Steve Chapman

One of the problems with liberals, as conservatives know, is that no matter how much money they are given to spend, it's never enough. The social and economic problems they lament are impossible to eradicate entirely, so more spending is always in order. After all, it is bound to do some good. Spending less? Never an option.

But it turns out conservatives are not immune to that impulse. They just apply it to the programs they like instead of the ones liberals like. And their favorite of all is defense spending.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial writers fear that any day, we will be naked unto our enemies. President Obama, they warn, wants to lavish money on everything but the military. America faces an array of threats, and "Obama's budget isn't adequate to those challenges."

Really? Cindy Williams, a defense scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former assistant director of the Congressional Budget Office, points out that Obama wants to spend 2 percent more in the next fiscal year than President Bush allocated for this year, and 9 percent more than we spent last year.

Bush also planned for the defense budget (apart from Iraq and Afghanistan) to shrink slightly each year starting in 2010. Obama's blueprint calls for the defense budget to remain about the same. "Spending will actually be higher under Obama's plan than under Bush's," says Williams.

But as conservatives have been known to point out, Washington policymakers have funny ways with numbers. Last year, the Defense Department asked for an increase of nearly $60 billion in the 2010 budget over what had been planned. The Obama administration declined but agreed to a smaller increase.

So conservatives should be pleased, right? Wrong. Since the increase the Pentagon got is less than it wanted, they claim Obama is "cutting" defense spending. By that logic, if you ask for a 50 percent raise and get only 10 percent, you've suffered a pay cut.

The real question is not why Obama wants to spend so little on defense but why he wants to spend so much. Since 2001, our military outlays have soared by 40 percent, after adjusting for inflation. And that's not counting the costs of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We not only spend more than anyone else, we spend more than everyone else. Globalsecurity.org reports that in 2004, the United States lavished $623 billion on the military. All the other governments on Earth together managed only $500 billion. Even this gap understates our dominance, because most of the other top spenders are U.S. allies.

No nation can dream of challenging us in the air or at sea. We have a huge nuclear arsenal capable of inflicting mass annihilation on a moment's notice.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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