Fareed Zakaria’s blatant lies about defense spending

The Washington Compost has recently shown once again why I don’t read it. In an article published in the Compost and reproduced at RealClearWorld, Fareek Zakaria rails against defense spending, calling on it to be radically reduced. His article, titled “Why U.S. Defense Spending should be cut”, starts thus:

“The scary aspect of the debt deal meant to force all of Washington to its senses is the threatened cut to defense spending. If the congressional “super-committee” cannot agree on cutbacks of $1.5 trillion, the guillotine will fall and half of those cuts will have to come from expenditures on national security. As with so much Washington accounting, there is lots of ambiguity in baselines and terms (for instance, what is covered under “national security”?). Most experts estimate that the defense budget would lose $600 billion to $700 billion over the next 10 years. If so, let the guillotine fall. It would be a much-needed adjustment to an out-of-control military-industrial complex.”

See? Zakaria gleefully calls on the Congress to”let the guillotine fall”! He also lies that “It would be a much-needed adjustment to an out-of-control military-industrial complex.” That is a blatant lie, because there is no “military-industrial complex” in the US. The “military-industrial complex” is a popular leftist slogan designed to malign the military and the DOD. It’s a complete fiction designed to mislead people to believe that the only reason why US military spending is at its current level, or why the DOD maintains the weapon programs it currently maintains, is because of a conspiracy consisting of bankers and the defense industry which wants to maintain such programs and policies. It’s a blatant lie.

The claim that America’s defense establishment is “out of control” is also a blatant lie (just like the rest of Zakaria’s article). The DOD is run by civilians, reports to a civilian president, and is supervised by 6 civilian Congressional Committees, before which DOD officials must frequently testify under oath and face grilling. Defense spending constitutes a paltry 14.31% of the total federal budget (total military spending constitutes 19%) and a microscopic 3.5% of GDP (total military spending amounts to 4.6% of GDP). It’s hardly “out of control.”
Zakaria is totally ignorant about history and America’s defense spending, yet he lectures others about these subjects. Here’s the second paragraph of his screed:

“First, some history. The Pentagon’s budget has risen for 13 years, which is unprecedented. Between 2001 and 2009, overall spending on defense rose from $412 billion to $699 billion, a 70 percent increase, which is larger than in any comparable period since the Korean War. Including the supplementary spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, we spent $250 billion more than average U.S. defense expenditures during the Cold War — a time when the Soviet, Chinese and Eastern European militaries were arrayed against the United States and its allies. Over the past decade, when we had no serious national adversaries, U.S. defense spending has gone from about a third of total worldwide defense spending to 50 percent. In other words, we spend more on defense than the planet’s remaining countries put together.”

Learn some history yourself, Fareed. The DOD’s budget has NOT been rising for 13 years. From FY1998 to FY2001 it was flat, both in real terms and as a percentage of GDP. From FY2001 to FY2009, it did not rise from $412 bn to $699 bn. The FY2001 defense budget was $377 bn, not $412 bn. The FY2009 defense budget was $513 bn, plus another $100 bn for the GWOT, a total of $613 bn. This means a growth of 62%, and only if you including GWOT spending, which has nothing to do with providing for the common defense. In FY2010, defense spending increased only to $534 bn in 2009 dollars (roughly $550 bn in today’s money), plus another $130 bn for the GWOT, a total sum of $664 bn, and much less than what Robert Gates requested, which forced Gates to close over 30 weapon programs. Furthermore, what Zakaria has failed to mention was that the Bush defense spending hikes were done from the pathetically-low, vastly inadequate Clinton defense spending levels, which were totally inadequate, as testified in 2000 by the then Chairman of the JCS and all four Service Chiefs.

Zakaria also lied when he claimed that the US is spending more on defense than the rest of the world combined. This often-repeated myth was debunked by me several times, but I see that the anti-defense crowd continues to spout this gibberish nonetheless. Data for Calendar Year 2010 from the SIPRI indicates that the next 21 countries combined, from China to Taiwan, spend MORE on their militaries than the US does, and that the US is responsible only for 43% of the world’s total military spending, not “over 50%”. And that’s only if you accept the understated military spending figures for China and Russia – if you don’t, America’s share of the global pie is even smaller. Zakaria also lied when he claimed that Ronald Reagan “scaled back his military spending” during the 1980s. Reagan never cut, or proposed to cut, defense spending; every annual defense budget he proposed was bigger than the one he proposed the previous year, which means that he proposed defense spending hikes every year. He also spoke out against defense spending cuts throughout his tenure as President and even afterwards. When, in 1988, the Congress cut the defense budget, Reagan vetoed those cuts.

