Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama Put Wall Street on notice but what about military industries?

Joe Volk, FCNL
Guest Blogger

As I heard him last night, when President Obama addressed a Joint Session of Congress, he spoke truth to power on Wall Street. Basically he said, "Thanks to your greed, narcissism, lack of foresight, short term priorities, and a disregard for the long term, America is not number one anymore; you will change your ways or be replaced." Good for our president.

Now, will President Obama exercise the same courage and conviction to speak truth to power in the military industries? Wall Street has run the American economy into the ditch and taken the global economy along with it like a trailer in tow. U.S. military industries have taken the federal budget into a ditch and taken human needs and critical infrastructure programs like a trailer in tow. We need a president who can exercise "tough love" with war profiteers who have been pilfering American tax dollars for exorbitant profits for decades.

To his three major challenges that he named last night - Sustainable energy, health care reform, and education- President Obama will need to add a fourth: demilitarizing the federal budget and reducing military spending from the current $800 billion a year to $250 billion by 2012. First he needs an audit of all military (so-called "050") spending, and he'll have a tough time getting that, because the Pentagon designed its books so that they cannot be audited.

So, here's my recommendation to President Obama: shine the light on all U.S. military spending by promising to make all Department of Defense spending auditable and transparent by 2010. Once the American people see where all their tax dollars go in wasteful military spending, he'll have the popular support he needs to move those dollars to job creation through initiatives for sustainable energy, health care reform, and education. The war profiteers count on hiding in the shadows of accounts that cannot be audited. Civilian control of the military is an essential element of a democracy, and unless we know where the money goes, we civilians have little control.


Anonymous sharon Hoover said...

The transparent audits are a great idea. I would also like to see transparent audits of the development funds for Iraq and Afghanistan, of USAID and of the contracts for development. I sense a great deal of money has been lost there. My opinion (based on only a few facts) is that much of the criticism leveled against Wall Street could be leveled against those involved in foreign aid.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous charlie thomas said...

As an old Vietnam vet, I keep hoping that the people will finally grasp the iniquity/inequity of military spending. The current economic disaster provides a potential to save billions by closing inefficient military outposts in Europe, Japan, as well as Iraq. We do not need to be the world's policemen. Spending by the US should be cut dramatically both at home and abroad ... close all unnecessary bases.

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Transparency should be the hallmark of this administration, I agree. They can change things with this tool alone. People will support them and this empowerment from the taxpayers (ratification of the admininstration) is good for our nation. Nobody wants to acknowledge the national budget deficits due to 8 years of war alone. They mix it up with global recession as the cause of it. We are in deficit due to war and we know it. The last administration must be transparently accountable for it. Period. President Obama hinted in the address that previous administration did not acknowledge $800 billion per year spendings for war alone for eight years! God!

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


In his address to a joint session of Congress last Tues. evening Pres. Obama included in his list of economic agenda items the proposed cancellation of defense systems he described as being designed for the Cold War, and thus, in his estimation, superfluous – i.e., a luxury - today. This is manifestly a sage policy, one supported by the conclusions of historian Paul Kennedy, in his book, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GREAT POWERS: ECONOMIC CHANGE AND MILITARY CONFLICT, FROM 1500 TO 2000 (Random House, 1987). Have you read it? I highly recommend that you do so. In any case, here’s a summary of Kennedy’s principal conclusion:

“. . . wealth is usually needed to underpin military power . . .. If . . . too large a proportion of the state’s resources is diverted from wealth creation and allocated instead to military purposes, then that is likely to lead to a weakening of national power over the longer term. In the same way, if a state overextends itself strategically – by, say, the conquest of extensive territories or the waging of costly wars – it runs the risk that the potential benefits from external expansion may be outweighed by the great expense of it all – a dilemma which becomes acute if the nation concerned has entered a period of relative economic decline.” (“Introduction,” p. xvi)

Consider the applicability of Kennedy’s conclusion in the context of the United States’ and other industrialized nations’ situations today.

Kennedy’s exhaustive survey of the “Big” and “Great” powers’ control of vast territories from Constantinople to California during the period AD 1500-2000 warns of the folly of a nation’s exceeding its economic capacity with foreign entanglements, including warfare. Kennedy’s thesis is apparently supported by Norman Angell’s own, in his, THE GREAL ILLUSION (1910), which Kennedy quotes. Pres. Obama, himself once a scholar, should heed these scholars’ warnings in conducting US policy in the Middle East – Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, and in Asia – North Korea and China.

Additionally, beyond canceling superfluous weapons programs, I agree that the president would be wise to assertively pursue diplomacy, a la Nixon in the case of the PRC, e.g. with Iran, Hamas, and others currently perceived as enemies, vs. committing blood and treasure to military solutions for vexing foreign affairs. Twentieth century U.S. failures to achieve political objectives in ‘50s Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, and the 21st century conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan –are glaring, painful evidence that various types of foreign affairs challenges demand political vs. military solutions.

I hope the Obama administration will heed the lessons of History offered by, e.g., Washington’s advice in re avoiding “entangling alliances” like S.E.A.T.O. in the Sixties; France’s advice to the US after its defeat at Dien Bien Phu; the persistence of the stalemates in the more than half-century Korean and US-enabled Israeli-Palestinian conflicts; “BLACKHAWK DOWN” (Somalia); and the most recent in the long list of erstwhile conquerers’ abject failures, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.

In short, History teaches, “If you want peace, work for justice.” “Hope.” Change.” “Yes We Can!” Laudible, encouraging – a breath of fresh air after nearly a decade of uninspiring, unsuccessful governance. So none more than I – for Sasha, Malia and my own dear children’s sakes – none more than I hope that Pres. Obama will change this nation’s fundamental approach to foreign affairs. With the sage leadership many attribute to him, the foregoing lessons of History can be learned and notwithstanding the many and inevitable obstacles, this relatively young and optimistic nation will approach them with the attitude, “Yes we can!” and consequently succeed.

George J. Robinson
New York, New York

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm truly grateful for the opinions you stressed, George J. Robinson, in your excepts from some of the conclusions Paul Kennedy reached so long ago! Let's hope many, many people read your comments.

I'm also gratified to have been able to access your writing style, your grasp of the issue(s), and your mastery of the written word. I rarely see such attention to and command of the English language.

Thank you! Jeannie Gibbons, Fort Worth, Texas

12:31 PM  

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