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ART HOBSON: U.S. can't run the world

Nation’s military budget is out of control by Art Hobson | April 13, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Like an interminable re-enactment of the Vietnam War, the Afghan war drags on as we continue propping up yet another unsustainable government.

Al-Qaeda's 2001 attack was so infuriating that even a near-pacifist such as me jumped on the war bandwagon. But our military establishment, taking the attack as an invitation to make general war on the Greater Mideast, in March 2003 gratuitously launched a second war. This time the villain was Iraq, a nation that arguably had no operational relationship to Al-Qaeda. The Bush Administration alleged the war was necessary to neutralize Iraq's nuclear weapons program, a program which turned out not to exist. It's clear today that our real motivation was a desire to dominate the Mideast with a decisive victory in Iraq that would send a message to such nations as Syria, Libya and Iran.

Despite President Bush's embarrassingly premature "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003, the victory over Saddam Hussein proved hollow. U.S. troops continued fighting indecisively in Iraq until 2011, and even after our pullout we left 20,000 "administrators" to keep the locals in line. Another war, between Iraq and Islamic State terrorists, ran from 2013 to 2017, fought partly by U.S. and Canadian special forces backed by U. S. Air Force firepower. Since 2017, a lower-level Islamic State insurgency has continued against U.S.-supported Iraqi forces.

Afghanistan, Iraq and the Greater Mideast remain unstable. Our entire adventure has been a miserable failure because, sidetracked by the irrational exuberance of hawkish administrators, we reached too far.

But the problem lies deeper. The problem is that our military forces are far too involved in minding everybody else's business, and America's military budget is bloated and out of control.

We must stop trying to run the world. If the world is going to be "run" by anybody, it should be the United Nations. Although the U.N. is not up to that task today, America should champion this goal rather than appointing itself as a czar that pressures other nations into supporting our own desires. Despite its pushy enthusiasm for global democracy, the United States, with its Jim Crow voting laws, violent policing, world's highest per capita incarceration rate (2.3 million total), armed-to-the-teeth gun devotees, daily mass shootings, Capitol riot, obscene wealth gap and recent dictatorial president is no paragon of democracy.

Our "military-industrial complex," as President Eisenhower called it, is too large, too expensive and out of control. Our aggregate military budget for the first two decades of this century was a staggering $13.34 trillion. In 2019, the Pentagon's budget was nearly three times larger than China's, 10 times larger that Russia's, and exceeded the combined defense budgets of the next 10 countries.

The first choice for cuts should be nuclear weapons. We have a "triad" of nuclear weapons platforms with 5,800 bombs, but one secure submarine from our submarine-launched ballistic missile fleet would be more than sufficient to deter any conceivable aggressor. One submarine carries 192 independently targetable nuclear bombs, each of them many times larger than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. We have 24 of these submarines. When submerged, they are invulnerable.

Top honors for superfluous weapons goes to the 400 U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles siloed in five Great Plains states. Unlike the SLBMs, other nations know where these ICBMs are, implying that Russian missiles could destroy them in 30 minutes, giving a president just a few minutes to decide whether to launch them before they can be destroyed. They're sitting ducks -- a dangerous lure to other nations in times of tension. They provide zero security and a host of insecurities. We'd be far safer without them.

Another of many candidates for elimination is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive U.S. weapons program of all time, expected to cost $1.5 trillion over its lifetime. The 490 F-35s built during the past 20 years are plagued by a dozen serious flaws and nearly 900 software defects. Half the fleet was grounded for maintenance throughout 2017 and 2018, yet the Pentagon plans to buy 2,400 more over the next 25 years.

Think of what it could mean if we halved our military spending. This would free some $400 billion every year for other purposes, yet our military budget would still far exceed second-place China's. Rather than paying for endless Mideast wars and U.S. troops all over the world, we could spend this on foreign ventures that would actually be helpful while making the U.S. more secure, ventures such as medical care, fighting global warming, infrastructure improvement and global education.

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