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 diminished.
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 military.
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don't understand that the country’s first line of defense should be diplomacy not budget-busting tanks or expensive outdated weapons systems designed to challenge the invisible – far from invincible - Soviet battalions once-upon-a-time on alert at the Fulda Gap and, by-the-by,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.
Eisenhower warned 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.”
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 private sector.
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.