If Trump is demanding that wealthy alliesboth East Asian and Europeanput out more of an effort for their own security and if Trump wants to fight fewer wars overseas, then why does the defense budget need to be increased by a whopping 10 percent? That proposed increase is roughly equivalent to the entire Russian annual defense budget. In fact, couldnt U.S. defense spending be cut to help ameliorate the already humongous $20-trillion-dollar national debt?
Moreover, the Department of Defense is the worst run agency in the federal government, as demonstrated by its being the only department to repeatedly fail to pass an audit―thus not being able to pinpoint where many trillions of dollars over many years have been spent. In 2001, the departments comptroller admitted to me that the departments broken accounting system would not be able to pass such an audit for a long time to come. Sixteen years later it still cant.
How does the American taxpayer know that the already almost $600 billion defense budget each year is spent wisely or even not stolen outright? Despite this niggling elephant in the room, the Congress regularly gives the department, and the military services within it, almost a free pass, because of patriotism, political pressure from defense industries, and the aura of secrecy surrounding this bureaucracy. Because the nations founders were almost universally suspicious of large standing militariesin the late 1770s, European monarchs used them for external conquest and plunder and internal repression of their own peoplesmilitarism covered by the veneer of patriotism is as inauthentic and vile as it is prevalent in twenty-first century America. Also, much of the shroud of secrecy surrounding the military is overdone; many employees of the security bureaucracies admit that much information is overclassified. That includes threat information, which the department has a conflict of interest in hyping, because it justifies more spending on research, weapons, operations, maintenance, and all other things military.
Trump is also hyping terrorist threats to justify stanching foreign travel and immigration to the United States, as well as indirectly his higher defense budgets. Yet leaked documents from his own Department of Homeland Security say that discrimination by national background is a poor way of identifying potential terrorists and that most people who have committed recent terrorist acts in the United States were radicalized long after coming here. Despite all the media hype, terrorism is still a rare phenomenon, and North America has always had fewer foreign terrorists than most other places, because it is a long way away from the worlds centers of conflictfor example, the Middle East. So much for the value of extreme vetting of arriving individuals from selected Muslim countries and increasing defense spending to combat terrorism.
Pressure by the military-industrial-complex (MIC) is another major driver of excessive defense spending. MIC lobbying has led to monumental wasting of taxpayer dollars over the years. For example, according to David Sanger, efforts to develop and field a limited national missile defense system to protect against the likes of relatively primitive North Korean missiles has cost taxpayers about $300 billion since the days of Eisenhower but has given them a system that, even under perfect conditions, can only hit an incoming missile 44 percent of the time. And most analysts say real world conditions will rarely be perfect. This effort should have been abandoned long ago, but the MIC uses the legacy of Ronald Reagan to win conservative support in seeming perpetuity, no matter the poor results of the program.
There are countless other weapons programs in the Department of Defense that are underperforming, vastly exceeding original cost estimates, and are way behind schedule. Thus, taxpayers and their members of Congress need to cast a jaundiced eye on Trumps desired military spending increase.
|Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office.|
RECARVING RUSHMORE (UPDATED EDITION): Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty
Taking a distinctly new approach, Ivan Eland profiles each U.S. president from Washington to Obama on the merits of his policies and whether those strategies contributed to peace, prosperity, and liberty. This ranking system is based on how effective each president was in fulfilling his oath to uphold the Constitution.