Wanted: Enemy to Justify $344 Billion War Budget
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You may know some despicable characters, but are they mean enough to apply for this job posting?
ENEMY WANTED. Serious enemy needed to justify Pentagon budget increase. Defense contractors desperate. Interested enemies send letter and photo or video (threatening, ok) to Enemy Search Committee, Priorities Campaign, 1350 Broadway, NY, NY, 10018.
Here's the deal: We know our politicians have their work cut out for them. They need to find an enemy to justify maintaining the Pentagon budget as if the Cold War never ended. But the pool of credible enemies is evaporating. North Korea is even going diplomatic. The Soviets took themselves out of the running years ago. And countries like Iraq -- or tough looking trading partners like China -- don't make the cut.
So, I am distributing a job description as widely as possible to help our politicians find the enemy they seek. Even with the help of defense contractors -- who spend $50 million on lobbyists annually -- our politicians do not possess the creativity to find the right adversary. It's clear that the old concept of enemy doesn't work anymore.
The trouble is the Defense Department needs to find an enemy in a hurry. The Bush Administration has proposed to increase Pentagon spending by $33 billion, the largest defense increase since the Cold War.
This inexplicable proposal is under attack by children's advocates, who would rather use the $33 billion earmarked for the Pentagon to begin modernizing our crumbling public schools and to buy health insurance for millions of U.S. kids and Head Start for the one-third of eligible children who can't get in because it's under-funded.
As pressure mounts to pay for these domestic programs -- and the size of the projected surplus shrinks -- defense contractors and the Pentagon PR machine, including their legion of liaisons on Capitol hill, are getting nervous. Meanwhile, high tech airplanes crash inexplicably, Star Wars tests miss their targets, and the budget crunch in Congress looms. All of this raises questions, questions, questions:
- Why does the Pentagon need a budget of $344 billion -- which would be over three times as much as the combined defense spending of Russia, China, and America's potential adversaries (Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria)? And this does include not the over $200 billion spent by U.S. allies annually on defense.
- How do Congress and the President know how much money the Pentagon needs when it can't pass a financial audit -- despite legal obligations to do so? Without audited books, the President and Congress do not know for certain what the Pentagon has and what it really needs.
- Why does the federal government want to spend $344 billion on the Pentagon, when the federal government currently spends only $42 billion on education, $26 billion on affordable housing, $6 billion on Head Start, and only $1 billion on school construction? Does it appear that our national priorities are mixed up or what?
These would be tough questions, even if America had a serious enemy. Without one, these are devastating questions -- and it's so painful to see our politicians trying to answer them that I want to help them find an enemy as quickly as possible.
Larger trends are also causing our politicians to squirm when defending the Pentagon budget, and frankly it's an embarrassing sight (hence, again, the immediate enemy need). For example:
- In our country -- the richest nation in the world -- 14 million kids attend schools that need extensive renovation or replacement. In international test scores, our eighth graders rank 18 in math and 19 in science, below Slovenia, Singapore, and Hungary, among others.
- The child poverty rate hovers at over 15 percent, meaning that about one in six kids lives in poverty.
- Over 40 million Americans, including about 10 million children, have no health insurance.
My enemy search -- if successful -- would go a long way toward easing the consciences of our politicians who support the fat Pentagon budget, which diverts money from poor children, the environment, and other good things.
As of today, however, my search is not going well. So, I am open to any and all suggestions or leads that you might have. I am, of course on the lookout for the right headhunter, but none has materialized.
If you've got any killer ideas, please let me know.
Ben Cohen is co-founder of Ben and Jerry's and President of the Priorities Campaign (www.businessleaders.org).