Glimmer of hope for sanity on military budget

Finally, a measure of sanity pokes through the discussion of how to get control of the nation’s burgeoning deficit. For those who have watched the talking heads go on about the need to curb entitlements and cut social spending while wanting to scream: “It’s the military spending, stupid!” a glimmer of hope exists this year.

As we report on our front page, an unusual consensus is forming across party lines, ideology and the defense establishment itself. Using the language and rationale that has been advanced for decades by religious peace groups and others opposed to the unrestrained growth in the military budget, lawmakers and defense experts are joining in a call for significant decreases in military spending.

The reasoning is fairly straightforward: Unless the Congress tackles military spending, all talk about restraining the deficit is futile. The Department of Defense has long been the deepest and most avaricious black hole in the budget-making process. It devours more discretionary spending than any other area of the federal budget. It is less accountable to taxpayers and lawmakers than any other area of the federal budget. In its excesses, it arguably does less to secure the peace and assure tranquility than most other areas of the budget.

And for many years, it has been the untouchable element in the budget process.

The turnaround that has occurred in the public mood during the nine years since 9/11 is remarkable. Remember the unbridled and often thoughtless nationalism that was unleashed after the attacks of 9/11? The lust for vengeance was impossible to restrain. We had to strike out at something, even though the world pleaded that we wait and take some time to consider alternatives. Less than a month after the attacks, on Oct. 7, we bombed and invaded Afghanistan, though most of the 9/11 actors came from Saudi Arabia, itself, for oily reasons, untouchable. That wasn’t enough. On fabricated grounds, we bombed and invaded Iraq in March 2002.

Now we have on our hands two of the longest wars in U.S. history. Neither can be won in any conventional sense of the word. They’ve each devoured billions while serving as a shield against scrutiny of a vast new range of contractors and weapons purchases that caused the military budget to balloon to nearly twice the size it was before 9/11.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking recently of the need to reverse military spending, said that the “gusher” unleashed after 9/11 has been turned off and is unlikely to be opened for a long time. That may be more a wish than reality.

The urgency of the moment is underscored by the fact that President Obama, who won the election in part as an opponent of an unnecessary war, is digging the United States deeper into the Afghanistan quagmire. He is also seeking an increase in military spending that would be 6.1 percent greater than the peak of military spending under the Bush administration.

A report by the Sustainable Defense Task Force, a bipartisan group from various points on the political and ideological spectrum, has proposed nearly a trillion dollars in military spending cuts over the next 10 years.

The report is an important part of a wider discussion that could not have occurred nine years ago.

Perhaps we’ve been chastened in the long, bloody and inconclusive years since. People have grown weary of war, are waking up to the fact that the military has been gorging itself on our collective future. It makes no sense, and we’re beginning to realize that. Some sanity is beginning to poke through the armor.

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