NY Times takes on Pentagon spending with two hands tied behind its back

The New York Times has posted seven super-short columns on how to cut the U.S. military. All seven seem to support cutting the military in one way or another. That’s excellent, and I don’t mean to complain, but…

The United States has the largest military in the world. We could cut it by 85% and still have the largest military in the world. And that’s without counting all the military spending that we funnel through departments other than the Pentagon, spending that brings our annual total to around $1 trillion.

Seeking to dominate the entire planet by force is a losing proposition, but it isn’t challenged in the New York Times’ columns. In fact, the case for even teeny cuts to the military isn’t so much made as assumed, as is the case for ending current wars. But the possible need for future wars is simply accepted, and the damage the wars do — outside of budgetary concerns — is either avoided entirely or reduced to purely U.S. terms:

"[T]he lethality of the World War I battlefield — a war in which we sustained 310,000 casualties in less than six months — was far greater than anything we’ve witnessed over the last 10 years in Iraq or Afghanistan."

Tell that to 1.3 million dead Iraqis. The New York Times is teaching the xenophobia and militarism that causes the military spending and wars, while supposedly "debating" how to cut the military.

It is impossible to tell from these seven tiny columns how much military spending the authors want to cut. The President of the United States now describes as "cuts" reductions to future dream budgets even when those reductions still mean increases over current spending. So, it would have been useful for these columnists to clarify that they are proposing actual cuts. Instead, the first column frames the matter in terms of cutting a future dream budget:

"[We should] lower the current 10-year defense plan by 15 percent, contributing a trillion dollars to deficit reduction and leaving in place a globally operating, dominant military capability."

But a trillion dollars over 10 years is only $100 billion per year, and cutting $100 billion from a military budget that the Pentagon is dreaming of for 10 years from now is relative to that dream. It’s also beyond the terms of any current elected officials. Not a single one of the seven Times columnists began to address how current elected officials might be persuaded to cut anything out of the Pentagon.

The second columnist proposed a similar level of cuts, to begin in four years: "Phasing in these recommendations over time will enable savings of $100 billion per year beginning in 2015." That sounds nice in 2011. But what about in 2015 when you have to compel Congress to do it?

The third columnist actually argued against a particular kind of cut, without arguing in favor of cutting anything else: "There is a risk that reducing force size will send military personnel and their families into a civilian world where the safety net has been torn apart by spending cuts, reduced eligibility and reduced coverage." Think about that. Because we leave non-military Americans without healthcare or retirement funding, we should maintain the size of the military, where we do provide Americans with good pay and benefits as part of our inducement to get them to kill and die in wars we later quietly admit should never have happened. Of course, we could provide many more people with pensions and healthcare, for the same money, if we were not also providing some of them with guns, tanks, drones, and ships.

The fourth columnist dreams of even smaller reform: "Savings of $70 billion can be achieved from a number of reforms." How pathetically vague and unthreatening of you.

The fifth aims a little higher: "Reducing force structure and downsizing from today’s 1.5 million active-duty troops to a more manageable 1.1 million would cut the military’s requirements for equipment and support as well as pay and benefits, saving as much as $120 billion a year from current levels."

The sixth seems — again, depending on exactly what we’re talking about cutting — to aim significantly higher still: "If we act prudently, a 40 percent reduction in annualized savings achieved over three years is not unreasonable."

But the seventh strives to underwhelm them all: "[Ground forces’] ranks could shrink by at least a third, saving upward of $30 billion annually."

We are talking about a government department that "misplaces" over $30 billion annually. We are talking about a war machine that is itself, as Eisenhower warned, a major motivator of the wars we so casually and tangentially "regret." We are talking about, or failing to talk about, a war machine that attempts domination of the surface of the earth, outerspace, cyberspace, and the space between our ears. The New York Times hopes to remain a significant cog in that machine while discussing little tweaks to it.

Instead, the whole thing needs to be undone.