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Dave Lindorff
Published: Friday 4 January 2013
The time for a real debate about cutting the U.S. budget by focusing on military spending has come. It is long overdue. If it isn’t addressed now, it will be eventually, not by choice perhaps, but because the U.S. will simply no longer be able to pay for its addiction to war.

War Addiction Default: America’s Political Dysfunction at Root is an Unwillingness to Cut War Spending

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I was asked earlier this week by an reporter for PressTV, the state television network in Iran, if I could explain why the US political system seemed to be so dysfunctional, with Congress and the President having created an artificial budget crisis 17 months ago, not “solving” it until the last hour before a Congressional deadline would have created financial chaos, and even then not solving the problem and instead just pushing it off for two months until the next crisis moment.

I thought for a moment, trying to come up with a simple way to explain the peculiar politics of a fake democracy where two equally pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist parties vie with genuine bitterness for patronage spoils and legal bribes, all the while ignoring the real wishes and needs of the public, and then it hit me: it is really all about US militarism and the unwillingness of the either of the two political parties to admit honestly to to American people how much they are being gouged to allow the US government and its corporate owners to continue in their attempt to control the world.

It really is that simple.

The US currently spends almost as much on its military and on paying for current and past wars in terms of interest on war debt and care for wounded and aging soldiers as the entire rest of the world spends on arms and war. Approximately $1.3 trillion gets spent each year in taxpayer’s dollars and in more borrowed funds (50 cents of every federal tax dollar goes to pay for the US military, the intelligence apparatus, veterans’ benefits and other related military costs). It is simply ludicrous, given this situation, to imagine that the US can significantly reduce its budget deficit either by raising taxes or by cutting social spending.

Think of it this way. The US is currently running a $1.3 trillion deficit (that is federal spending less tax revenue). That deficit, significantly one must note, almost exactly matches the amount that is being spent annually on the US military, and on military/intelligence-related activities.

The US spends $1.3 trillion a year on a military it does not need. Politicians won't talk about cutting it down to size.

In contrast, the federal government budget in 2012 allocated $870 billion for Medicare, Medicaid and all other programs under the aegis of Department of Health and Human Services. The total Department of State budget is $56 billion, and a portion of that is actually for military activities, such as intelligence operations and protection of embassies and consulates. The Department of Agriculture got $150 billion, and that includes the Food Stamp program. Federal spending on education was just $100 billion a year. Social Security is not part of the tax take or the federal budget, as it is all paid from the Social Security Trust Fund, which in turn has been financed by the dedicated payroll tax paid by working people and employers.

None of these non-military budget spending categories could possibly be cut sufficiently to make any real dent in the nation’s massive deficit, which is running at $1.3 trillion a year and which now totals $16.3 trillion. Certainly cuts of 50% could theoretically be made in health and welfare spending, in education, and in other parts of the budget, but cuts of that scale would cause such mass suffering and chaos that the nation would erupt in open rebellion.

The military budget, on the other hand, could be slashed by 50% and nobody would know the difference! The public in the US barely knows there is are wars going on. We read about an occasional soldier killed or plane downed, but there is no day-to-day evidence that the US is a nation perpetually in a state of war. If the military were to end those wars, which are costing over $160 billion a year, pull out of all its far-flung bases, which are costing $250 billion a year, slash its huge Special Operations Command, which now number nearly 70,000 people at a cost of over $10 billion, eliminate or massively reduce its strategic nuclear forces, which costs $60 billion a year, and decommission its fleet of aircraft carrier battle groups, which counting construction and operation costs, plus the cost of the planes and missiles they carry, probably cost in the range of $100 billion a year, the US would be no less safe, but the federal budget deficit could be instantly slashed by close to $600 billion a year. That is the amount that is being cut in the current so-called “Fiscal Cliff” bargain over a period of ten years.

War spending by the US has gone sky high, and rises even as wars are winding down. It's a permanent war economy

In a genuine democracy, there would be politicians and a political party that would be calling for just such an end to US militarism and the massive spending that is needed to support it. It is something that polls show the majority of Americans want to see happen, even though there are no people in government calling for doing it, and even though the very idea of seriously cutting military spending is blacked out by the US corporate media.

Instead, what the American public gets is a fake debate between Democrats and Republicans, and between the White House and the Republicans in the House of Representatives, all focussed on the rest of the US budget -- the non-military part. This “debate” is basically a matter of Republicans saying they want to cut the non-military budget deficit by slashing “social spending” and Democrats saying that they are willing to cut “some” social spending, but they would rather raise taxes.

