Andrew Greenblatt lays out the craziest scenario he can come up with on short notice: All our "enemies"--from North Korea, Libya and Iraq to China and Russia--gang up on us, while at the same time all our allies abandon us.
Then: "When it comes to military outlays, we're spending twice as much as all these 'enemies' are spending combined."
Greenblatt, speaking for Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, a Manhattan-based group of some 500 business executives and former military officials, is trying to drive home the point: American military spending is out of line with any imaginable threat--not only distorting our national budget but also actually weakening our nation.
"We're not anti-military in any sense," he said in a phone interview. "Our members include people like Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense under Reagan; Col. David Hackworth, America's most-decorated veteran [eight Purple Hearts and nearly 280 other medals]; and Stansfield Turner, a former military officer who headed the CIA. Our point is that we need to stop wasting money on unnecessary military expenditures. That's one side. The other is that we have a lot of unmet needs, particularly with regard to educating our children.
"It used to be that having the biggest guns made you the strongest country. That's not true anymore. America will succeed in the coming years by having well-educated young people and a health care system that works for all of our citizens."
If that sounds like a liberal Democratic agenda, it also meets the priorities of the hard-headed business types who form the core of BLSP--including Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, who launched the organization two years ago, and Alan Hassenfeld, CEO of Hasbro Toys and a major Republican fund-raiser.
Greenblatt explained why business executives should care about such things.
"Bell Electronics wanted to get its software checked out for Y2K compliance--and wound up sending it to India. That is an indication of how fast the global economy is growing. When America learned to mass-produce textiles, it took 100 years for global labor to catch up. We were the leaders in electronics, but in just 25 years the global market had caught up to the point where you can't buy a TV made in America. We were the clear leaders in the computer world, but already we've reached the point where if you want your code debugged, you send it to India.
"If America is going to keep having its premium standard of living, we will have to keep our kids a step or two ahead of the global economy. I'm not talking protectionism; I'm talking about making sure none of our kids is left behind because, for example, they don't have working computers in their schools."
BLSP believes that America's military spending is caught in a Cold War time warp--not merely relying on massive (and expensive) weapons systems but also deploying our troops in Europe as though waiting for the Soviet Union to invade.
And when members of Congress pull out every stop to keep from losing a military base in their district, no matter how outdated or redundant, you get the numbers that send BLSP members into a tizzy: More than half the federal government's discretionary budget goes to the Pentagon, while just 6 percent goes to educating children.
The problem for BLSP is not to convince individual citizens that our priorities need changing but to create sufficient grass-roots demand to make it happen.
"The public agrees with us," says Greenblatt. "Give them a pie chart and ask them to cut it up the way they think reflects our actual spending, and they give a lot less to the military and a lot more to other pressing domestic needs, including education. When you show them the disparity between what we and other nations spend on our military, and when you show them the disparity between what we spend on the military and what we spend on other needs, they can't believe it."
But they don't vote on it. There's no place on the ballot to choose between books and bombers, educational basics and excess bases, kids and killing machines. And because there isn't, the chances are we will listen to Greenblatt's dismal statistics, nod gravely in agreement--and go on as before.