Thursday, April 14, 2005

Let's Make A Deal

I have an idea that might surprise some readers. We should increase the Pentagon's budget. Before you conclude that I've fallen off my political rocker, hear me out. An Op-Ed written by John Deutch and William Perry in the New York Times touches on an issue that I have brought up numerous times, and in varying contexts (most recently here): that the reckless fiscal policies of the Bush administration are threatening our national security - whether it be in ceding control of our currency and debt instruments to foreign banks or maintaining such a starved Treasury that we are in no position to fund any exigencies that may arise to disrupt our fragile monetary policy. According to the authors - a former Deputy Secretary of Defense from 1994 to 1995 (Deutch) and Secretary of Defense from 1994 to 1997 (Perry) - the recent budget crunch the Pentagon is encountering has resulted in some ill-conceived cuts to programs that are vital to our military and, relatedly, economic well-being.
Of the Pentagon's $419.3 billion budget request for next year, only about $10.5 billion - 2 percent - will go toward basic research, applied research and advanced technology development. This represents a 20 percent reduction from last year, a drastic cutback that threatens the long-term security of the nation.

Over the years, tech base activities have yielded advances in scientific and engineering knowledge that have given United States forces the technological superiority that is responsible in large measure for their current dominance in conventional military power.

These advances require years of sustained effort by university, industry and government researchers. If the Pentagon does not make the required investments today, America will not have dominant military technology tomorrow.
Past innovations resulting from the tech base include the stealth technology that renders certain of our aircraft undetectable by most radar systems, satellites and global positioning technology that allow for near-real-time intelligence on the battle field as well as smart munitions that reduce collateral damage and provide for precision strikes on high value targets, to name but a few. The next generation of forward looking potentialities, including robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology remain, precariously, on the cusp of discovery but poised to be sacrificed at the altar of budgetary necessity.

The utility of the technological breakthroughs ushered in by the research scientists, engineers, and visionaries employed in the tech base operations has not ended with military applications, however. These innovations have fueled the engine of America's industrial/economic hegemony as well.

The technology base program has also had a major effect on American industry. Indeed, it is the primary reason that the United States leads the world today in information technology. American companies not only draw heavily on the Pentagon's work, but they have also come to depend on it. The research and development programs of many of America's major information technology companies are almost exclusively devoted to product development.

It was the investment of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in a network known as ARPA-net in the 1960's and 70's, for example, that gave rise to the Internet. The JPEG file format for digital images is based on software and standards developed by the Pentagon. The global positioning satellite system, first developed for precision-guided munitions, is now used in many cellphones and has the potential to revolutionize our air traffic control system. America's ability to translate the Pentagon's technology base into commercial achievement is the envy of the world.
The esteemed authors propose a solution to this conundrum, and it involves shifting money around within the Pentagon's budget. But given the requirements of maintaining operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, I question whether there is ample funding to be had from merely reprioritizing spending - even if there could be some minor reshuffling of the deck to better allocate scarce resources. With this in mind, my proposition is to spend more on the military in order to cover these costs. That might not be the response you would expect to hear from a left-leaning blogger, but I think that in times of intense military activity (Afghanistan and Iraq for example) it would be improper and unwise to setback the invaluable research and development efforts that insure the safety of the next generation of soldiers (as well as the entire nation really) because of issues of funding. At the same time, there are very real fiscal constraints on increasing funding even further for the Pentagon given the current level of debt and the extent of the federal government's deficits that are looming over the country.

So, here's my solution: Let's repeal the portions of Bush's tax cuts that accrue to the benefit of the wealthiest Americans and put some of that money into war-time supplemental spending for the Pentagon, and the rest can go toward taming the deficits and maintaining the needed social programs currently on the chopping block. Look, there's a reason that no other society in the history of the planet has cut taxes in a time of war - let alone as consistently and to the degree as the current Republican leadership. Revenue is needed to finance war, and without it, the rest of the government begins to feel the strain. But
just yesterday, we learned that the House passed a permanent repeal of the Estate Tax, which should really be called the Paris Hilton tax because you have to be a millionaire heir or heiress to even qualify to begin paying that tax (and even then, only on the portion that exceeds the million dollar mark). This move alone will cost the Federal Government $300 billion over the next decade. I ask you in earnest, what is more important now that "everything has changed after 9/11," a tax cut for the trust fund set or research and development into systems that serve in the defense of our nation and fuel our economy through tech innovations?

If complaints about the slashing of food assistance for pregnant women, infants, and children, as well as the loss of child-care for 300,000 low-income children by 2009, aren't enough to pierce the veil of the "
culture of life" that has Conservatives in America so enamored, then will this alarming erosion of our future military and economic dominance cause them to reconsider? Are these massive, trillion dollar tax cuts primarily for the wealthiest Americans so sacrosanct that they should trump the next generation of technological discoveries that will insure our continued military and economic leadership? If so, I continue to pine for the real Republicans and wonder how senseless partisanship replaced common sense.

(cross-posted at
Liberals Against Terrorism)

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