The thing is, cutting social program spending more than by a small amount would be catastrophic, leading to even more mass teacher layoffs, declining health, hunger, collapsing bridges, and to fewer people being able to afford to go to college. It would lead to even more homeless Americans, including returned veterans. Nobody would accept this. We’re already suffering from such cuts. And as for taxes, in a long-running economic crisis such as we are experiencing, nobody but the rich can afford to pay more, and the rich are given a free hand at escaping taxes through loopholes, offshore banking, and high priced accountants.

The reality is that there really is only one way to attack the nation’s massive and growing budget deficit without destroying both people’s lives and the nation’s economy, and that is to slash military spending and to put an end to the country’s militarism and imperialism.

The US today, as former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel famously said during an early televised Democratic presidential primary debate in 2008, “has no enemies.” It is not threatened by any nation, has a military that is without equal, and has a populace that is armed to the teeth. The United States simply does not need to be spending in excess of a trillion dollars -- at least on defense. The country would be just as safe -- it would be much safer actually since it wouldn’t be destroying lives around the globe and creating enemies where there were none -- if it were a tenth of its current size.

The time for a real debate about cutting the US budget by focusing on military spending has come. It is long overdue. If it isn’t addressed now, it will be eventually, not by choice perhaps, but because the US will simply no longer be able to pay for its addiction to war.

ABOUT Dave Lindorff

Dave Lindorff is an investigative reporter, a columnist for CounterPunch, and a contributor to Businessweek, The Nation, Extra! and He received a Project Censored award in 2004. Dave is also a founding member of the online newspaper ThisCantBeHappening! at

This is need of time to cut

This is need of time to cut the war expense. America must come out from the war of Iraq. If you need to learn more about the US politician you can read What is USA at

How wonderful to read all

How wonderful to read all these comments in praise of rational thought and recognition that unbridled military spending is sabotaging our "empire". Fear is no way to rule. I cringe every time someone says how strong we much better if they could praise our intelligence and compassion.

I have been to Afghanistan

I have been to Afghanistan numerous times as a soldier and contractor as well. I am in Afghanistan even now. If the American public had any idea what is really going on over here they would be really really upset. There is almost no way to describe the amount of money that is wasted here. The United States is occupying this country and serves only to fortify the military industrial complex. We are fighting a few terrorists with tethered airships, fighter jets, helicopters, drones, satellites, MRAPS, surveillance planes and all manner of new technology that the US defense department buys. The soldiers who operate this equipment are tired and underpaid. The contractors are happily paid quite handsomely. We feed thousands of people every day, burn millions of gallons of fuel, and of course, sadly lives are lost. We can never train the Afghan people to create something that did not exist in the first place. The cultural divide is just too great.
Our lawmakers and politicians are afraid to tell it like it is. The American public should be outraged.

. . ALL OF THE ABOVE . . . >>

. . ALL OF THE ABOVE . . .
>> OUR GOVERNMENT IS STAGNANT, - - - Dysfunctional
five weeks vacations.......they return to sign a stop gap measure
>>> and off they go to campaign for re-election
they return to discuss the "Fiscal cliff" no votes are taken..
>>> and off they go Christmas Vacation
they vote on the Fiscal cliff" including "NEW" tax cuts for the rich - - INCREASED MILITARY SPENDING..... we'll address aid for super storm SANDY - - NEXT YEAR
Oh, gee, 9 billion dollars for relief >> down from 60 billion approved by the SENATE ??? oh - more later ???
>>>>> DIDN'T FORGET THEIR PAY RAISES <<<<< here comes the debt ceiling ( gotta save some (strong arm ) bargaining points >> welfare >> foodstamps >> social securty >> medicare >> W.I.C. >> education ).....
oh yea we still have storm sandy points .........
...Dysfunctional ??? Stagnant ??? MILITARY SPENDING ?? TAX CUTS ???
. . . Dysfunctional - - -
RE-ELECTED - - get in office----- die in office....get elected - re-elected - till death do we part

This article throws four key

This article throws four key big abstract phrases at us: 'military spending', 'militarism', 'imperialism' and 'dysfunction'. Phrases like these need to be considered for what they actually mean. They should not be tossed about casually as if they were merely different names for a single big bad monster.

MILITARY SPENDING Is USA military and war spending a huge budgetary drain and problem? YES! The US military can be drastically cut without impairing its basic missions.

Drastic cuts are possible even if you interpret those missions broadly, to include not only USA national defense but also providing credible world leadership to keep the general peace and to respond to world human rights urgencies - such as now in Syria (where, thanks to the Obama administration, the USA is MIA).

MILITARISM Does this military and war spending reflect and owe to a dangerous ideology of 'militarism' in the halls of power? In large part YES! - but not totally.