Zakaria also lied that if President Obama were to cut defense spending as badly as Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush I, and Clinton did, defense spending would still be higher than it was under all of these Presidents, which is a blatant lie, because if cuts on the scale Zakaria mentioned (27% under Eisenhower, 29% under Nixon, over 35% under Bush the Elder and Clinton) are to be implemented, defense spending would be lower than it was under these Presidents, and if the DOD was to have its budget cut to the Bush or Clinton levels, it would be smaller than it was under Eisenhower or Nixon (let alone Reagan). The fact of the matter is that no matter what measure you use, defense spending was HIGHER under Ronald Reagan than it is today, and if you use a relevant measure (percentage of GDP, percentage of the discretionary budget, or percentage of the total federal budget), defense spending is currently LOWER than it was throughout the entire Cold War except FY1948, when it amounted to 3.5% of GDP, exactly as much as today.

Zakaria also failed to mention the fact that all of those defense spending cuts (under Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush I, and Clinton) significantly weakened the US military, imperiled America, and emboldened America’s adversaries, as confirmed by General Ridgway (who resigned over a conflict with SECDEF Charles Wilson), General Vandenberg, Clinton’s own Joint Chiefs of Staff, the service chiefs of the late 1970s and the 1980s (e.g. General Edward C. Meyer), the GlobalSecurity.org portal, and Secretary Gates, who called the 1970s “a disastrous period for our military”. So those “historical precedents” were actually foolish mistakes that America should never repeat.

Zakaria approvingly says that:

“The Bowles-Simpson commission’s plan proposed $750 billion in defense cuts over 10 years. Lawrence Korb, who worked at the Pentagon for Ronald Reagan, believes that a $1 trillion cut over 10 to 12 years is feasible without compromising national security.”

Again, he’s wrong. Firstly, the Bowles-Simpson commission, which completely disregarded America’s defense needs, proposed defense cuts to the tune of $1 TRILLION, not $750 bn, over 10 years. Lawrence Korb is an utterly discredited anti-defense propagandist who works at the extremely-liberal Center for American Progress, an anti-American institution founded by George Soros, who has publicly stated that he wants to “cut America down to size”. Korb is simply doing Soros’s bidding. His claim that defense spending can be cut by $1 trillion over 10-12 years without imperiling America is ridiculous and false. It would mean a dramatic reduction of the force structure, a lack of spare parts, and cancelling modernization, all of which would gravely imperil the US.

The four Vice Service Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta), and President Obama’s own JCS Chairman nomineee have all warned the Congress against defense cuts of a much smaller scale (cuts over $400 bn, including the $600 bn cuts that the sequester mechanism would make). All of them believe, as do many other experts (including President Reagan’s former Assistant SECDEF Frank J. Gaffney and Heritage Foundation experts), that cuts of such a magnitude would severely weaken the US military and gravely imperil the US. So, whom should the American people believe? The four Service Vice Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and Obama’s own nominee for Chairman of the JCS, or an utterly discredited, extremely liberal, irredeemably biased Washington Compost columnist?

The next part of Zakaria’s screed is downright laughable. As a fierce proponent of socialism, a cradle-to-grave welfare state, and unlimited government, Zakaria now lectures us conservatives about the size of the federal government, its role, and defense spending! He says:

“Serious conservatives should examine the defense budget, which contains tons of evidence of liberalism run amok that they usually decry. Most talk of waste, fraud and abuse in government is vastly exaggerated; there simply isn’t enough money in discretionary spending. Most of the federal government’s spending is transfer payments and tax expenditures, which are — whatever their merits — highly efficient at funneling money to their beneficiaries. The exception is defense, a cradle-to-grave system of housing, subsidies, cost-plus procurement, early retirement and lifetime pension and health-care guarantees. There is so much overlap among the military services, so much duplication and so much waste that no one bothers to defend it anymore. Today, the U.S. defense establishment is the world’s largest socialist economy.”

