If government cannot run profitable trains or effective poverty programs, why should we think it can create a democracy in Afghanistan? We have tried to build democracy in Afghanistan for more than a decade. Are we winning hearts and minds? A 2010 poll of more than 1,600 Afghans found that just 43 percent had a favorable impression of the United States -- down from 83 percent in 2005. American-trained Afghan soldiers shoot U.S. troops.
And in the fog of war, the waste is astonishing. No one knows how many billions have been squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan: $200 million went for unfinished Afghan army buildings, $5 million to police buildings so poorly built that they are unusable, and so on.
Government is clumsy and wasteful at everything it does. Why would that be different for the military? The Pentagon, like other government departments, even spends money in deliberately wasteful ways to establish "need" for at least as much next year. Sometimes soldiers fly helicopters on pointless missions just to burn up fuel.
When a private company loses money (and doesn't get a government bailout), it goes out of business. If money vanishes, executives might get thrown in jail. But the Pentagon loses tens of billions and, at worst, gets a slap on the wrist from a congressional committee.
I don't presume to know the "right" amount to spend on defense. But I do know that when America is going broke, we can't afford to spend what Romney wants to spend.
America needs to reevaluate the military's mission. If the mission is to "provide for the common defense," then let's adopt a posture of defense. It needn't cost so much to protect our shores while staying out of other people's conflicts.