS, and our armed forces can never be certain what to be ready for, or where and when we will have to deploy. That uncertainty creates higher risks and coping with higher risks costs more, despite the claims of the pundits that think they can forecast the future – they can’t – at least not with any accuracy. No one can be truly ready for every kind of war. And he also omits that military tasking is not limited to war. Humanitarian rescue efforts are paid for by some of that alleged “waste” because we are somewhat ready for many missions.
    Yes, there are cost overruns, but how much is “cheating” and how much is because of ever changing requirements?
    Military spending needs to be based on readiness for likely war scenarios, not on statistics. And we will still never be really ready for the next war.

    And, by the way, one of the main reasons that everything costs more is because of inflation induced by reckless government “social” spending over the years.

    1. Readiness for what? Might I show you that right at the moment – after spending a few trillion and now providing FULL support – that our Military power can’t take one small city back from ISIL?

      We’re not ready for shit – simply because there is no reason to be. Asking any mothers son or daughter to die or be wounded for stuff that makes no difference just doesn’t work – no matter how much money you throw at it.

      I have no doubt that Americans would fight to beat the band if something was truly dangerous to our land mass or clearly a big threat. At the same time, all this “gotta get them there before they come here” and The New Crusades hasn’t worked out despite MANY trillions down the drain. I can’t see how any “readiness” changes that. We might as well admit our powerlessness over many things in a world where we are a few % points of the population.

    2. “And, by the way, one of the main reasons that everything costs more is because of inflation induced by reckless government “social” spending over the years.”

      Yep – that early childhood education, medical care, nutrition, etc. is why the Yachts at Lockheed Martin are bigger…makes perfect sense to me.

  12. I am a big C Conservative. I hate the fvcking War Hawks. Why is Johnny McCain and the rest of his flock still in power after back-to-back Fiascos? Is it a flaw in the American character, or something else? And why are these Big Spending idiots still considered conservative. I just do not get it.

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