Feed the Generals Catfood, Too

I had a bit of fun with Michael O’Hanlon on Tuesday. At the America’s Future Now conference, he was pitted against Juan Cole in a debate over the future of our Afghan war. I took the first question to note that we weren’t just facing a choice between escalating in Afghanistan (O’Hanlon’s position) or maintaining the status quo (Cole’s position). We also faced a choice between escalating in Afghanistan and doing something about our 10% unemployment rate.

O’Hanlon responded by explaining how much longer he thought the surge of troops needed to remain in Afghanistan.

To his credit, when I noted that by defunding schools, we’re creating a much bigger national security problem than Afghanistan, he said we shouldn’t have to choose (while admitting that politics in DC meant we would have to do so).

Finally, someone in DC–Barney Frank–is making a similar argument in concrete form.

A panel commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is recommending nearly $1 trillion in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget during the next 10 years.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a commission of scholars from a broad ideological spectrum appointed by Frank, the House Financial Services Committee chairman, laid out actions the government could take that could save as much as $960 billion between 2011 and 2020.


The acceptance of the recommendations would depend on a “philosophical change” and a “redefinition of the strategy,” Frank said at press conference on Capitol Hill.

He said the creation of the deficit reduction commission offers the best opportunity for the reduction recommendations. Frank wants to convince his colleagues to write to the deficit reduction commission and warn that they would not approve any of the plans suggested by the commission unless reduction of military spending is included.

Now, Frank’s committee’s recommendations are actually not the defense equivalent of cat food. They involve cutting things like the F35 we have no use as anything but a jobs program.

But it’s something we may well have to sell as a national security issue. The effects of the recession (and a decade of Norquist-inspired bathtub shrinking) really are forcing us to cut education. That’s something the federal government could prevent. So it’s high time we invested in our base-level national competency before yet another set of military toys.

43 replies
  1. Mary says:

    cutting things like the F35 we have no use as anything but a jobs program

    I do think the budget cutting would have to be done with the jobs program aspects in mind, though. That would be the best way to sales pitch – if you could tie the cuts to something like grants in other areas (like Education, Green Energy, etc) where the grants were tied to hiring from the military-industrial complex industries. I don’t know if that’s too complex, but with jobs the way they are and good jobs even worse, it just gives one more drum to be banged on if there isn’t the response ready for the jobs issue.

    It’s a very good point you made with Hanlon, though and it’s good to see it followed up on in a more concrete proposal setting.

  2. BoxTurtle says:

    We can beat any country without WMD. We can can fight any country with WMD to at worst a tie.

    Our satellite intelligence is sufficient to keep us informed enough not to be snuck up on.

    And lets face it, no state out there really wants to fight with us. Even Iran would love to make a deal.

    The war on terrorism isn’t so much of a war as it is pest control, more a job for the DoJ then DoD.

    But I don’t want to fall back, either. If we don’t do the F35, then we need to fund a program to extend the life of our existing fighters. Or we need to replace the fighters with drones. We need some capability in that area.

    Likewise, we need to maintain a few aircraft carriers. Our military doctrine is based on control of the air and it would be expensive to change.

    And so on.

    Also, we need to be careful as we cut back that we don’t hurt the econony badly. Like it or not, the military-industrial complex have built up a lot of good paying jobs that aren’t as likely to be outsourced as some. If the local airbase closed, it would likely turn Dayton OH into Detroit. It’s the only real economic engine we’ve got here with the death of GM.

    Boxturtle (Besides, the GOP might support a jobs package if they were all MIC jobs)

    • sundog says:

      Actually, fighters can’t be replaced by drones. Drones aren’t anywhere near as capable as fighters are. Also, UCAV’s, from a cost perspective, such as the X-47 and Phantom Ray, are within 3% of the cost of a fighter, so from a budget perspective, you wouldn’t actually save anything. The purpose behind UCAV’s is that their time on station and range and if you do lose one, you aren’t losing a pilot.

