Obama's budget and military spending

The Obama administration created enormous buzz last week with the release of its first budget outline. One area of that budget that stirred surprisingly little discussion in the media was the White House's projections for military spending for 2009 and 2010.

According to the initial outline provided by the OMB, the Obama budget plans a total of $662.1 billion in 2009 for military spending, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is almost $4 billion less than what was spent in 2008. 2010 will see only a slight a slight bump of about $1 billion over 2009.

In a press conference this week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that he believes the projected funding is enough to provide for national security and to keep Americans safe. He added, however, that Obama's budget turns of 'the spigot' of military spending turned on by the Bush administration since 2001.

One of the most important areas of savings will come by bringing the Iraq war to an end. Obama, this week, set two timetables for withdrawal. The largest group of combat forces will be pulled out by August 2010, and within one year of that date, the residual force of between 30,000 and 50,000 troops will be brought home. The US spends roughly $10 billion per month for the Iraq war.

The budget projects savings by eliminating Pentagon waste. In his speech to Congress earlier in the week, Obama proposed the elimination of wasteful Pentagon spending and 'Cold War-era weapons programs we no longer need.'

The administration's announcements about its broad proposals for military spending in its first budget met with mixed reviews, however.

An initial analysis from the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a peace organization that lobbies Congress against military spending hikes, welcomed Obama's plan to 'hold the line' on military spending, but also noted that the plan proposes to pay for a dangerous troop build-up in Afghanistan.

“If President Obama gets the budget he requested today, we’d be spending 13 times the money engaging the rest of the world through the military as by any other means,” added Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

The Council for a Livable World praised the budget proposal for eliminating new nuclear weapons programs that are unnecessary and wasteful.

Other activists have pointed out ways the Obama administration could find additional savings in the military budget by reducing the US nuclear arsenal. For example, Joseph Cirincione, head of Ploughshares, recently opined in the that the US nuclear arsenal could be reduced from more than 5,400 nuclear weapons to about 1,000, saving about $20 billion annually in storage and maintenance costs. Unfortunately, he added, even with that size of an arsenal the US would still possess the capability to destroy the world many times over. In addition, Cirincione wrote, the US should eliminate the $13 billion spent each year on the failed 'star wars' anti-missile program.

So far, few details on the exact nature of the military budget have been released. The White House noted that more will be made public after each department and agency finalizes its proposals for the administration's April report on the budget.