By John W. Whitehead
If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off, and Americans would do well to keep that in mind as Congress and the White House debate whether or not to raise the debt ceiling from its current high of $14.3 trillion.
For one thing, the grandstanding by both parties over health care costs and Social Security is nothing more than a convenient distraction from the glaring economic truth that at the end of the day, it’s not the sick, the elderly or the poor who are stealing us blind and pushing America towards bankruptcy. It’s the military industrial complex (the illicit merger of the armaments industry and the Pentagon) that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against more than 50 years ago and which has come to represent perhaps the greatest threat to the nation’s fragile infrastructure today.
Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)–and that’s just what the government spends on foreign wars.
War is not cheap. Since 2001, the U.S. government has spent more than $1.2 trillion in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That number, however, is probably closer to $2.7 trillion when you add in the war in Pakistan and other hidden costs, and will likely climb to $4.4 trillion before it’s all over. Additionally, the American military industrial complex is spending roughly $4 million per day on the unconstitutional war in Libya.
Yet what most Americans fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at taxpayer expense. War–or the art of killing–has unfortunately become a huge money-making venture, and America, with its vast military empire, is one of its best buyers and sellers.
Unfortunately, Americans have been inculcated with a false, misplaced sense of patriotism about the military that equates devotion to one’s country with supporting the war machine so that any mention of cutting back on the massive defense budget is immediately met with outrage. Yet they might be surprised to learn that little of the money being spent on so-called defense is actually being used for national defense, meanwhile those in uniform are being used as convenient fronts for a military industrial complex that is bilking taxpayers out of billions of dollars in questionable defense spending.
A government audit, for example, found that defense contractor Boeing has been massively overcharging taxpayers for mundane parts, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in overspending. As the report noted, the American taxpayer paid:
$71 for a metal pin that should cost just 4 cents; $644.75 for a small gear smaller than a dime that sells for $12.51: more than a 5,100 percent increase in price. $1,678.61 for another tiny part, also smaller than a dime, that could have been bought within DoD for $7.71: a 21,000 percent increase. $71.01 for a straight, thin metal pin that DoD had on hand, unused by the tens of thousands, for 4 cents: an increase of over 177,000 percent.
Of course, this kind of rampant abuse is ludicrous, and never more so than at a time when unemployment is topping 9.2%. When most Americans can scarcely afford the cost of cooling their own homes, taxpayers should be up in arms over having to pay through the nose to the tune of $20 billion–more than NASA’s entire annual budget–to air condition the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And if you think gas prices at home are high, just consider what the American taxpayer is being forced to shell out overseas: once all the expenses of delivering gas to troops in the field are factored in, we’re paying between $18-30 per gallon for gas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Incredibly, despite reports of corruption, abuse and waste, the mega-corporations behind much of this ineptitude and corruption continue to be awarded military contracts worth billions of dollars.
Just consider: Congress and the White House want taxpayers to accept that the only way to reduce the nation’s ballooning deficit and avoid raising the debt ceiling is by cutting “entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Yet if the government would just take the amount spent on the war in Afghanistan this year alone ($122 billion in FY2011) and reallocate it where it’s needed here at home, it would entirely wipe out the projected budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2012 for 41 states and the District of Columbia, totaling $103 billion.
The problem we wrestle with is none other than a distorted American empire, complete with mega-corporations, security-industrial complexes and a burgeoning military. And it has its sights set on absolute domination. Yet at the height of its power, even the mighty Roman Empire could not stare down a collapsing economy and a burgeoning military. Prolonged periods of war and false economic prosperity largely led to its demise, and it is feared that America, by repeating Rome’s mistakes, is headed toward a similar collapse. As historian Chalmers Johnson predicts, “the United States will within a very short time face financial or even political collapse at home and a significantly diminished ability to project force abroad.”
Moreover, the so-called American empire faces a violent contradiction between its long republican tradition and its more recent imperial ambitions. As Johnson writes:
The fate of previous democratic empires suggests that such a conflict is unsustainable and will be resolved in one of two ways. Rome attempted to keep its empire and lost its democracy. Britain chose to remain democratic and in the process let go its empire. Intentionally or not, the people of the United States already are well embarked upon the course of non-democratic empire.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book The Freedom Wars (TRI Press) is available online at www.amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org
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