By Drew Hanson
There’s a lot of discussion these days about the deficit. Rightfully so. The United States is in debt to the tune of something over $12,000,000,000,000. That’s twelve trillion dollars. And because our economy is still emerging from the worst economic disaster of the past 80 years, that number is going to get bigger before it gets smaller. It is a problem we need to address.
Unfortunately, too much emphasis is being placed on cuts to what some call “domestic discretionary spending”, that is for things like public education, public radio and television, and public health. These are programs that contribute to the quality of life for nearly all Americans. These are programs that distinguish rich countries from poor countries. These are programs worth fighting for.
Let’s not forget that the United States remains a wealthy nation, perhaps still the most wealthy nation on the planet. Our deficit is a big number but there is great wealth here and we have the exceptional ingenuity to fix the budget issues. So let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
A sensible approach to cutting the deficit would look at three things: our country’s mission, where the wealth of our nation resides and where we might make government programs more efficient. In this short essay I’ll explore the first: our mission.
The government of these United States has a wonderful mission statement, contained in the preamble of our constitution and written by our founding fathers. It reads, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Given our large deficit, if a federal government program does not directly help to satisfy this mission, we must look at cutting the program.
Two parts of the federal budget that do not directly serve our mission are, first, having far too many American military service personnel stationed overseas and, second, the continued development of many military weapon systems. Military service personnel should be paid fairly and on time, protected with the best safety equipment, given excellent health care and if they are injured in the line of duty provided with health care coverage for life. But stationing them in far off lands, sometimes for decades, does not satisfy the mission of our government as delineated by our founding fathers and is an unnecessary expense we can no longer afford.
America needs to be exceptional for its own citizens again before we can afford the job of global police. It is time other nations police the world and, if necessary, topple brutal dictators.
The trillion dollars we have spent on Iraq was…, well, how do you think it squares with our nation’s mission statement when our own citizens have basic health and education needs? The same holds for recent military operations in Libya. The more than 160 tomahawk cruise missiles we shot at Libya during one week last month cost about $1 million each. Without factoring the other associated costs, that operation dinged US taxpayers over $160,000,000.
The next time you hear someone complain about a million dollars for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, for instance, or other beneficial education or public health project for our own people, point out that our government spent that much on just one bomb in Libya. What’s more in keeping with our government’s mission, securing “the blessings of liberty” for our own people with a public health resource like the Ice Age Trail or attacking a sovereign nation that posed no threat to the citizens of the United States? Especially when we are over twelve trillion dollars in debt, our military should “provide for the common defense” of the citizens of the United States only.
Make no mistake about it, there is plenty of waste in the military weapon systems our government is building. More than a trillion dollars in boondoggles were recently described in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/03/13/opinion/13opchartimg.html?ref=opinion
Part of insuring “domestic tranquility”, promoting “the general welfare” and securing “the blessings of liberty” is embodied in our public education system, public radio, public television, public health programs and in relatively small programs like our National Park System (including the Ice Age National Scenic Trail), transportation enhancements and the Smithsonian Institution. These are things that give our civilization value and meaning.
It is time for a peace dividend to help pay down the deficit. By bringing home most overseas American military service personnel and by cutting certain military weapon systems we could save trillions of dollars without trashing our constitution and betraying our founding fathers.