That’s total garbage. Defense spending constitutes less than half of total discretionary spending. There is plenty of wasteful, fraudful, and abusive expenditures both in the defense budget and in the nondefense discretionary budget. His claim that the DOD is the only wasteful agency of the federal government and is extraordinarily wasteful, while all other agencies are immune to large-scale wasteful expenditures, is laughable, ridiculous, and wrong. Moreover, he’s vastly exaggerating the scale of “overlap, duplication, and waste” in the DOD, just like every opponent of defense spending and a strong defense. For him, the DHHS, the DHUD, et al. are immune to the waste/fraud/abuse epidemic plaguing the entire federal government. In his fantasy world, only the DOD wastes any significant amounts of taxpayers’ money. As for “overlap and duplication”, this is only a small-scale problem. Each military service has its own distinct responsibilities and its own weapon programs. That is not to say that more progress in that regard could not be made. It could. But the scale of the problem was vastly exaggerated by Zakaria.

Earlier this year, the GAO looked at the entire federal government and found wasteful and duplicative programs costing up to $200 bn per year across the entire federal government, most of it NOT in the DOD. So, there are significant wasteful expenditures in the budget of every federal agency, not just the DOD. The claim that the DOD is the only serious federal money-waster is a blatant lie which shows how biased against the DOD Zakaria is. For him and other anti-defense liberals, only the DOD wastes money.

Zakaria claims that most of the federal government’s expenditures are “transfers of payments and tax expenditures”, a liberal codeword for “redistribution of wealth from those who earned it to those who did not and low tax rates”. This phrase again betrays his extremely liberal beliefs. Low tax rates don’t cost the federal government money, they are more efficient at raising revenue than high tax rates, and this is taxpayers’ money to start with. As for “transfers of payments”, they essentially amount to a confiscation of wealth from productive people and giving it to people who didn’t earn that wealth. Zakaria falsely claims that “[they] are — whatever their merits — highly efficient at funneling money to their beneficiaries.” But this is a blatant lie. All agencies of the federal government, including the SSA and the DHHS (which administers the Medicare and Medicaid programs), are riddled with wasteful, fraudful, and abusive expenditures. There is proof: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who knows more about balancing budgets than Zakaria does, has found fraudful payments (to conmen) to the tune of $180 bn per year from the Medicare and Medicaid programs: $60 bn per year from the former and $120 bn per year from the latter.

Moreover, Zakaria has conveniently omitted the fact that “transfer payments” are unconstitutional and intrinsically immoral. There is NO constitutional authorization for any “transfer payments”. The Constitution does not list such a prerogative, and under the 10th Amendment, anything not explicitly authorized to the federal government is prohibited to it. (Before someone invokes the “general welfare clause”: that clause is, as explained by James Madison, only a generalism followed by a semicolon and then followed by a detailed listing of Congressional prerogatives and therefore it does not, by itself, grant any prerogatives to anyone.) It is also immoral to steal wealth from someone who earned it and transfer it to someone who did not earn it. On the other hand, defense is a Constitutional DUTY of the federal government and is morally right – America has the right to defend itself.

Zakaria also lied that “the US defense establishment is the world’s largest socialist economy.” Firstly, the DOD’s benefits are not socialist. They are accorded exclusively to people who earned it with their blood. They deserve these benefits (although their cost needs to be reduced). Secondly, the world’s largest socialist economy is the federal government’s troika of entitlement programs. The SS program alone is larger than the entire annual military budget of the United States.

Zakaria then betrayed the real reasons why he wants defense spending to be radically cut: so that the US will retrench behind oceans, dramatically curtain its role and its influence in the world, and isolate itself from the rest of the world. He also lied by claiming that the US has “a warped foreign policy”. Here’s the last part of his ridiculous screed:

“Defense budget cuts would also force a healthy rebalancing of American foreign policy. Since the Cold War, Congress has tended to fatten the Pentagon while starving foreign policy agencies. As former defense secretary Robert Gates pointed out, there are more members of military marching bands than make up the entire U.S. foreign service. Anyone who has ever watched American foreign policy on the ground has seen this imbalance play out. Top State Department officials seeking to negotiate vital matters arrive without aides and bedraggled after a 14-hour flight in coach. Their military counterparts whisk in on a fleet of planes, with dozens of aides and pots of money to dispense. The late Richard Holbrooke would laugh when media accounts described him as the “civilian counterpart” to Gen. David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command. “He has many more planes than I have cellphones,” Holbrooke would say (and he had many cellphones).The result is a warped American foreign policy, ready to conceive of problems in military terms and present a ready military solution. Describing precisely this phenomenon, Eisenhower remarked that to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. In his often-quoted farewell address, Eisenhower urged a balance between military and non-military spending. Unfortunately, it has become far more unbalanced in the decades since his speech.”

