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article imageOp-Ed: The Price of Freedom — What are we sacrificing now?

By Donald Quinn     Feb 26, 2014 in Politics
The proposed budget cuts by the Secretary of Defense are nothing more than a red herring from an administration with out of control spending habits, desperate to make the Affordable Care Act work, and a habit of targeting the military.
Absurdity has come home to roost in American politics, as a nation with some of the most porous borders in the world today begins the debate on cutting back our military forces. This is a move by an administration desperate to appear fiscally responsible while putting a red target on the back of the men and women that have sacrificed to defend our freedoms both at home and throughout the world.
Forgive me if there is a strong sense of indignation as I write about our military. Perhaps indignation is not a strong enough word, perhaps the words I am looking for are outraged and complete bafflement at the continued preposterous actions of our Federal Government, and the complete unwillingness of our States to ask for a straight answer.
What I am referring to is the recent announcement by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel about the need for the American government to cut back the military forces of this country to pre-World War II levels. To reduce the standing armies of the world’s only superpower in the face of rising Chinese aggression in the South China seas and, even worse, in the face of a bloody drug fueled war one nation and one porous border away in the south. There is little doubt that the cutbacks can be justified or even applauded by those who feel like America spends way too much of its precious treasure on its military. After all, we spend more than the next dozen other nations combined, including China and Russia, on maintaining a huge and dominating military presence. It might also be argued that with the national debt rising at alarming rates, spending $615 billion on soldiers is a terrible waste which can be easily reduced to help pay back some of our debts.
Perhaps it was with this in mind that Hagel declared "This is a time for reality. This is a budget that recognizes the magnitude and reality of our fiscal challenges."
Finally it could be argued that the war in Iraq is ended, the US is gradually drawing down its troops in Afghanistan, and there are no foreseeable conflicts that could require our participation in the near future. In light of the wonderful peace that has descended upon the earth, there is no need for America to maintain the war budget we have had since 2001.
While all of these arguments have a degree of merit, there are those of us who still live in the real world and see this for what it is, a political maneuver by a government struggling to find its way and willing to sacrifice our strength, security, and integrity to get there. So let’s look at why we need the military, what we could do to reduce the budget without cutting close to 100,000 jobs, and what I believe is the real reason we are making these transitions.
Why do we need the military?
The world has fought itself to a standstill on two separate occasions, destroying millions of lives and leaving the planet a shell of its former self. On both occasions, we have rebuilt a strong and more prosperous society, leaving the memories of World Wars I and II in the history books. Unfortunately, it is neither wise nor prudent to forget that we stationed the largest contingency of troops in both Germany and Japan to prevent the rise of a dictatorial power once more. It is also not wise to forget that we stood toe to toe with the Soviet Union, and are the only reason why more countries in Europe were not locked behind the Iron Curtain. It is not prudent to forget that Hitler rose in just a few short years of ignoring him, and within the same century as the First World War. It does not behoove us to forget the day when North Korean soldiers, aided by China, streamed across the DMZ and virtually conquered South Korea or the day when Saddam Hussain invaded a nearly helpless Kuwait. Only the threat of American intervention and the fear of American soldiers has kept more dictators from rising and more people from dying. But that is history, and in an effort to be fair let’s talk about problems in this century.
For the last several years, the Chinese have been making aggressive inroads into the territorial waters claimed by the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea. One small step at a time they have continued to expand their influence, lacing it carefully with bellicose rhetoric with the full knowledge that none of these countries has the ability to take on the world's rising superpower. While some nations have shrunk from the confrontation, Japan has heard the saber rattling and is making active moves to grow its military forces. While we may have nothing to fear from Japan, or even the Chinese for that matter, there is little doubt that a conflict may be unavoidable. America will be involved, and anyone who says otherwise has forgotten that initially World War II was not our war either. A world away we have allies and friends to whose defense we will be forced to go in the face of aggression and could quickly find ourselves fighting a war on multiple fronts including the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, and in the passes of Afghanistan to name a few. While this is far away, there are closer threats to our borders.
There is an ongoing and active war in Mexico between the various cartels and the Mexican armed forces. Without our support, the Mexicans would have been quickly overrun by a well-funded ruthless army of foot soldiers that owe their allegiance to the drug lords. Money buys guns; money buys allegiance, and the drug cartels have money in abundance. In the drug war, by some estimates, over 100,000 people have been killed and over 1.6 million have been displaced. Not our war?
The cartels in Mexico are responsible for over 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States. Over 70 percent of all drugs that come into America flow through the hands of the cartel bosses. The problems are so deep that, recently captured, Joaquin Guzman, was named Chicago’s public enemy number one despite never having set foot in the city. The last person to have that title was Al Capone. The Associate Press reported recently that the Mexican cartels are putting trusted deputies into US cities to control the drug trade and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reports heightened cartel activity across the country.
Meanwhile, there are over 11 million illegal immigrants living in America, at least half of whom found their way into this country and a significant number of whom came across our porous southern border. Immigration is not the issue at hand; the issue at hand is the extremely dangerous situation just south of our country and a long history of being unable to stop criminals, drugs, or simple workers from coming across the border while still having the largest standing military in the world.
When you take these threats, then add in the fact that there are still strong Islamic fundamentalists who believe in destroying the United States it becomes apparent that we are certainly not entering a stage of the world when we are going to be allowed to rest on our laurels and sing cumbiya.
But what about the budgetary concerns?
The economics of American spending are very pointed reminder at how quickly a lot of money can disappear, if it is not properly regulated and audited on a frequent basis.
