In the years following 9/11, the Bush administration’s foreign policy has followed a course without measure or restraint, an overstep that has been largely tolerated. Since the attacks, American defense expenditures have skyrocketed 26 percent—a rate of increase unsurpassed in any period of comparable length since World War II. To make matters worse, on Monday, President Bush asked for $515.4 billion for the peacetime military establishment in 2009—a $35.9 billion increase over his 2008 request.
This yawning defense budget may seem a necessary evil in light of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, until we realize that the costs of these engagements are not factored into the proposed half-trillion dollar baseline budget. Bush has made a $70 billion supplemental request for his pet projects, bringing the total projected military budget for 2009 to a mind-numbing $585.4 billion (this excluding another $50.5 billion in appropriations to the Department of Homeland Security).
Perhaps a comparison can draw into relief the scope of this budgetary immoderation: with these endless hikes America has earned the lamentable distinction of spending as much on war-making as the rest of the world combined. Indeed, if we disregard the 13 other highest spenders (for the most part American allies), Washington actually throws more than twice as much money into defense as the remaining 158 countries.
To call such spending “excessive” would be euphemistic. When we consider that China’s defense budget is one-tenth the size of our own, $585.4 billion seems less like good-hearted overindulgence, and more like downright gluttony.
Sadly, a change of course may be hard to come by. The current political climate doesn’t seem hospitable to fiscal responsibility, and certainly not with regard to war. The misconception remains that more money means more security, and politicians who propose cuts in defense spending are charged with failing to “support our troops.”
But the recent booms in military money are more of a hindrance than a help in waging the so-called “War on Terror,” as it is the large conventional forces that receive the bulk of the increases. Tank battalions and naval fleets are practical when faced with a uniform-clad national army, but al Qaeda is a nebulous network with cells in 60 countries. In this new species of war, the central imperative is not combating terrorists, but locating them. Such a task requires augmented intelligence capabilities and special operations forces—not a half-trillion dollars worth of new submarines and planes.
The administration has clearly lost the ability to approach defense policy rationally. Certainly America’s national integrity and security against current and emerging threats does demand a solid military establishment. But our forces should be tailored to address the unique threats they will face, not pushed blindly to the limits of what is technologically and fiscally possible.
Citizens of our democracy expect (and deserve) other guarantees from their government, such as public education, health care, and Social Security—all of which are currently floundering. The aim of the American military should be to protect its citizens affordably and effectively, not to participate in a heedless, lonely chase for global supremacy.
Courtney A. Fiske ’11, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Wigglesworth Hall