The Waste of War

War, goes the saying, is just another big government program.  Perhaps nowhere is that more obvious than the financial costs worldwide imperialism necessarily entails.

Just a few days ago, Defense Department officials announced that after extensive audits, they were still unable to locate $6.6 billion in cash which had been shipped to Iraq by "sending C-130 Hercules transport planes loaded with $100 bills."  The money, intended for reconstruction efforts after Saddam Hussein was deposed, is now supposed to have been stolen, possibly by Iraqi officials — though some "U.S. contractors were accused of siphoning off tens of millions in kickbacks and graft during the post-invasion period."

Outrage has certainly abounded over this new revelation — some of it, hopefully, over the sheer ridiculousness of flying giant planes filled with hundreds into a war zone (seriously, this sounds like a plan better at home in a Judd Apatow flick than anything approaching real life.  If this isn’t enough to make one despair of the sanity of our foreign policy, surely nothing is) — and outrage is appropriate.  Surprise, however, is not.

In point of fact, the cost of American wars since 2001 along now tops $1.2 trillion, nearly a tenth of the national debt, and the ticker for either figure shows no sign of stopping.  The defense budget reached $663 billion in 2010 alone, but even modest goals like Obama’s suggested cuts of $400 billion over the course of the next 12 years — a mere 5% of the budget per year if it doesn’t grow at all — are met with significant resistance.  For instance, speaking at the Cato Institute recently, Republican presidential contender Tim Pawlenty argued against any cuts to military spending, saying that "while the rate of growth in the Pentagon budget could be slowed, the base budget amount should not ‘shrink.’"

A much more perceptive reflection on the Pentagon budget, however, comes from Bush Administration holdover (and not exactly non-interventionist) Defense Secretary Robert Gates:  A "smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go fewer places and be able to do fewer things."

Indeed — and that’s exactly what we need.  With wars humming right along in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and arguably Pakistan and now Yemen, fiscal restraint at the Pentagon has never been more vital.  Unfortunately, restraint of any sort looks like it’s the last thing on Washington’s agenda.

In a packet sent to Congress to justify the president’s flaunting of the requirements of both the Constitution and the War Powers Act, Obama Administration officials attempted to argue that "the activities of United States military forces in Libya do not amount to full-blown ‘hostilities’ at the level necessary to involve the section of the War Powers Resolution that imposes the deadline."  In other words, bombing a country while attempting to produce a regime change is not war, and therefore doesn’t need to be authorized by Congress.

If the now-infamously titled "kinetic military action" costing anywhere from $30 million to $2 billion per day in Libya isn’t war, what is?  And is this a harbinger of many more overpriced "non-wars" to come?  That appears to be the case:

    section of the current $690 billion Defense Appropriation bill referred to as the "Authorization for the Use of Military Force" will permit the president to wage war against anyone anywhere without any specific approval by congress, an expansion of the executive authority authorized by the legislature to pursue al-Qaeda which was granted in the aftermath of 9/11. Only it no longer has to be al-Qaeda and, given the elasticity in the definition of the enemy, it means that the war on terror will go on forever.

Also in terms of current events, given the ramp up of unofficial war in Yemen which has occurred in the short time since the Libyan invasion, the answer seems to be a clear "Yes."  And yet the president claims that he plans to cut $400 billion over the next 12 years?  If this seems disingenuous, that’s because it absolutely is.

The defense budget will increase by $11 billion from 2011 to 2012, and that’s not counting emergency and supplemental spending, which can run into the hundreds of billions over the course of just a few years.  Sure, some cuts are being made, presumably in a half-hearted attempt to meet that $400 billion goal.  Unfortunately, these are cuts along the lines of only spending $200 million on marching bands instead of $320, and not along the lines of, oh — I don’t know — stopping an unconstitutional, unnecessary, and unjustified war (yes, war) in Libya.

See, here’s the thing:  When you add $11 billion and then cut $120 million, that’s not a cut.  That’s an addition of $10,880,000,000.  And I’m betting that’s exactly the sort of thing these $400 billion cuts will be — "cuts" which, by the way, Gates doesn’t even seem to think realistic, counter-proposing just $100 billion in cuts over five years, which would come out to just a 3% reduction, compared to Obama’s 5%.  (As another depressing aside, apparently much of what has been branded as "cuts" is actually the simple announcement of outdated programs already scheduled for elimination.)

Neither "cuts" of 3% or 5% are an acceptable option, but they are the options we should expect of imperial militarism.  The enormous price tag on world domination is just one of manymanymany reasons why our foreign policy needs to be fundamentally rethought, not at the level of marching bands but at the level of empire.

Philip Giraldi recently argued that to fix the many problems with America we must begin by fixing our insidious foreign policy:  "We Americans have to decide what kind of country we want to have."  He’s right; we do.  And the longer we delay, the more we have to pay for the error of Washington’s wasteful, warmongering ways.

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Author: Bonnie Kristian

Bonnie Kristian is a blogger, writer, and editor currently living in and around the District of Columbia.  A former intern of Congressman Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign, she is the Director of Communications for Young Americans for Liberty.