D. Dowd Muska


Defending America from Fiscal Sanity

July 12, 2012

In 2004, Chalmers Johnson warned that Washington’s “garrisons encircle the planet.” A “vast network of U.S. bases,” the late scholar wrote, “constitutes its own form of empire.”

“We’re under great threat,” argued Ron Paul, during a 2011 joint appearance by Republican presidential candidates, “because we occupy so many countries. We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke.”

While few of their countrymen choose to listen, modern-day America Firsters boldly profess the predictable blowback of the federal government’s meddling abroad. But noninterventionists stumble when they pin the blame for the Pentagon’s runaway budget on overseas adventurism.

What best explains the reason why the U.S. gobbles up 45 percent of humanity’s military expenditures? Domestic politics, to wit, legislative careerists and the voters who send them to Washington.

The Department of Defense’s overseas footprint is surprisingly scant, compared to its assets and activities at home. According to the latest Base Structure Report, 87 percent of the DOD’s sites can be found on American soil. Of the 28.5 million acres managed by the Pentagon, over 97 percent are located in the U.S. At the end of the 2010 fiscal year -- present numbers aren’t available -- 70 percent of the nation’s 1.4 million active-duty warriors were stationed in the lower 48, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Such an enormous presence means that millions of American households, directly or indirectly, depend on keeping DOD largess flowing to their regions. And every airbase, depot, maintenance facility, arsenal, camp, training center, shipyard, fort, proving ground, and weapon-system factory is essential to the nation’s security. At least, that’s what governors, state lawmakers, municipal officials, chambers of commerce, unions, and editorial boards want you to believe.

Little wonder, then, that in military-dominated communities from Anchorage to Pensacola, the powers that be are letting their fedpols know that sequestration and new BRAC rounds will not be tolerated.

For those unschooled in wonkery, the Budget Control Act, which created the preordained-to-fail “supercommittee,” will mandate spending caps starting in 2013. As soon as January, “defense” programs face the prospect of over $50 billion in current-fiscal-year cuts. Additional whacks by the Base Realignment and Closure process, a cleverly crafted method the Pentagon uses to “divest itself of unnecessary installation infrastructure,” have been backed by the White House.

Mandated cuts? Another BRAC attack? Civic-boosterism groupthink has hit the afterburners. This madness must be stopped!

• “Operation San Diego,” a group of business organizations, has coalesced to fight sequestration. U-T San Diego reported that in the metro area, “142,000 people get Pentagon or Veterans Affairs paychecks and another 169,000 jobs are tied to military spending.” Forget North Korea or Iran. A top San Diego corporacrat identified his true enemies: “When you have states like Maryland and Virginia that are sending off letters together to Washington, with all four of their senators and both governors in alignment, and you look at California. … It’s just not happening. We realized we need to develop a plan.”

• Sequestration, North Carolina State Rep. Rick Glazier bellowed in an op-ed in The Fayetteville Observer, “would devastate our local economy, harming businesses around the state and potentially eliminating between 1 million and 1.5 million jobs nationwide. … According to one study, North Carolina would lose 11,000 jobs -- and far more if local installations are shrunk or ‘realigned.’” What’s more important to congresscritters, Glazier demanded: “[R]eaching across the aisle to protect our military and grow American jobs, or sticking with irrational policies that endanger our troops, and potentially put a million people out of work?”

Naval Submarine Base New London is home to over a dozen vessels. Not part of the nuclear triad, the Los Angeles- and Virginia-class subs are Cold War-era relics with an unclear mission in the 21st century. Yet the Nutmeg State’s political establishment shields the base, as well as the jobs provided by Electric Boat’s nearby facilities, with the aggressiveness of a bull shark. In the GOP primary fight for the Senate seat now held by warmonger extraordinaire Joe Lieberman, one candidate recently called his opponent “clueless” about the BRAC process. (Her response: “I will fight tooth and nail to keep our sub base open here in Connecticut.”)

Politicians go where the votes are. As long as the folks “back home” insist that their Pentagon pork is all that stands between The Republic and butchering hordes, congressmen will enthusiastically oppose the removal of a single DOD dollar from their district or state.

It’s a degree of symbiotic selfishness that’s staggering to behold.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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