It's time to rein in defense spending

Speaking about the recent government shutdown’s impact on the military, United States Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno said, “The longer it goes on, the worse it gets. Every day that goes by, we are losing manpower, we are losing capability, so in my mind it is important we get this resolved.” The manpower Odierno is speaking of is comprised of civilian employees deemed nonessential, while military personnel abroad will not be interrupted by the shutdown. Considering that the army’s budget for 2013 is at $682 billion, I am not buying it.

Like all other government agencies, the military should be evaluating what is and is not essential. Our military presence in the Middle East is especially costly and inefficient. A recent Harvard University study found that the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost taxpayers between $4 and $6 billion.

There is a culture in the U.S. that condones absurdly excessive defense budgets. This reckless spending allocates funds away from departments that actually need more resources. The Department of Education, for example, receives $68.4 billion in federal appropriations per year, a paltry 10 percent of the military’s budget.

Steve Ruark/AP Photo

Steve Ruark/AP Photo
Military officials mourn Pfc. Cody J. Patterson, 24, who was killed in Afghanistan.

It is not the fault of the people, either. In April 2012, an ABC and Washington Post poll found that two-thirds of Americans felt that the Afghanistan War was not worth fighting.

We have a situation in which military intervention abroad is increasingly unpopular, and yet we still see drone strikes and missions to depose foreign leaders, such as those of Libya. Why?

To put it bluntly, weapons contractors and politicians have been in bed together for a long, long time. Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest weapons builders, spent $13.7 million on lobbying alone in 2009.

Lockheed Martin’s political donations are understandable considering that, in 2008, the company raked in $36 billion in government contracts. It comes as no surprise, then, that politicians still push for these military operations despite lack of public approval.

This is not an issue that is specific to one party either. Republicans and Democrats share the blame for their pandering to weapons contracts. While Lockheed Martin does tend to donate more to members of the GOP, Democrats accept their fair share of campaign contributions from the company.

America’s hawkish foreign policy is the way that it is primarily because politicians and private companies make millions of dollars off of it. The most despicable part of this ludicrous spending is how politicians claim that it is being done to keep citizens safe. U.S. military presence abroad was the motive behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing. Drone strikes in Pakistan are being used as recruitment for branches of al-Qaida.

Our foreign policy is a truly sad state of affairs. Rather than doing what is right, both for the U.S. and for the rest of the world, our politicians are bound by corporate interests. And those interests are for the U.S. to become entangled in as many costly conflicts as it can.

It is pretty obvious that our foreign policy is doing more to jeopardize the safety of U.S. citizens than it is doing to protect them. Now that government agencies are being forced to reduce spending across the board, it is the perfect time to cut back on these bloody, unpopular missions.