This is utter gibberish. From the end of the Cold War until 2001, defense spending was being constantly CUT and then, from FY1998 to FY2001, it remained flat in real terms. From FY2001 to FY2009, the budgets of both the DOD and the DOS were significantly increased. Under President Obama, defense spending has been cut by $439 bn, while the budget of the DOS has more than doubled. These days, an average American diplomat spends $600 a day on one lunch or dinner. The DOS and its employees are hardly starving.

DOS employees, up to and including Secretary Clinton, are frequently provided transportation by the same military whose budget Zakaria wants to see cut. The USAF’s 89th Airlift Wing provides various aircraft to DOS officials travelling abroad, including B757 planes. As for General Petraeus having more planes than Holbrooke had cellphones, what exactly would the DOS need those planes for? The DOD needed them to fight the war it was ordered to fight.

The idea that a wasteful department which does nothing other than appeasing America’s enemies, issuing visas to terrorists , and negotiating treaties deeply unfavorable to the US, should receive the same priority status and the same funding as the DOD, is ridiculous and wrong.

Zakaria also refuses to recognize the fact that a strong military second to none is a precondition to being able to negotiate from a position of strength and achieve results favorable to the US. You can’t have a successful foreign policy and produce results beneficial to the US if you don’t have a strong military. Ronald Reagan, whom Zakaria cited two times in his article, recognized that fact. Zakaria refuses to recognize it.

Zakaria’s claims of “a warped American foreign policy” are not only false, but also insulting. If America’s foreign policy is so warped and so militarized, then why did the DOD and its then-leader, Robert Gates, staunchly oppose Obama’s Libyan intervention, and why did the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, argue for it? Why did Donald Rumsfeld warn the Bush Administration against doing nationbuilding in Afghanistan and Iraq, and why was he overruled by Colin Powell and Condi Rice (and ultimately by President Bush)?

Because Zakaria is lying.

His screed ends with an invocation of President Eisenhower warning against “the military-industrial complex” and a claim that he called for “balance between military and nonmilitary spending” in his farewell address. While he did warn against the MIC, the claim that he called for “balance between military and nonmilitary spending” is a blatant lie, as is the claim that “it has become even more unbalanced in the decades since his speech.”

Firstly, America’s federal budget is not tilted in favor of the military and is not biased or “unbalanced” in favor of the military. The truth is the exact opposite. During Eisenhower’s time and during the 1960s, defense spending accounted for half of all federal expenditures. Since FY1970, however, it has declined below that level and has never recovered. Today, America’s total military budget constitutes less than 19% of the total federal budget, and this share has been this low for two decades now. So 81% of the total federal budget is nowadays consumed by civilian spending. Even under President Reagan, defense spending never constituted more than 27% of the total federal budget. Nowadays, total military spending constitutes less than 19% of the total federal budget.

As for what President Eisenhower said, here’s what he REALLY said. Read it yourself. He never called for parity between military and nonmilitary spending:

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, 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.”

Of course, Zakaria, like all other opponents of a strong defense, has chosen to ignore those parts of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address that don’t suit his anti-defense screed and his extremely liberal beliefs, for example, this one:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.”

That was necessary then, and it’s necessary today, as America confronts several dangerous enemies, including China, Russia (run by a viciously anti-American KGB thug), North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah.

Therefore, America must never gut its defense. A line must be drawn in the sand. No further defense spending cuts should be made. Defense spending did not cause America’s fiscal problems, and cutting it won’t solve them. Time to cut the expenditures that are really burying America under a mountain of debt: spending on the welfare state.

For another rebuttal of Zakaria’s screed, see http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/273634/superior-defense-brian-stewart






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