By Patricia H. Kushlis
Maybe there is a silver lining to the latest Washington
impasse between the President and Congressional Republicans. The sequester – which began this weekend – hasn’t yet caused the financial markets to behave
like Pogo but such mindless budget cuts would – if allowed to bite deep into federal
government services and support to the states and private sector are drastically
I remember the last government shutdown in a bitterly cold December when we were sent home early over the Christmas holidays, the National Parks
and museums were closed and the passport office stopped issuing passports. I also remember being one of the last people
in my agency to leave the building – as it grew bitterly colder because the warmth of the humans who worked there and provided the heat were no longer there.
By large measure, the majority of Americans blame the
Republican-controlled House of Representatives, not the president, for the reductions
that could take effect. And sequestration has become the flavor of this month’s
news reporting and commentary especially inside the Beltway but also at places
like Virginia’s Hampton Roads where much of the population is supported directly or indirectly by the
You’d think the Republican law makers (and breakers) would
remember what happened to then House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s popularity after he
challenged President Bill Clinton to a budgetary duel that December years ago.
But I guess not.
This is largely a new
crew that marches to its own ideological drum – led by chief drum major Grover Norquist, right
wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and other likeminded libertarians who
think that government is an impediment to their pursuit of the all-mighty
dollar and retention of their semi-automatics.
But if sequestration does come to pass, it will finally
dictate cuts to the bloated Pentagon which consumes
a good 20 percent of this country’s expenditures. The problem is that the cutbacks are across the board and will also
hit far smaller peacetime agencies with even greater force because there’s less to cut. The so-called "entitlements", however, will apparently not be affected.
Perhaps a piece of the Republicans intransigence on defense spending is that they don't understand that the country’s first line of defense should
be diplomacy not budget-busting tanks or expensive outdated weapons systems
designed to challenge the invisible – far from invincible – Soviet battalions once-upon-a-time
on alert at the Fulda Gap and, by-the-by, continue to enrich Lockheed-Martin and
its myriad of subcontractors in the process.
In contrast, all American diplomatic efforts – including
foreign aid – come to no more that 2 percent of the national budget and the
country’s diplomatic personnel totals less than all the musicians in US
military bands combined. This, in case
anyone is interested, is a ratio of 20 to 2.
In an article in the January 28, 2013 New Yorker entitled
“The Force: How Much Military is Enough?” Jill Lapore quotes President Dwight
D. Eisenhower, one of this country’s greatest wartime generals.
in his first major speech as president which he delivered to the American
Society of Newspaper Editors in 1953, that “Every gun that is made, every
warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from
those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This is a world in arms. This world is not
spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of
its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . This is not a way of life in any
true sense. Under the clouds of threatening
war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Since the beginning of the George W. Bush administration in
2001, the American military budget mushroomed after major reductions during the
1990s in the Cold War’s wake. To sustain today's elephantine military and its
contractors at the levels to which they have become accustomed, the Congressional
Republicans are in effect demanding that the American taxpayers forego a better
life – one with decent health care, old age pensions, pre-school education for
the kids and grandkids and repair and maintenance of the country’s sagging
physical infrastructure from roads and bridges to sidewalks – all to keep the
behemoth Pentagon ship afloat.
And for what? Why does
this country need to maintain the largest and most expensive military in the
world – a military force larger than all other countries’ forces combined?
Fighting Osama Bin Laden didn't require a behemoth military
Didn’t the Obama administration demonstrate in 2011 that to
fight Al Qaeda and its affiliates what was needed was a superior intelligence operation
and a small group of highly trained special operations forces? Isn’t that what killed Osama Bin Laden,
the mastermind of the terrorist organization that destroyed the World Trade
Center and a piece of the Pentagon? Exactly
how many tanks, missiles or carriers did that take to implement?
Meanwhile, the Republicans pretend that the US military
budget is sacrosanct and those horrid “entitlement” programs for the people who
pay the bills are eating away at the country’s budgetary heart and weakening
the nation’s defense. This canard is
likely helped along by the huge defense contracting industry and the revolving
door that operates between the men and women still in uniform and those that
have left the service and moved on to lucrative defense-related jobs in the
Yet to maintain a strong national defense, in addition to revamping the current diplomatic corps which at the senior levels is shot full of cronyism and corruption, the country needs to be healthy and
productive internally – and this involves sustained support for domestic
programs that enable good physical and mental health of its people. Great countries – or empires – are usually
not destroyed from without. They collapse
when the country’s innards themselves have crumbled.