Moral Low Ground

Economy

Cut the Military, But Don’t Screw the Troops

Lockheed Martin's F-35 will cost more than $150 million each. (Photo: USAF)

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 will cost more than $150 million each. (Photo: USAF)

On Monday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for shrinking the American military to its smallest size since before World War II.

Under the newly-announced plans, the Army would see its troop strength reduced from a post-9/11 peak of 570,000 active-duty personnel to under 450,000. Hagel defended the proposal as a trade-off for bolstering American “technological superiority” and noted that Special Forces would gain troops and prominence going forward.

Conservatives predictably howled that Hagel’s cuts, invariably referred to as Obama’s cuts, would cripple America’s ability to project power on a global scale. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, blamed the Obama administration for harming military readiness by sacrificing it “on the altar of entitlements.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney echoed that sentiment when he told Fox News host Sean Hannity that Obama “would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military.”

The fact is, America still reigns supreme over all comers when it comes to military might. The US military is the strongest fighting force in human history. And even with the current cuts, the US still spends nearly as much on its armed forces as the next 11 or 12 nations combined. It spends nearly five times as much as its closest competitor, China, which has just one aircraft carrier and around 250 nuclear bombs. By comparison, the US has 11 aircraft carriers and at least 7,500 nuclear warheads. The US can attack anywhere on earth within a matter of hours, and launch a major invasion of a country on the other side of the world within weeks. China would still be hard-pressed to conduct a successful invasion and conquest of neighboring Taiwan. The US maintains more than 1,000 military bases and installations in at least 60 nations, including many that border or are near China, with several hundred thousand troops stationed overseas. China has exactly zero overseas military bases with no troops stationed anywhere near the US, or anywhere outside of China, for that matter.

Military spending by country, 2013. (IHS Jane's Aerospace, Defense and Security)

Military spending by country, 2013. (IHS Jane’s Aerospace, Defense and Security)

No, Hagel’s proposed cuts won’t harm US global hegemony very much at all. But they will harm our troops. The downsizing would include limits on pay raises to 1 percent, with a freeze on raises for generals and admirals. Housing allowances would be reduced. Food subsidies for active duty troops, veterans and military families would also be slashed. As if that’s not bad enough, the plan would still increase military spending by as much as $115 billion over spending limits established under sequestration.

There will be winners. The war-profiteering corporations that make up one pillar of the military industrial complex that warrior-president Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about more than half a century ago stand to benefit, as they almost always do. ‘Defense’ company stocks are mostly trading at 52-week highs, with Lockheed Martin shares soaring to an all-time high in the wake of Hagel’s announcement. That’s partly because the company’s J-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system in history, will be spared any major cuts. Seven years behind schedule and $163 billion over budget, the next-generation fighter represents a nearly $400 billion windfall for Lockheed Martin, the number one war profiteer.

There will be no base closures. Why does the US need to maintain scores of bases in nations such as Germany, Japan and Italy, nations that are perfectly capable of defending themselves and, at least in the case of Europe, face few, if any, foreign threats outside the occasional terrorist pin-prick? Why does the Pentagon insist on perpetuating the “nuclear triad” of bomber aircraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) form a decidedly Cold War nuclear arsenal? Why do we need 11 aircraft carriers? And why on earth does the Defense Department employ a 760,000-strong civilian workforce– not including Pentagon contractors? Why isn’t anyone in a position of power asking these questions?

U.S. overseas bases

There’s plenty of room for military cuts, as the previous paragraph illustrates. By all means, please slash away at excess, waste and relics meant to fight 20th century wars against Cold War enemies that no longer exist or no longer pose threats to US security. But please do not screw the troops. Say what you will about the sinister scourge of US imperialism, the all-volunteer force of men and women who kill and die for the furtherance of American global objectives and the accumulation of American profits and power deserve to be treated better than this. A nation that wraps itself in its flag and practically worships its military with a fervor approaching fetishism should not sacrifice the wellbeing of those it purportedly reveres.

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