      As for the second engine for the F-35, I’m all for it, as I find cutting it as being penny wise and pound foolish based on the P&W F-100 engine (not the airplane by North American) history. I would also continue the F-35 program, but at a lower rate and I would tell them it’s the only fighter they’re getting for the next thirty years or until we’ve reached at least a 25% net sustainable budget surplus.

      As you pointed out, the current crop is worn out and we need something and we need to maintain our technology advantage. My problem with let’s cut the F-35 arguments is they don’t really solve anything and completely miss the point.

      The point being we can’t afford to be an empire anymore. If the American people want to attack our defense overspending problem, they need to 1) Attack it from the perspective of ending two un-necessary wars; Being worked on by our side, but we still have a long way to go.
      2) Realize that all of our defense spending is structured around “American Empire” and our requirements that we must be able to fight two wars at once. We simply can’t afford that anymore, in which case I’m preaching to the choir here. But asking to cut specific programs does not fix the problem. We have to attack it from the political perspective and stop being the policemen of the world. We have to change our policy, if we wish to see real defense savings. Just battling over programs because of their cost is a battle we will lose most of the time. It’s really just a symptom when the policy problem is what we need to be going after.

      Of course, if I could wish it my way, our defense would be cut by at least half and the other half of the expenditures would go into alternative energy applications, as we don’t need more research. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do research, just that politicians currently use that as an illusion to look like they’re doing something while really just maintaining the status quo. I would also do more space research, especially in applications for earth sciences and global warming and use much of the MIC to attack and develop new infrastructure for the U.S., including mass transit. I remember a while ago, what was once McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing, had a design for a large cargo vehicle to “fly” in a track between cities, sort of like a fast monorail, carrying cargo or passengers. We need new ideas like that to handle mass transit that is better for us, but over a country of size.

      We could really do a lot to revitalize our economy and our country, if we could just take control of it back from the lobbyists and short sighted politicians who now serve them. Sorry for the long post.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    When the likes of the U of M and Ohio State take budget hits, and when Harvard Law hires Goldsmith and others to keep the rightwing money flowing in, you know less prestigious institutions, public and private, are hurting much worse. Investing in education – and health care for those educated and everyone else – is the foundation for a stable, secure society, without which we would need more than the force of arms directed domestically ever to be secure.

  4. PJEvans says:

    If they cut education enough, there won’t be anyone who will be able to use their fancy equipment without months (if not years) of remedial work. And repairs and maintenance of said equipment are a whole ‘nother can of educational-funding worms.

    (A school-funding bond measure was rejected in Los Angeles this week. The Times was complaining that the schools didn’t turn out voters in support, missing that we’ve heard all the promises about what the money is going to be spent on in previous years, and we still don’t know if the district actually did that, as they haven’t furnished any kind of accounting to the public for those previous bonds.

  5. BearCountry says:

    All of the funding for everything will be called into question if there are forced evacuations out of the Gulf area. We will become a nation of internal refugees. The job, home and savings lost will bring the country down as nothing else will. The real problem may be that there is no safe place to run to in the world.

    • Ruth Calvo says:

      There were evacuations to many parts of the country, including this one, from Katrina. Many of the displaced have not found a way to return to generations of New Orleanians’ homes. In Houston, there were very severe problems in the schools, as cultures clashed.

      • BearCountry says:

        Yes, you’re right about the Katrina refugees. I think that will be a small taste of what is to come when the burning of oil begins and the hurricanes start dropping oil and corexit all over the eastern US. There is no end in sight and there may be no way to stop it. The Gulf will probably be a dead zone now and the rest of the world will participate in the spreading of the results. At least the people of Katrina did not have the physical environmental problems continuing.

      • greenwarrior says:

        When the convention center here in Austin was closing, I was helping people with arrangements. For some it was to go to other parts of the country to be with family. For many, I was helping them find places to rent and get the basics like furniture and kitchen utensils into their new places.

