The March 4 deadline to get our nation funded or shut down is coming fast. The battle over our future is at a fever pitch now. What kind of a country do we want in 4, 8, or 10 years? The decisions our legislators make by the 4th and after will set our course for a lot longer than just next year. What do we as a people really need and what can we definitely do without, now and in the future?
The events sweeping across the Middle East right now carry a powerful message highly relevant to our national budget debate. This surge toward democracy was created by overwhelming numbers of nonviolent demonstrators who have a dream, one just like ours. Their uprising wasn't brought into being by armies or soldiers or military bases or F-22's or drones or any other military tactic or equipment. In today's world, war or the threat of war has become obsolete as a foreign policy tool, in addition to being morally objectionable. It doesn't stop new or old-fashioned terrorism either. It's good national and international police work that is doing that, because terrorism really is crime, not war. So if we are looking for serious cuts and savings for our 2011 national budget, the right place to find them is Pentagon spending.
We need cuts in Pentagon spending well beyond what Secretary Gates, the Obama administration, and most House members are proposing. It is absolutely astonishing that our representatives have the gall to ignore the real security issues of our lives now. At this point, our national security is much more dependent on education, innovation, job creation, social equity, and truly fair taxation. What could possibly be secure about an America that is more and more divided, economically desperate, jobless, sick, and homeless?
Moreover, when it comes to defense against the biggest threat our future holds, our American military machine can't defend us at all. I'm talking about the climate change-linked threats that lie ahead. We know that killer droughts, storms, and sea level rises will create increasing food and water shortages, plus unrest among displaced peoples. Military means can't fix any of those problems. Attempts to create order by force-backed repression at that scale will not succeed either.
Of course, much deeper Pentagon spending cuts will gut some peoples' pork barrels. Our military spending has long been as a stealth economic stimulus program, though a highly inefficient, wasteful, and unaudited one. But if the savings from such cuts were invested in the sustainable energy initiatives and new jobs President Obama wants to see, it would be the most effective form of economic conversion this country has ever seen. And it would be a "twofer," a "win-win." It would put us all on the path to a more viable future. We'd get a lot less military waste and also the new civilian jobs that could actually help to reduce the worst climate change threats ahead.
So today we face the most important choice of all: securing a spreading American dream or falling on our own American sword. Which is it going to be, Congress?
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Executive Director and Founder of The Metaphor Project: