Where Should Our Priorities Lie on Defense Cuts?

As the Unites States has exited one war and is winding down another, it appears people are now ready to make some changes in the amount of money going to the defense department.  National Journal reported the results of a study showing roughly three-quarters of the respondents, whether living in red or blue districts, want defense cuts.  The priorities in where the cuts should come from show a slight difference in what people from these districts want:

Blue-district voters wanted bigger cuts to missile defense, long perceived as a Republican-favored program, but “respondents in red districts were a bit more ready to cut health care benefits for military families and retirees,” which require government spending.

On the surface, this seems slightly callous toward the red districts but the amounts to be cut from the actual report should be noted, particularly on health care.  Red districts want $7.4 billion cut while blue districts want $6.6 billion, which is certainly a significant amount from both sides.  We should note this does not divide the results into party differences but by which way the district leans so we should not make definitive assumptions about this being a party-line difference.  However, we can make some inferences from this info about who wants to cut what and where in the defense budget.

The clear difference here is the interest on one side to cut more from programs (that are debatable in terms of success) and the other side to cut more from people, many of which have an obvious need for the health care provided.  Are we really seeing the right coming out in favor of cutting more from the veterans themselves while constantly trying to symbolically honor them at every opportunity instead of cutting questionable programs?  (Well, yes.)

There is little question the future of defense is in more technology and less actual people.  Drones are a perfect example and obviously the advances in technology are moving quickly.  But the question should be asked whether we have reached a point where cuts in veterans’ health care can and should be made now.  Coming off two wars with many physically and psychologically wounded soldiers it seems hard to believe we are there at this point.  This would mean a cut in health care for veterans at a critical time when the economy is weak and the likelihood they can absorb that cut is smaller.  Are our priorities truly in the right place?

Dear Voter, We Will Always Win. Sincerely, Military Industrial Complex

As difficult as it is to find any important stories not related to the health care decision at the moment, one actually appeared from Reuters late Friday.  It seems that despite ending one war and drawing down from another, the defense department cannot endure any budgetary cuts at the moment.  I recently commented on the marketing of defense/war in the interests of maintaining such a large budget so I read the article looking for a legitimate reason not to enact any cuts, particularly since the person asking for the block was Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.  Surely a member of the allegedly hard-lined liberal Obama administration would have a sensible reason not to cut military spending at a time when it should reasonably be cut.

And he did have a reason.  Saving his own job.  From the article and worth quoting at length:

Industry leaders (defense contractors) who met with Panetta this week warned that the Pentagon could face billions of dollars in contract termination fees and other costs when the new cuts go into force next year. Panetta said the industry executives shared many of the Pentagons fears about the cuts.

“They’re very concerned about the impact that it will have on their companies and on their employees,” Panetta told the news conference.

He noted that company executives faced legal requirements to notify their employees about possible terminations, letters that would have to go out just days before the November elections. (Emphasis mine)

In other words, the defense contractors have the officials in the Defense Department (regardless of political party I would add) by their family jewels and they are, in a not-so-veiled way, threatening to cause a firestorm days before an election if they do not get their way.  No doubt part of this situation is the timing of it all but it is hard to believe no one, particularly contractor lobbyists, saw it playing out in this fashion.

Let’s be clear.  Jobs and livelihoods are no doubt on the line here and that should be recognized.  However, some other aspects should also be noted.  Defense is a business in many aspects (certainly the private contracting element) and, in the case of the United States, it is an extremely big business.  And just like any other business, when sales go down/wars come to an end, cuts should be expected and actions will be taken accordingly.  This is obviously a very easy concept to understand for many considering the recent years of financial crisis and economic gloom in the U.S.  Peace should be seen as a time of recession for the defense department and anyone collecting a paycheck because of its existence.  It may hurt many defense contractors and those involved but it is part of life and, in many ways, the writing should have been on the wall for some time.

Yet it wasn’t and clearly the contractors have no intention of settling for such cuts.  And if this means essentially threatening the current administration’s chances at reelection in November, so be it.  But either way, regardless of what party is elected and how things may play out in this situation the people with the money will get their way and will have a big role in who wins this election.

Rule by the wealthy people in and around the military industrial complex.  Just like “democracy” should be.  (Warning: not to be confused with actual democracy.)