        • Ruth Calvo says:

          Not so long ago, I drove through the city and was just sickened to see how many houses are still untouched, unrestored, whose former families are obviously not able to do that work.

  6. eCAHNomics says:

    Does the U.S. military perform its function as well as every other part of the USG does?

    • Synoia says:

      Yes, of course. Biggest military in the world and cannot occupy a small country or two.

      The European empires at least fed, clothed and supplied their colonies and colonial military locally. and the money for colonies came from local tariffs.

  7. Teddy Partridge says:

    Michael O’Hanlon should be in prison.

    Or at least not taken seriously by anyone who remembers his full cry for Bush’s war.

  8. wigwam says:

    Per Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 400BC;

    When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, […] you will exhaust your strength, and if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the state will not be equal to the strain. […] In all history, there is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. Only one who knows the distasterous effects of a long war can realize the supreme importance of rapidity in bringing it to a close.

  9. Hugh says:

    From what I saw of coverage of the AFN conference, it was not very effective or focused. That Afghanistan panel seems to have typified the problem. That’s not much of a choice between a surge and the status quo. How about just getting out? Could anybody there actually state a policy reason for the presence of a US army in Afghanistan?

    As for defense cuts, geez louise, Barney Frank? What credibility does he have on anything after his whorish performance on financial reform? To understand what size and kind of military forces we need, you would have to answer what do we want military forces for? We have not had a debate on that in decades. But you really need to decide on that first. Then you can proceed to eliminate all the sloppiness and inefficiencies in creating such an armed forces.

    Do I expect either of these things to happen? Not in a zillion years. We have this monstrosity of the military industrial complex that is as much a part of our system of crony capitalism as the banksters are. Frank’s report is the kind of schlock that gets churned out in an election year and is forgotten even before it hits the wastepaper basket.

    • papau says:

      bit unfair re Barney – his committee has Dems just elected that sided with the GOP on a lot of his proposals that were spot on progressive.

      • Hugh says:

        Frank was instrumental in making derivatives regulation meaningless. He helped gut the CFPA. Yes, some on the committee were even more in the financial industry’s pocket than he was. But that is setting the bar very, very low.

        • papau says:

          the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA)goal was to get it live – not to give it EPA like regulatory authority. Hard to see what there was to “gut” beyond worries about its voice being killed based on where it is located on the org chart. Barney seems to be into getting something passed that moves us in the progressive direction – I recall the vote audit bill that was not “good enough” per the GOP plant Bev Harris – as she got the whole election reform killed via the left pissing on our reformers. I do not need that scene again.

  10. hijean831 says:

    While defense programs do provide jobs, they provide even more obscene profits for the MIC. Those dollars could be better spent creating additional jobs, producing things of lasting, peaceful value.

  11. papau says:

    I hope Barney gets his $1 T over 10 years cut – it is much less than a 20% cut – and the maintenance and extension of current systems rather than new toys for war games against the USSR that no longer exists can come out of current maintenance budgets – new spending is not needed.

    But it is our corporate president Obama – who will push it – or not. Obama appears ready to cut from the $400 billion descretionary 30% while adding back 5% as new “progressive” ideas, and to tear down SS and Medicare, but to not do a thing about defense bloat or the need to increase taxes on the rich so as to get them to repay the bonds we had to issue so they could get those Bush tax cuts for the rich. By the way, I only count one billionaire that has died in the first 5 months – and thus giving his heirs the zero tax Bush gift to the extremely rich (a tax cut to a zero rate for deaths in 2010)

    Guess those billionaires are just being selfish and staying alive so the kids will pay a tax in future years (until the Dems sell out and do the same tax cut)..

  12. redpilled says:

    I have 3 cats and, believe me, cat food is too good for the generals.

    Meanwhile, Obomber’s “Deficit Commission” is sharpening their knives to cut Social Security and Medicare, allegedly as a way to lower the federal budget deficit. They think we will fall for the lie that self-funded entitlement programs should be cut, but war spending is sacred and untouchable because we must “support our troops” (translation: keep the ruling class as wealthy as possible while our kids are sacrificed as cannon fodder for the Empire).

