With no enemies, we're ready for two wars

November 13, 1996|By Bruce Allen

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Every election year since 1944, candidates have exploited voter fears with charges that their opponents are sapping America's military defenses. These Chicken Littles warn of imminent destruction unless we give them our votes -- and funnel more of our tax dollars to military contractors.

Bill Clinton and Bob Dole were no exception. During the second debate, after Mr. Dole sternly accused Mr. Clinton of slashing the Pentagon budget, the president proudly noted that there is a mere 1 percent difference between his military budget and that of the Republicans -- both of which call for spending more than $1.6 trillion over the next six years. It was a sorry spectacle indeed.

Having mutually reaffirmed the military budget's sacred-cow status, both candidates went on to tout their plans to reform social programs. They uttered not a word about reforming the Pentagon, even though it's the largest source of waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government.

Consider the $265.3 billion military-spending bill just signed by President Clinton, which contains $11.3 billion more than he had requested.

Unwanted weapons

Much of this added funding is for costly new high-tech weapons systems that the Pentagon doesn't even want. This bill has little to do with defense needs, and everything to do with defense-industry campaign contributions and more home-district pork for Congressmen sitting on key defense-budget committees.

With the election looming, Congress had Mr. Clinton over a pork barrel. A veto would have played right into the GOP mantra that he is soft on defense.

The reawakening of the ''Star Wars'' orbital-defense platform is further proof that military spending is less about protection of America than it is about political cant. Not content with the $40 billion already blown on this high-tech turkey, Senator Dole and the GOP had hoped that promoting a new version of Star Wars would persuade voters that Mr. Clinton is leaving us vulnerable to a ballistic nuclear attack by Iran or North Korea -- neither of which has anything close to the technology necessary for such an attack.

Money waster

But when the Congressional Budget Office reported that the program would carry an additional cost of up to $60 billion, the plan was quickly shelved -- until after the election. Meanwhile, President Clinton purports to oppose this colossal money-waster, but continues to spend billions annually on his own scaled-down version.

Massive Pentagon budgets are not beneficial to national or economic security. Recent polls show that the vast majority of Americans would rather spend the money on education and health care than on tanks, ships, planes and missiles.

Yet the Clinton administration clings to its ludicrous ''two-war scenario'' to justify continued military spending at levels proportionately higher than Richard Nixon maintained during the real, two-sided Cold War.

At a time when domestic programs are being slashed in the name of reducing a deficit largely fueled by the military-spending orgies of the Reagan years, the policy of spending $265 billion on the Pentagon is a disgrace for which both parties share the blame.

Working both ways

President Clinton, as usual, has worked both sides of the fence. In 1992, he campaigned on the theme of redirecting Cold War defense spending ''dollar for dollar'' into programs promoting conversion to a more civilian-based economy, yet was not above promising defense workers in Connecticut that he would authorize another $3 billion Seawolf submarine, which the Pentagon didn't even want.

Unless the electorate makes its priorities more clearly heard, lobbyists for the armament companies will still have their way, our budget will continue to be distorted, our basic needs unmet.

Bruce Allen is communications director for the Center for Economic Conversion.

Pub Date: 11/13/96

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