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INTERMITTENT NOTESXML

The Stupidest Argument about Health Care Reform Ever

The Neocons Weigh In

By Werther*

War Films posterAfter a year of listening to health care hyperbole on both sides of the partisan abyss one would have thought the reservoir of far-fetched arguments must have been exhausted. But the neoconservatives, the cabal that brought us "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, are more than up to the task. Max Boot, neocon sachem and contributor to the various publications of the far-flung Rupert Murdoch empire, is sure to win the championship for idiotic commentary on health care legislation by virtue of his latest effort in the Wall Street Journal. [1]

By adding to entitlements, Boot says, the health care bill will squeeze military spending and thus endanger America's superpower status. Boot marshals some meretricious evidence to imply that DOD budgets have somehow been going down. But using military spending-to-GDP ratios as he does is highly misleading and is a favorite tactic of Pentagon hucksters to create the illusion of declining budgets — a circumstance (wholly fictitious) which must, in their minds, be rectified by ever greater future spending. Percentage-of-GDP calculations, however, would probably show every country on earth, with the exception of North Korea, has declining military spending trends over time.

In terms of actual inflation-adjusted dollars spent, nevertheless, the United States now spends more on its military than at any time since World War II: more even than at the peak of the Korean war and Vietnam war. [2] Remarkably, it spends more than the rest of the world put together.

Boot bemoans the shortage of his beloved weaponry: why does the Navy only have 283 ships, and why will it have severe trouble replacing even this small number? But it has been obvious for years that the numbers of major weapon systems in DOD's inventory have declined — and will decline further still in the future — because DOD's leadership is perfectly content that this should occur. Why else do they procure (and the word "procure" aptly suggests an element of prostitution to the military contractors) $5 billion destroyers and $10 billion aircraft carriers? Isn't it patently clear that one cannot replace older systems on a one-for-one basis if the new system costs two to five times as much on a per-unit basis?

This doesn't just apply to the Navy. The decline of the Air Force, which Boot laments, is equally the result of such technological filibustering. The F-16, a perfectly serviceable low-end fighter which could be produced in volume at about $30 million each, is intended to be replaced by the F-35 at $131 million per copy, according to the Government Accountability Office. [3] It is plain that the Air Force cannot replace the 1,200 F-16s in the total active inventory with F-35s at anything approaching a one-for-one rate. Nor is it altogether certain that the F-35, a seriously overweight air frame stuffed with immature software and possessing the flight dynamics of a brick, is capable of replacing the F-16 even qualitatively.

The reason these projects are conceived as they are and burst into pustulant fruition is because that is how the Military Industrial Congressional Complex likes them. Present day military contractors would be completely incapable of producing utilitarian weapons at one-tenth the rate they were produced in World War II. But they don't have to: as long as they provide lucrative board memberships and consultancies to retiring generals they can crank up their profits by conceiving monstrously expensive programs that remain in research and development for years, if not decades, and require very little "touch" labor but a lot of billable overheard. A program, having already been pitched to and approved by the strangely amenable generals, is then locked in by a shower of political contributions to the right committees on Capitol Hill. When the whole rotten scheme is finally revealed to be 100 percent over budget and years behind schedule, it is either canceled at the convenience of the government (meaning no harm to the contractor, who bids on the very next project), or is so reduced in quantity that the unit cost skyrockets and the military service disingenuously decries the result as an inventory shortfall because of alleged "budget cuts."

Such is the system Max Boot so gloriously miscomprehends, that he thinks should spend ever increasing sums, in perpetuity. And for what? So that lap-top bombardiers like himself can vicariously experience the thrill of other Americans tromping about various pieces of unpleasant third world real estate playing "globocop," as he himself puts it without apparent irony.

We have thus far endeavored to avoid the use of the term "defense" to describe the spending and resultant activities that Boot requires. Indeed, his own use of the term "globocop" suggests that legitimate defense has very little to do with what he advocates, as invading the wrong country in 2003 abundantly made clear. The military establishment, and the elites in Washington and Wall Street who direct its use, have anything in mind but the defense of what have traditionally been construed as legitimate American interests. Michael Lind says, quite rightly, that the American political establishment has deliberately traded away the prosperity of U.S. citizens — shipping their jobs overseas — in order to maintain an increasingly meaningless military supremacy. [4]

Apparently the establishment also seeks to trade away the public's health. Regardless of what one thinks about the specific health care legislation that passed, the idea that the health of Americans should be sacrificed — when U.S. life expectancy is already near the bottom of the list among OECD countries — so that neocons like Boot can repeat criminal mistakes like the invasion of Iraq, shows the depth to which political discourse in this country has sunk. If health care legislation creates spending that is unsustainable in the long term, by all means amend it to make it less expensive. But any savings should either pay down the debt or be remitted to the taxpayer. Giving the proceeds to the Department of "Defense" would be worse than flushing the money down the drain: it would create more rapacious criminal corporations like Halliburton, more sinister private armies like Blackwater, and more interventions with a potential for lethal blowback.

From 1948, at the dawn of the Cold War, through the Obama administration's pending budget request for 2011, the Department of "Defense" has spent or will spend $28.4 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

This is the same organization that couldn't even defend its headquarters on 9/11 — and it wants even more funds to perpetuate the status quo?


* Werther is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.

[1] "ObamaCare and American Power," Max Boot, the Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2010.

[2] "Department of Defense Budget FY2011 [.pdf], see pp. 61-67.

[3] "Is This Fighter Jet Worth $131 Million?", AOL News, March 12, 2010.

[4] "The U.S. is stuck in the Cold War," Michael Lind, Salon.com, March 30, 2010.

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