The US Constitution preamble posits three purposes for a federal government - 'a more perfect union', 'general welfare', and 'common defense'. However, for many decades a large right-wing minority in Congress has been committed ideologically to just the last purpose and against the others: to always-warfare-never-welfare spending. In order to accommodate this ideology, considerable spending for what is really 'general welfare' occurs in the guise of military spending. (For instance, that's how the Internet originated.)

IMPERIALISM? Does military and war spending reflect a commitment to 'imperialism' - an American empire? NOT REALLY.

The USA's 'territorial empire', beyond the 50 states themselves, is not impressive. The USA's 'economic empire' - i.e. economies dominated by corporations identified with the USA - may be impressive (depending on your perspectives as to how much domination equates to 'empire'), but there's scant evidence that a huge USA military is actually - or even believed to be - needed or even very helpful for the existence, operation or protection of this empire. The prime USA advantage in the global economy has long owed not to a huge US military but to the USA resource base and the huge size of the USA as a unified economic zone - unified in currency, language and basic laws and standards.

DYSFUNCTION Does commitment to military and war spending in fact equate to USA's 'the basic political dysfunction at root'? NO! The commitment and the spending are big SYMPTOMS of dysfunction, but NOT the truly deep root dysfunction.

The truly deep dysfunction is the commitment - per the antiquated 1787 USA federal constitution and its state and local copycats - to an oligarchic Roman republic form of government. It's this built-in commitment to oligarchy (with elections as a legitimizing populist figleaf) which enables close-minded ideological extremist minorities to get and long hold on to unwarranted power - in this case the right-wing extremists who are committed to always-warfare-never-welfare spending.

Generally I agree, but will

Generally I agree, but will take issue with the notion that we are not an imperial power. We of course have now substituted economic hegemony over the political. It not the US government that is making the case for empire, it is American banks that are situating themselves as emperors. The US military still carries out similar missions, but the beneficiary is not any identifiable king. Secure resources, eliminate troublesome insurgencies, install a nominally friendly government, keep it propped up with American boots and technology. Same mission.

It is the international corollary to massive consumer debt at home. Loan vast amounts that keep the debtor working for your interest instead of their own. Force austerity and drain the wealth...... enforced by US troops. (Debt is the modern form of slavery). It doesn't look like the empires of old, but the net result is the same.


JOEWEINSTEIN, American brand "Imperialism" is, as you imply, NOT, in most instances carried out by our military forces. The World Bank and The International Monetary Fund provide that service quite nicely. Which is obviously another reason to drastically reduce our "needless" military expenditures. I'm in agreement with much of your comment if you're interested.

"America's Political

"America's Political Dysfunction" set forth in the title of this article describes exactly the problem with our U.S. Congress. This political dysfunction is manifested by our lobbyists that control too many of our members of Congress with extraordinarily large sums of money. This will never change until we take away the only source of power the corporations have which is MONEY. So if you really want to do something about this click on or copy and paste into your browser -

Two points: first of all,

Two points: first of all, the article nails the problem 100%. Both George Washington and closer to two centuries later, Dwight Eisenhower, cautioned the danger of a) having a standing army and b) the military-industrial complex. Do our representatives/politicians learn from history? NO! Second point, Michael Moore was correct in Fahrenheit 911--the politicians including Bush 43, Cheney & Rumsfeld made sure their own didn't get dragged into the mess (exceptions exist such as Joe Biden) and they sure don't want to be present when the caskets of the dead or the alive but seriously maimed return stateside. Totally disgusting gang we have there in DC!

We have a choice - We can get

We have a choice - We can get rid of most of the military and have a lifestyle and social programs similar to countries in Western Europe that don't pay gigantic military expenses - Or we can keep the military, and eventually have a country that is more like North Korea.

Great article and well

Great article and well targeted comments. We should all remember that the United States of America is the largest, most far-reaching empire in the history of the world. Historically speaking, empire's "don't" contract by their own volition. They traditionally do so when circumstances leave them no other alternative. We are near to reaching that point and will do so within the next 25-40 years. An empire must also have a foundation. Ours is obviously crumbling. The last archer on the decaying battlements still will not be cognizant of why the platform on which he stands is falling. It is simply not in the "empire playbook." Despite the "fact" that history provides multitudinous examples. Another reason history courses in high school and college are being axed at an alarming rate. The "good soldier," military or civilian, simply obeys orders...knowledge is a dangerous impediment to that paradigm.

Excellent article and I

Excellent article and I especially appreciate that the author called attention to the fact that both Repubs and Dems inclusive of Obama are directly responsible for this insane state of affairs, Obama more so that any one other current office-holder in the USA, and nearly the equal of Bush.

