Thursday, March 13, 2014

A War on Defense?

I’ve never had the privilege of serving my country militarily, though I did try. At a career fair during my senior year of high school, I wandered over to the military recruitment table. When they asked what I was most interested in studying and pursuing. I was truthful: I was looking for a theatre school where I could have a life of performing! The guys in uniform shooed me away. I was actually serious – and said “What about the USO?” I don’t quite remember the response, but it certainly wasn’t all that inviting. So off to college I went, winding up with a BFA in theatre. There in the fall of my freshman year after I gave what I thought was a particularly brilliant performance in a scene, the professor took a moment, cleared his throat, and said “Dear boy, have you considered directing?” Thus my life beyond the footlights began where in short order I found my inner-producer. I probably would have been a terrible soldier as giving orders is more my style. Giving or taking orders – it’s clear that the Department of Defense needs some offense.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spent most of last week defending his proposed budget. It would “slash” defense spending to half-a-trillion dollars, down from $680 Billion in 2010 ($16 billion more than the Obama Administration requested. Iraq, Afghanistan and other wars are extra.) “Hagel described the big reductions in spending as necessary to protect training budgets for the current force and to preserve money set aside to buy new planes, ships and ground combat vehicles.”

The U.S. budget is made up of mandatory spending, like Social Security and Medicare – where the costs are already determined by prior Congressional action. The expenditures can be changed, but they are so mired in politics that it’s unlikely in the foreseeable future that they’ll be addressed.  Budget hawks aim for ‘discretionary’ spending. Defense is the largest component of that at 19%. 

It’s a lot of money. How much exactly isn’t known. Once again in FY 2011, as in 2010, 2009, and, well, every year prior – the Department failed its financial audit. “Serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD) that made its financial statements unauditable."  With this track record the Department continues to get nearly one-fifth of every taxpayer dollar. What do they do with it?

According to Wikipedia, “The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with 164,227 of its active-duty personnel serving outside the United States and its territories and an additional 118,966 deployed in various contingency operations.”  It’s stunning to view the list of countries and how many service people are assigned. I’m struck as much by the 40,304 in Germany or the 50,341 in Japan as I am by the 1 Marine in Singapore or the 2 Army folks in Portugal. There’s 1.1 million service members serving in the contiguous US. What are all these people doing? The US seems only to be in a military conflict in one country currently – where US troops outnumber the enemy 12-to-1, according to The Huffington Post. I guess the drone revolution is still a ways off.

I am not an expert in military maneuvers, strategy or anything like that. I’m more of a protectionist than a globalist. I’m a pacifist on personal and religious grounds. The argument today about the DOD is not based on any of those reasons: it’s financial. The producer/financial analyst part of me knows there’s a better way. At a time of relative global peace it seems that spending 19 cents of every dollar on Defense is too much. Hagel’s proposed budget is a start – about a 17% reduction. We need a war on the Defense budget.

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