According to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2012 the Federal Government spent $3.5 trillion, of which only $2.5 trillion was financed by Federal Reserves with the balance $1.1 trillion being borrowed against future tax earnings. Of this money that was spent the government spent
- 22 percent or $773 billion on Social Security
- 21 percent or $732 billion on Medicare, Medicaid, & Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- 12 percent or $411 billion on miscellaneous aid programs
Without ever touching the defense budget, the federal government spent 55 percent, over $1.9 trillion on aid programs within the United States. Given that we paid 6 percent or $220 billion in interest, on the national debt, that is a staggering number.
On the defense budget, the Federal Government spent 19 percent or $689 billion on defense and security related activities of which $127 billion went to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the defense budget and the aid, or entitlement, programs we had already spent $2.6 trillion which was $100 billion more than we had in reserves in the first place.
This is important to know because Veterans benefits were not included in the defense budget so it should be noted that, in 2012, the Pentagon spent an additional $52.4 billion on military retirees and survivors. Roughly speaking around 1.5 percent of the Federal budget.
The question shouldn't be about how much we are spending, when clearly 55 percent of the budget is spent before we spend a dime on the military. Nor should the question be how much can we cut from the military budget before we can balance the books while refusing to look at any of the other programs. Additionally, apparently we have forgotten about the following in all of our budget analysis.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) the Affordable Health Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, will cost the Federal Government $759 billion in 2014. In other words, the Federal Government just added 21.7 percent to the expense side of the balance sheet.
With these numbers, we could eliminate defense spending altogether and still be running a deficit. So this is clearly not about balancing the budget.
What is it about?
Of all the things said, perhaps the most telling was when Chuck Hagel said this –
“We will ask retirees and some active-duty family members to pay a little more in their deductibles and co-pays, but their benefits will remain affordable and generous, as they should be”
In other words, we are going to increase the cost of Tricare for military families, and we are going to do it by raising their deductibles and co-pays. If it gets too expensive for an E5 Sergeant, who makes $32,814 per year, to take care of a family of 4 he/she has another option today. They can sign up for Obamacare.
With the largest military in the world and a new insurance plan that requires “young people” to sign up in order to pay for it, when you throw in the increases in Tricare it seems like a logical conclusion that part of the strategy is to get soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen to augment the Affordable Care system because they can no longer afford their military benefits. Given that President Barack Obama has pushed repeatedly to cut Tricare benefits and to increase premiums it is a question that must be asked.
There is going to be another major cut to the military spending under the new proposed budget. Since raising the insurance co-pays was not enough to balance the budget, we are also going to reduce the subsidies to commissaries by 71 percent. For the civilian population, the commissary is where soldiers making $18,378 per year (as a private), can go to get food at discounted prices.
Under this plan, most analysts fear that the majority of commissaries will have to close, despite Hagel’s heartfelt assurances that the government would not shutter any commissaries and that they would still be able to exist without paying rent or taxes. It would also mean that many soldiers, especially younger ones with families, would have to look to other means of feeding their families like SNAP (food stamps).
By way of analysis, we are going to cut insurance affordability for soldiers, and we are going to take away their ability to buy inexpensive groceries while simultaneously spending $759 billion on a new insurance program and $411 billion on safety net programs like food stamps.
To continue with the analysis, we have 100,000 soldiers who we apparently no longer need since the world has moved to “cyber warfare”, and yet we have what appears to be a civil war on our own very porous and unprotected borders — borders that require manpower to watch. The Chinese are rumbling, and they have a standing army of 1.5 million men.
And finally, if there is anyone who believes this is purely budgetary let me remind you that President Obama has, in the recent past, proposed capping all military pay raises at under 2.5 percent through 2018 (it’s 1 percent for the first two years) while simultaneously pushing for a minimum wage increase in the civilian population to $10.10 which would be an increase of 37 percent. A private making $18,378 per year (that’s $8.90 an hour for a 40 hour work week) would get an increase of $183.78 per year while having to pay more for his health insurance and food for his family. Meanwhile, President Obama is signing executive orders that make it mandatory for government contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. This is a blatant and disgusting show of favoritism that should enrage anyone that has ever served in our armed forces, or thankful for the ones that do.
At the end of the day, this is not a budgetary decision, if it were we would be discussing deep cuts to other programs, as well. It is certainly not a strategic decision, as some have tried to make it out to be, since any discussion of “strategy” fails to examine the complete spectrum of threats America faces and completely disregards the need to protect our own borders. The decision is purely political; a half token measure thrown at a nation drowning in debt in an attempt to seem like the government is trying to balance the budget. The sad part is many Americans are buying what an out of control, fiscally irresponsible government is selling.
We sacrificed our troops on the beaches of Normandy and in the deserts of Iraq. We have asked men and women to lay down their lives on the altar of freedom from the Guadalcanal to Kabul. Willingly they have given what it takes on the fields of Gettysburg and in the jungles of Vietnam. Let’s cut overseas operational spending, lets reduce the massive amounts of overpaid contractors, lets audit the system and see how much we are wasting, but let’s not make 100,000 families unemployed, raise their cost of insurance, and make them pay more for food, and lets certainly not do it in the name of “balancing the budget.”
As a candidate for State Senate, a combat veteran, and a fiscal conservative, I am as appalled at the absurdity of this plan as I am convinced that until we have new leaders who understand balancing a budget, understand the importance of the military, and are willing to take bold measures; the wool will continue to be pulled around the eyes of the American public, this time at the expense of the very men and women that have fought to defend our cherished freedom.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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