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Phil Rizzo: Defense spending: The silent coup

Full Speed to Port

Posted: November 17, 2009 8:27 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.
If you study the United States’ budget since the end of WWII, it is clear that it has gradually become dominated by the military. Defense Department expenditures will exceed three quarters of a trillion dollars this year alone.

That’s $8,000 per household annually.

Why has this segment of our spending gradually gotten so enormous? This excessive expense has only limited correlation with our actual defense needs. It’s got more to do with the needs of members of Congress gaming their reelection.

Many members of Congress have defense industries in their districts, so it’s only natural and tempting that they vote pro-defense and the employment that goes with it in their districts.

The cozy relationship between defense and Congress is well-established. And many feel we need massive defense spending to guarantee not just our geopolitical, but also our economic survival.

Yet others see continued escalation of deficit-funded defense as a sure path to economic collapse, as happened with the Soviet Union. Some predict the United States of America will collapse from economic forces within, not external circumstance.

This might be what President Dwight Eisenhower had in mind when he spoke out against the Congressional/Military/Industrial Complex.

We are being plagued precisely by what Eisenhower warned us of in his 1961 farewell address. His words are so poignant that something might be lost in my attempt to interpret them. Therefore, I quote a segment that is particular to my concern:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political and even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse and every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.

“Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

These are not the words of a communist or wild liberal, but the 34th president of the United States and the commanding general of the victorious forces in Europe in World War II.

When politics supersede sanity, as in the case of our current military budgets, it is the job of the electorate to take notice and act.

It seems to me that is what Eisenhower was saying.

Tea Party folks, here’s where we need you.

The long fight over continued production of the F-22 Raptor is a classic example of the blitzkrieg mentality that has perpetuated the military industrial complex to which Eisenhower referred.

After years of struggle over the issue of the F-22 fighter jet, it appears Congress has finally seen the light emanating from the Secretary of Defense’s plans. He wants to modernize the military and focus on our ability to fight insurgencies and other threats to our security, such as satellites and computer access threats, rather than focusing largely on conventional warfare.

The production of the F-22 has now been limited to a grand total of 187 planes. It has been characterized as a Cold War relic by some and the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world by others.

The last four will cost $153 million each. Earlier ones produced cost $142.6 million each. The program will, of course, create many jobs but also run up our deficit by tens of billions.

The history of the F-22 and the game that is played between the military, the defense department and Congress is a metaphor for the continued struggle that goes on over the defense budget.

By itself, the historic battle over the F-22 is a subject for several volumes.

And the F-22 battle may not be over as members of Congress needing a push in the polls may yet seek program extensions for local jobs, ergo votes.

But in the meantime, it’s heartening to know that sooner or later, little glimpses of good sense on the part of the government can occur over the defense budget, and occasionally, put the brakes on the silent coup.

Phil Rizzo is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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