Copyright by John T. Reed

The U.S. government has spent far too much money. This year, we spend $7 trillion ($3.25 trillion to pay off maturing federal bonds and $3.6 trillion to operate the government) and collect only $2 trillion in taxes. In the future, this situation will only get worse. There is no plan to fix it. The bond market is lending us the missing $5 trillion, but they will not do that forever. As the bond market’s resistance to buying U.S. government bonds increases, the U.S. government will make the active-duty U.S. military an early casualty.

However, the politician culprits in this, mainly Democrats who voted for massive entitlement programs, do not like the military or military spending. In the 12/7/2009 Newsweek, Harvard financial historian Niall Ferguson, author of the 2009 book The Ascent of Money, wrote an article titled, “An Empire at Risk.”

Its point is that the mighty U.S. has borrowed so much money it is no longer the mighty United States. He says,

We are, it seems, having the fiscal policy of a world war, without the war.

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Smaller percentage of GDP

Ferguson quotes the Congressional Budget Office as saying the defense budgets which is now above 4% of GDP will fall to 3.2% in 2015 and 2.6% in 2028. That’s about a 40% drop in defense spending as a percentage of GDP.

This is how empires decline. It begins with a debt explosion. It ends with at inexorable reduction in the resources available for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

During a visit to West Point in 2008 I was granted the favor of sitting in on a class in the professional military ethic. During the class discussion, one cadet made some reference to the idea that money is no object when men’s lives are at stake.

In the last 15 minutes of the class,the professor asked me to comment. One thing I said was that military officers need to lose their disdain for financial efficiency, including when men’s lives are at stake. I pointed out that Britain was the world’s super power until World War I when they lost that status simply as a result of spending themselves out of it during World War I. They never again regained their number-one-in-the-world status.

The U.S. military is outrageously wasteful of the taxpayers’s money. It manifests in everything the military touches:

• overgenerous pensions complete with zillions of phony, just-before-retirement disabilities
• overgenerous medical benefits
• gross negligence regarding maintenance and preventive military buildings and equipment
• mostly unproductive use of military personnel most of the time
• cost overruns on virtually all government contracts for new weapons systems

But most of all, the U.S. military is simply ineffective in spite of having enormous resources at their disposal.

We won World War II in three years and 8 months. An April 11, 2009 Los Angeles Times story said that the Vietnam war, which we lost, cost $686 billion in inflation-adjusted [2009] dollars; World War II cost $4 trillion [2009 dollars] and the Iraq war cost about $694 billion by the end of 2009 [2009 dollars]. That does not include the Afghanistan war which a June 11, 2010 U.S. News & World Report story said cost $400 billion. Neither Iraq (seven years) nor Afghanistan (eight years—the longest war in U.S. history) have yet produced a victory, nor is it certain that either ever will.

There are also the military lives lost. Vietnam, 58,209; Iraq, 4,405; Afghanistan, 1,113 for a total of 63,727.

The U.S. military has numbed itself to the financial cost of its operations and to their lack of success. In World War II, commanders who did not succeed promptly were fired. That is necessary to effectiveness and efficiency. But it essentially has almost never happened since. The first two top generals to lose a U.S. war—Westmoreland and Abrams—were each promoted to Chief of Staff of the Army. Abrams got a tank named after him. As a result, the leaders of the U.S. military have, since the middle of the Korean War concluded that their job is to talk a good game and look the part. There are no consequences for losing or for wasting taxpayers’ money or sons.

The leaders of the U.S. military think conservation of the taxpayers’ money is beneath them. Their attitude is “We’re risking our lives over here. You have to give us whatever we ask for and we have no obligation to not waste it. Did we say we were risking our lives over here? Well, you’re not, so you cannot criticize us for wasting hundreds of billions or for not winning the wars in a reasonable amount of time.”

The bottom line, and I use that hackneyed phrase in multiple senses of the word, is that the U.S. military is going to be even more defunded than it already has been. If the GDP stays the same as now, the 40% drop in defense spending projected by the CBO in the next 18 years will result in the active duty military shrinking by at least that much. In fact, it would probably result in even greater shrinkage of the active-duty military because the retired military have long gotten paid more money than the active-duty guys, and those pensions are sacrosanct in the minds of the military. They do not mind losing wars or losing tens of thousands of personnel in futile efforts or wasting trillions of dollars, but they draw the line at their pensions being cut by as much as one penny. Career military personnel do not think they U.S. military exists to defend the nation. They think it exists to allow them to qualify for a 20-year pension and cradle-to-grave 100% medical benefits. Given a choice between cuts in the size of the active-duty military and cuts in their pensions, they will choose cuts in the number of active-duty military.

We are going to end up with a bigger number of retired military than active-duty military. The only bankrupt town in California at the moment is Vallejo. Their mayor was asked why. He said they have three police forces and three fire fighting forces. Two of each are retired and collecting pensions and benefits. Only one of each is on the job. And they cannot afford three of each.

Neither can America afford making America a nation of entitlement welfare queens. We are about to have more takers than makers in this country, that is, more people who collect more in government pay, benefits, or entitlements than they pay in taxes. Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation,” the inventors of the notion that the world owes seniors a discount, is already the first to spend more in their lifetimes than they made. In case you are looking forward to doing the same, forget about it. The “Greatest Generation” will also be the last to do that.

America is on the verge of bankruptcy because of too many entitlements, too many receiving government pay checks of one kind or another, and, to a much lesser extent, a military that is grossly ineffective and inefficient. While the military is not the main culprit in terms of size, they are equal culprits in every other respect. But main culprit or not, as federal money gets shorter and shorter, active-duty military will be one of the first to get cut because the left hates them and because the active-duty officers are totally cowed when it comes to resisting cuts in active-duty resources.

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