Why military spending remains untouchable – Salon.com

Despite extraordinary expenditures, it’s clear that Americans just aren’t getting much for their money

Source: Why military spending remains untouchable – Salon.com


I think that there is much that could be said about the article. I’d start with what Americans (and the world) are getting for our money.

We are getting live combat experience with modern military technology and tactics in a backwater combat environment (e.g. logistically complex, but facing technologically inferior forces). Our successes and failures in the Middle East can be seen by the world and I’d guess will be learned from by many nation states (e.g. Russia vs. Chechnya, India vs. Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur).

The author also fails to define “meaningful victory”, which I would argue the public and even the White House failed to do before and early into the wars. America engaged with overwhelming force, crushed all meaningful opposition, and was well placed to depopulate both Iraq and Afghanistan — but that’s not what the goal was. There was a clear failure of leadership at that point to have properly defined and be prepared for victory.

The whole article is very similar to one he wrote for The Atlantic (i.e. same author): The Tyranny of Defense Inc. by Andrew J. Bacevich | January/February 2011 issue of The Atlantic magazine

For more on the military being hide-bound and in need of progressive reform: Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving by Tim Kane | January/February 2011 issue of The Atlantic magazine

I like the George F. Kennan quote about wealth versus population size. The end of that disparity is part of the unemployment problem. The production output of a high-school-only American isn’t worth minimum wage, and the value of the average American worker will continue to fall as more of the developing world becomes college educated (and stays or returns home with their education). The only way to counter this change — to extend or maintain the disparity — would be to offer a sufficiently compelling social, cultural, tax, and immigration environment to continue attracting and KEEPING the best and brightest from around the world. But clearly that isn’t happening.

I am a little lost on the “Misremembered History” section. The “Isolationists” IMHO were about never bothering anybody for any reason rather than being a group informed about pragmatic realism — what could reasonably be accomplished. What WWII expanded to prodigious proportions was the expectations of what could reasonably be accomplished. What has failed to develop since then is a national debate about how our relative productivity (compared to the rest of the world), declining (through consumption) natural resources, and changing world (wars now being about governmental change rather than outright conquest, and the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction) have seriously altered what can be reasonably accomplished.

What I am missing most about the article is quite how all these things prevent military spending from being rebalanced with both our altered national security goals and our ability to pay for foreign policy by force of arms. Even recent history has seen large swings in military spending: World Bank, World Development Indicators – Google Public Data Explorer | Military expenditure as percentage of GDP

There is always someone who complains about any change, even necessary ones. The fact that people are complaining about today’s potential changes is nothing new, or even interesting. The backdrop of the Great Recession and continued joblessness is a bit different, but I would not claim that military expenditures have much affected that situation. A few more people have been employed at places like Raytheon and Boeing than perhaps otherwise would have been and the deficit is larger than it might have been, but its not like the money would have been spent on a larger stimulus (as it was, hardly any money was spent on stimulus anyway — it was mostly a bunch of tax breaks for entities like corporations that then sat on the money or handed out better dividends because having more cash on hand did not change the fact that they did not believe money could be invested for a positive net return on capital at the time).