Guns versus butter: Why tanks trump food stamps in the federal budget

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Though hardly front-page news, the proposed federal budget for 2016 boosts funding for the Department of Defense. Obama earmarked $534 billion to these U.S. warlords. Their base budget in 2000 was around $300 billion. His proposal keeps baseline “defense” spending at its typical 20 to 30 percent of the total budget.

This $534 billion does not include the Department of Energy allocation to build nuclear bombs. Nor does it cover an additional $51 billion for operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, etc. This money comes under the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) — authorized, unaccountable hush money which exempts the Pentagon from the spending restrictions of the 2011 Budget Control Act. Social services programs are barred from such exemptions.

When the war-related share of the federal debt is added in, nearly 50 percent of the total federal budget goes to militarism!

With social programs legally defenseless and the Pentagon now well-protected, the GOP announced its proposal to cut food stamps by 34 percent over the next decade. Obama’s budget would cut Medicare by $400 billion over the same period.

This Republicrat frenzy for more guns and less butter is an assault on working people everywhere. An effective fightback requires that we understand where it’s coming from.

War-making abroad. Whatever Congress decides, the U.S. military will remain the largest in the world. Its spending constitutes close to forty percent of the world’s total military expenditure.

This country will go on operating military bases around the globe, estimated at more than a thousand, with more than a quarter million troops stationed in 156 countries. The Pentagon will be billed $157 million from Lockheed Martin for each F-35A fighter jet, and $1.4 million from Raytheon for each Tomahawk cruise missile. Warships cost more than $2 billion apiece.* U.S. workers will foot the astronomical bill.

Meanwhile, the U.S. will sustain its active combat operations in the Middle East, Africa and beyond. In recent years it’s been involved in warring parties in nearly 75 countries.

And at home.< The flip side of militarism abroad is a growing police state at home. This requires repressive laws and lots of hypocrisy from above.

Despite zero evidence that curtailing civil liberties at home reduces terrorism, the Patriot Act enjoys support from both major parties. The National Security Agency spies on virtually every American with a cell phone, in the name of “national security.”

The Pentagon learned from its defeat in Vietnam that journalists and TV coverage had to be vetted to present a sanitized view of war to the U.S. public. The media went along and the military establishment became state censor.

Meanwhile popular culture glorified the unseen mayhem. Today, the $60 billion video game industry thrives on recruiting young minds to the joys of simulated murder. Ads for armed forces recruitment are a staple between innings. From 2004 to 2008, the yearly advertising budget for recruitment rose from $3.4 billion to $7.7 billion, slowing somewhat later due to the poverty draft. Still, camouflage pants are a civilian fashion statement.

Root causes. What lies behind the relentless increase in militarism? Is the war industry itself the driving force?

Profit margins of the main corporate players seem to point in that direction. Lockheed Martin reported 2014 net earnings of $3.61 billion. Final quarter 2014 profits by Northrop Grummon and Raytheon were $506 and $586 million respectively, each up from the year before. U.S. military corporations lead the world in foreign arms sales. And recently, business is booming amidst the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

But attributing the military dependent economy to the profit drive of the war industry does not explain why it has such overwhelming political clout. To understand this, we need to turn to the ideas of Marxism.

The great German Marxist Karl Liebknecht clarified the matter in his 1907 book Militarism. Liebknecht’s ideas still hold true.

Militarism, he wrote, “is deeply rooted in the structure of class-divided social orders” and “has the task of protecting the prevailing social order.” Today, in the age of global capitalism, the social order involves not only the capitalist class exploiting laborers, but advanced capitalist nations exploiting the labor and resources of weaker nations. This is imperialism — capitalism gone global.

And it is more than just companies from rich countries selling their wares overseas. They invest capital abroad — in factories, mines, oil fields and forests. Such economic ventures are costly, and are threatened from two sides, termed “external” and “internal” by Liebknecht. The external threats are the capitalist competitors. The internal threats are the native workers who become “forced laborers for the capitalists.”

The external menace is an economic one. “Tension [among nations] is a necessary consequence of the sharpening economic competition … on the world market,” says Liebknecht. Its ultimate eruption is war between imperialists — World Wars I and II being two tragic examples.

Internally, the native population, subjected to super exploitation and dictatorial repression, threatens rebellion — and revolution.

With immense economic investments greatly endangered from two directions, the vastly outnumbered capitalists need military protection. General Motors derives only 20 percent of its profits from domestic operations. Twenty percent of its foreign profits is from South Korea. It is happy U.S. troops are stationed there.

Iraq has oil and Afghanistan has mineral deposits. U.S. business is pleased the Pentagon has taken up residence there.

In 2013, China surpassed the U.S. as the largest trading nation in the world. Now it is being portrayed as a major enemy. Obama, Pentagon chiefs, and Wall Street all warn of China’s “belligerence.” This economic threat has the Pentagon surrounding China with military bases and troops.

Militarism necessarily expands because its mission is to safeguard the global investments of the capitalist class, whose privileges and profits are most definitely at risk. The world economy is in decline, and the capitalists make war with their competitors.

This is precisely what we are witnessing today.

The way forward. Warfare is built into the very fabric of the U.S. economy. To stop it we need to replace capitalism with a socialist system which produces for human needs and not the profit of a tiny minority. Who can question the sanity of the following proposals?

• Shut down every U.S. military base, bring home all U.S. armed forces, and re-direct the billions of dollars thus saved into quality housing, transportation, education, and healthcare for all.

• Convert arms production to peacetime production, with a massive jobs retraining program for soldiers and workers.

• Provide government aid to U.S. cities now dependent on military bases for jobs.

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*In the original version of this story the price of U.S. warships was incorrect. Revised July 7, 2015.

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