Every "defense" and "homeland

Every "defense" and "homeland security" manufacturer and contractor should be required to submit a comprehensive plan addressing the question, "What would you do if required to re-tool your factory and activities for Peace Time?"

In addition to "planning for future wars" they should also be required to "plan for future peace" .. just in case ..

Mountainman23: If you ever

Mountainman23: If you ever wanted to run for POTUS, I'd vote for you, though you'd never get on the ballot. You hit on the one point where I disagree with the author - the US would notice if we cut the spending on war by half, for the industrial part of the military industrial complex would be shrieking about the "lost jobs", meaning lost profits for the vulture corps that feed on death & destruction. We don't need to be investing in death & destruction to have jobs, we could fully employ everyone healing this nation and the planet, but that would not continue to concentrate wealth for the vultures, and that is why they successfully have bought almost all the politicos to prevent the US from turning away from the culture of Empire & Death. I would love to see all corps have to submit their "swords to plowshares" business plans before they got a government contract. I think most of the soldiers would like to see that day, too. They'd rather have their children on their chests than medals, any day.

"Fear the military industrial

"Fear the military industrial complex" Dwight David Eisenhower, he was prophetic. In the end though we as a nation, are a warrior culture. We are not the peace-loving, good guys that we want to think we are. We really are armed to the teeth, we have a miltary scattered hither and yon to protect our interests??? We kill each other at a rate that would make some civil wars look mild by comparrison. We have met the enemy and he is us. We glorify violence in all it's forms. movies, MMA, world war two was our finest hour, etc. face it are great at killing people, the best that the world has ever known. Warriors in our country are not the minority, I submit we are who we are. It is not good but I think it is true.

This article is exactly

This article is exactly correct! It is about time someone said it.

But this sentiment is not allowed to be expressed on TV media. These sentiments are not welcome in Democrat or Republican circles. The military industrial complex has this nation by the ass, just as Eisenhower warned us it would.

Just imagine, shortly after Eisenhower left office the nation embarked on a completely unnecessary and unproductive war-Vietnam.

Notwithstanding chickenhawk lies to the contrary, the nation and the world gained nothing from Vietnam, just as we will gain nothing from Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars are actually COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. War itself represents profit to this huge special interest group.

Imagine the nation if these funds were spent on attempting to improve the nation. We could build an incredible clean energy nation. We could educate everyone. We could all have efficient health care. And Americans could have real retirement security, not false flag security.

The article is good, and in

The article is good, and in my opinion you (BozoAdult) are right about Viet Nam---going to war against Viet Nam had absolutely no benefit for us, but killed at least 55,000 of our sons, and 3 million Vietnamese.

But, we never ever go over these facts.

We never ever would consider a monument to the victims of that war (the 3,055,000 souls).

There are people around who still maintain that we were somehow defending a legitimate government in South Viet Nam.

And, i understand Obama has made speeches falsely claiming that the Vets were despised by protestors, instead of pointing out that our Vets (our sons, for God's sake) were also our crazy, insane sacrifice to the war mongers, and the government was and is not taking adequate care of the survivors.

Why can't we come clean on Viet Nam?

I wonder if that is necessary before we disengage from our other conflicts.

Those making a living from

Those making a living from the killing industry (military industrial complex) seems to have convinced those in charge of money allocation process to think like Gollum (Lord of the Rings), to see war as a way of life in a sick world order (see the King of Hearts) in which murder due to scarcity in the midst of plenty is the norm and rational thinking to change the order of murder/mayhem a sign of weakness. As long as the "campaign contribution" to the decision makers continues, the sick model of social order will continue to be the norm. Money IS the root cause of insanity in this case as in many others. Change the money flow to the decision structures, you will get change in results. Not in our life time and certainly not without a good, hard fight....

Yes greed for money is the

Yes greed for money is the root of all this evil, and for those greedy ones, every war is a productive war, even ones like Vietnam mentioned by commentors above as being counterproductive. For wars dispossess people of their resources, either by killing them, or dislocating them as refugees, or leaving them maimed and unable to protect their interests any more. And the greedy ones can use every war to snatch up control of more of other peoples resources. War even drains resources from the common people in the "victorious" country, who pay the costs in children become warriors, some dead, some horribly scarred, and financial costs of funding weapons, bases, transport, infrastructure, food and medical care, all which get diverted from the homeland that could also benefit from them. Only the vultures benefitfrom war, and have the stomach for it. Its time to drive them off and take back control of our nation.

Right on.

Right on.

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