    We retirees may soon be eating worse, cheaper food than cat food if these Corporatist-Militarists in the White House & Congress have their way.

  13. David65 says:

    This is the same Rep Frank who was against funding war supplementals bills under GWB and is all for war funding now with a Dem Pres. He is my Rep and I find little that he has done for the district I’m in along with doing little of substance nationally. He is all theatre, talk, smoke and mirrows.

  14. reddflagg says:

    I don’t want educated people, I want oxen

    The above is a quote from former Nicaraguan dictator Anatonio Samoza (overthrown by the Sandanistas in 1979) but it could apply to any elite in the US now. The rich people who own and control everything have looked into the future and decided that they are quite content for the US to be a Third World country. We already are in terms of Gini index of income inequality (above .40 is considered Third World, the US is at .42) and will soon be Third World in terms of educational achievement. Tim Pawlenty was on Stewart the other day arguing for a de-funding of state universities, and the “drown it in a bathtub” movement has just about accomplished the same thing with post-secondary education. The days of free public education in the US are coming to an end, and with it even the pretense that we are advanced.

  15. iremember54 says:

    National Security means the Country is safe and secure.

    We see that all the guns they have put on our Southern border, have not stopped drugs or illegals from overrunning our Country.

    We have the most powerful MIlitary in the world, and the best funded, best equipped and the best fighting forces. Yet the two times we needed to be defended Pearl Harbor, and 911 they failed us miserably.

    We have spent on our Miltitary enough to have ours streets paved with gold, and every American a millionaire.

    Yet it can’t win little wars, can’t defend us, and has no influence on even small countries like N. Korea and Iran. In plain tirms it can’t scare the pants of of anyone.

    The cost of one Submarine or Air Craft Carrier could have made a huge difference in education. Yet we have these by the dozens roaming the world, and setting at docks, and doing absolutly nothing to defend us.

    Even our nuclear weapons are absolutly useless, because we keep telling everyone we won’t use them.

    When it comes to our Military were are the most ignorant Country in the world.

    • PJEvans says:

      Nuclear weapons are useless for anything except threats to destroy the world if the country holding them doesn’t get its way.

      The ultimate temper tantrum.

  16. Oval12345678akaJamesKSayre says:

    Endless imperial aggression in the 21st century, American style. Stupid expensive pointless hostile military occupations. Promoted by traitors: Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Obama.

  17. b2020 says:

    “We need…must have…. maintain… can’t change.”

    Poor dears. You are well and truly fucked then, are you not?

    Alas, for the rest of us, things might improve when that essential military might of yours hits the unstoppable economic downspiral resulting from such misappropriation of resources.

    It’s always nice when somebody’s non-negotiable control of the air ends, and a blue sky doesn’t mean some shithead with a button can take liberties with you and yours, just because his paymasters think their way of life requires, and justifies, much, much more protection than anybody else’s.

  18. tanbark says:

    Of some relevance to all this is this article from the UKTimes on line, in which they’re saying that the Saudis have okayed a corridor of airspace in the northern part of their country for Israel to use to attack Iran:


    I can’t believe that Obama would sign off on this, but then, when I was absolutely delighted on the night he won the White House, I wouldn’t have believed that he would spend most of the ensuing 17 months licking rightwing ass, either.

    • bmaz says:

      Heh, and I ask this pretty much tongue in cheek because it is a silly question irrespective of the answer, who has turned out to be the worse deal, Burris or Obama? I have not kept track of Burris particularly well since he took office; so I have no real clue. From what little I have seen he appears to have been a competent Democratic vote, about middle of the pack on the good/bad scale; about what would have been expected from the seat and has not caused any embarrassment. I do know this, he made noises about derailing any healthcare bill without a public option, and may have been uniquely situated to do so in that he had no reelection to be concerned about. He folded anyway; that pissed me off. By and large though he seems to have kept his head down and done his job but, again, you would have a much better read I think.

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