There has been much debate since the end of the Cold War as to how America can best protect itself and its interests. Actually, there may have been debate, but it certainly has not stalled any action on the issue. Far from it. While academia, the media, and the people discuss new threats, old threats, and whether something is or is not a threat at all, the U.S. Congress, with the blessing of every President, has been appropriating tax dollars to an approach that is both uncontroversial and unoriginal: They have been handing money to the U.S. military. In his essay in the November/December issue of "Foreign Affairs," Richard K. Betts explains how much money has been syphoned off to the military, the historical precedence of such spending, and whether such spending is warranted in this day and age, where U.S. military spending is not only preeminent, but almost equal to the whole world's military spending combined. The article is a stark reminder of how out of whack our spending priorities have become. With no major threat to U.S. military power in the short term, let alone the long term, spending at levels "25% higher, in real terms," than during the "height of combat in Vietnam" ("A Disciplined Defense") is outrageous.
What struck me in Mr. Betts' essay were the political overtones. We all know the famous Eisenhower warning about the military industrial complex, about how we ought to mind the powerful forces that manipulate congress to keep their profits pilling in. George Orwell was also apt to refer to the inclination towards perpetual war. The essay shows, without mentioning any sinister motives, that U.S. military spending has gone up in "nine f the past ten years at... a record unmatched in any other decade since World War II" without the equivalent of a Hitler or Stalin as a threat. This shows that there is something more going on than a fair assessment by Congress and the President of the dangers at hand. Maybe it's democracy that's doing it, where candidates run on the easy platform of strengthening the military. Maybe it's the military industrial complex, an amorphous gaggle of CEO's and industry barons who swoon congressmen and women into appropriating huge sums of money into needless projects (think Duke Cunningham). Or maybe it's sinister foreign policy motives (you know what I'm talking about). Whatever it is we need to begin to focus our foreign policy objectives so that we know exactly what our military is for. Is it for preemptive striking? Not in the near future, that is for sure. Is it for self-defense? I wish. Is it for international "peacekeeping"? Maybe when there is a geopolitical reason to get involved. America needs to focus. What exactly are we prepared to use our military for? That is the question that needs to be asked. Very few Presidential candidates have addressed this question. Ron Paul is the only one who has been clear and succinct - he wants the U.S. military to be exclusively for self-defense - and hasn't gone off message. That is the sort of vision we need if we are going to grapple down our half a trillion dollar defense budget. Stay posted for more on the military. Next: Should the U.S. employ its military unilaterally or through NATO for peacekeeping? I say no.