Though it’s pushing hard for authorization to launch missiles into Syria, the White House seems to be in no particular hurry, saying that strikes could happen pretty much at any time. That’s different from previous conflicts, which could take months to plan and put in motion. We asked Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to explain what this might actually look like.
The United States gives Egypt about $1.3 billion in military aid each year. And, so far this year, the Obama administration has been unwilling to cut off those funds — even in the midst of a violent military crackdown that has left more than 525 dead.
So here's one question worth exploring: Just how important is all that aid to Egypt, anyway? NPR's Julia Simon recently did some reporting on that exact question. It seems that in many cases, Egypt receives far more weaponry than it could possibly use:
Back in April, lawmakers had a brief moment of panic over the sequester. The across-the-board spending cuts threatened to cause delays at airports across the country. So Congress quickly passed a bill to divert $253 million to air-traffic controllers. Crisis averted.
Since then, however, politicians haven't said much about the rest of the $85 billion in federal spending cuts that went into effect March 1. The sequester will automatically cut defense spending by 7.9 percent and everything else by 4.6 percent, chopping bluntly through everything from national parks to R&D.
It won't be news to anyone that the United States spends more on defense than any other country, or even than any other five countries combined. But this is a terrific visualization of an extraordinary reality:
This graph, which comes from the Economist's Daily Chart blog, includes our war spending in our overall defense budget. Defense wonks can argue whether that's proper. I think it is. But let's rip out some of that spending. Even if we cut current defense expenditures by 30 percent, all at once, we'd still be spending more than the next five biggest spenders combined.
In November 2011, Rep. Barney Frank, the mouthy Massachusetts Democrat, announced that he would retire from Congress in January 2013. A few short weeks after his retirement last month, he had second thoughts about leaving Washington. He asked Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to consider appointing him interim senator after incumbent John Kerry's confirmation as secretary of state.
The Pentagon's decision to lift the ban on women in combat roles might be more than a boost to gender equality. It might also prove a boon, surprisingly, to women's job satisfaction.
With all the risk and sacrifice, the military does not seem like an institution that would top career satisfaction surveys. But a study of 30,000 active-duty personnel, published in the American Sociological Review, showed that women consistently reported higher job satisfaction in the military than male counterparts of the same ethnicity. This trend held true for African Americans, Hispanics and Whites, and is the exact opposite of what sociologists see in the private sector.
How much has U.S. defense spending grown?
In some ways, it’s a simple question. The Office of Management and Budget keeps very good data on past defense expenditures, and in inflation-adjusted terms, it’s gone up quite a bit since the Cold War, peaking during the height of the war in Iraq:
But then again, the U.S. economy grew quite a bit during that period. Maybe the share of our resources devoted to defense didn’t actually change much. If one looks at defense spending as a share of gross domestic product, you actually see steady decline since the end of the Korean War, with slight upticks for the Reagan administration and the war on terrorism. Here’s Eric Rauchway’s chart on that metric, using both the Historical Statistics of the United States, a database published by the University of Cambridge, and more recent military expenditure data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:
Ask your average American whether the defense budget should go up or down in 2013, and by how much, and they’ll tell you to cut spending by a whopping 18 percent. Ask your average member of Congress the same question, and no matter which party they’re from, you’ll likely hear that defense spending should barely budge from where it is right now.
“It’s a sizable gap—perhaps even a missile-sized gap,” suggested R. Jeffrey Smith, an editor at the Center for Public Integrity and former Washington Post reporter, unveiling the findings Thursday morning at the Stimson Center. On average, Smith and his co-authors found the public wants $103.5 billion in defense budget cuts, or 18 percent of the current budget; Republicans want $74 billion cut, on average, Democrats want a $124.4 billion cut, and independents want a $112.2 billion reduction. Participants evaluated 87 percent of defense discretionary spending, so their cuts might even be higher if the entire defense budget were covered.
Now just compare that to what both Republicans and Democrats are currently proposing: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and House Republicans are trying to pass a budget that would keep base discretionary spending the same in 2013, as compared to the previous year. President Obama proposes a relatively small $4 billion cut to such spending below current levels. Both parties want to avoid the automatic defense spending cuts that are scheduled to happen in 2013 as part of August’s debt ceiling deal, which slashes defense spending by $63 billion. It's not quite an apples-to apples comparison — the defense budget in the survey was about 1 percent mandatory spending, which falls outside discretionary spending — but there’s a big divide between the public and Washington either way.
There’s an argument health reformers occasionally face that goes something like this: Sure, America way overspends on health care. But that overspending ultimately encourages medical innovations of incalculable value. Sharp cuts to health-care spending could lead us to lose out on those innovations.
I thought of that argument while reading Binya Appelbaum’s article warning that cutting the defense budget could kill off the military’s historical role as a driver of consumer-friendly innovations. The chain of reasoning goes something like this: We funnel huge amounts of money to the military; some of that money goes to R&D; some of that R&D unexpectedly pays off for consumers; and so cutting the military budget could ultimately hurt consumers.
A few thoughts:
In his much-hyped national security speech this afternoon, Mitt Romney promised that on “day one,” he would “reverse President Obama’s massive defense cuts.”
But, uh, which massive defense cuts? In 2008, the Department of Defense received $594 billion for military programs. In 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency, it got $636 billion. In 2010, the Pentagon got a bit devilish and saw its budget increased to $666 billion. In 2011, the Obama administration requested $739 billion from Congress. And that doesn’t count the hundreds of billions in war funding the military has received.