"Most Democratic candidates for president speak of increasing rather than slashing the military budget," writes Frida Berrigan in a recent column on Foreign Policy in Focus. "Since President Bush came into office in 2001, the Pentagon's budget has increased by more than one-third. The $481 billion proposed for 2008. . . is a jump of more than 10% over current spending."
Like any sane person, she can't help but conclude that "Given these figures -- and the fact that. . . military spending has not [resulted in] the fulfillment of the Bush administration's objectives -- there is plenty of fodder for Democratic candidates wishing to take on the Bush administration's love affair with the Pentagon."
But no-o-o. As Ms. Berrigan explains, none of the front-running candidates "has identified the short- or long-term costs of adding [soldiers to the military], where the money would come from, or -- perhaps most importantly -- the missions these troops would be engaged in once the Democratic leadership succeeds in 'bringing them home' from Iraq."
Under the conditions, it's understandable if Democrats focus on the tactical -- easing out of Iraq in the here and now (or, at this rate, the sweet by-and-by) -- instead of the strategic -- our long-range foreign policy.
But one can't help feeling the Democrats are only too happy to be deflected from examining the direction of said foreign policy. Otherwise they'd be compelled to look under the hood at its drive train: defense spending. In fact, it's almost as if the issue fended off Democrats -- Congress as well as presidential candidates -- with a force field that protects it.
The molecular structure of this force field is constructed, in equal parts, of a general concern with looking weak on security, Congress members' fear of jeopardizing defense contracts for their districts, and presidential candidates' dread of losing contributions from defense industries.
Of course, the occasional valiant soul seeks to burst through the force field and show Democrats how they can come face to face with defense spending. A favored technique is calculating what the cost of the Iraq War could have bought were it not waged.
A recent example is the comment of former General Wesley Clark, who, in the wake of the Minneapolis bridge collapse, said: "If just a fraction of that money had been put into infrastructure in America, we might have saved 30 or 40 lives."
Another was provided by the International Herald Tribune last winter when reporter David Leonhardt wrote: "For starters, $1.2 trillion would pay for. . . a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children's lives. Combined, those programs wouldn't use up even half of our money pot. So we could then turn to poverty and education. . ." And all live happily ever after.
No disrespect to Leonhardt intended, but anyone who believes those programs would have been the destination for money that wasn't spent on Iraq is living in a dream world. Ensure the continuation of Social Security and Medicare? Forget it. One way or another, much of that money would have found its way to defense.
Billions for fighter planes, nuclear-powered submarines, and ballistic missile components take priority. Not to mention, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) projects like body armor that's made of "metamaterials" and can be seen and fired through on one side, but is invisible and impenetrable on the other.
As for embarrassing subjects like cost-overruns and lack of oversight, only a traitor would bring those up. Meanwhile, God forbid, as Leonhardt conjectures, that the "recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place -- better baggage and cargo screening, stronger anti-proliferation measures" be enacted.
At the heart of the problem is how, when threatened, our interpretation of security tends to narrow. But security is more than bombing or invading another country. Beyond even the comprehensive homeland security program Leonhardt envisions, the road to security lies, of course, in diplomacy.
Realizing genuine security, however, requires disarmament and that means nuclear. A true leader challenges his countrymen to roll back his state's weapon systems in hopes that other countries, instead of interpreting this leap of faith as a sign of weakness, will follow suit. A country could get used to not having to spend a king's ransom on its own defense.