Last week President Obama signed a military spending bill that begins to turn our nation in a new, better direction. But there is a long way to go.
Under George W. Bush, the Pentagon budget grew by a whopping 36 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, not counting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The bill that Obama signed last week slashes that growth to 1.7 percent for fiscal year 2010. A number of expensive weapons programs have been eliminated. For the following four years, the administration is projecting virtually no increase in the military budget. That is a momentous step in the right direction.
Condemning the notorious waste and corruption that has characterized Pentagon budgets, Obama said he intends to break with "indefensible, no-bid contracts that cost taxpayers billions and make contractors rich; special interests and their exotic projects that are years behind schedule and billions over budget; entrenched lobbyists pushing weapons that even our military says it doesn't want and doesn't need."
Under Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan war funding was claimed to be an "emergency," not included in the normal defense budget process. Obama has ended that deceptive practice and included these costs in the new budget. The bill he signed includes $130 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan operations for the next fiscal year. That is down from $144 billion and $188 billion in Bush's last two years of "emergency" supplemental funding. For the following four years, the Obama administration is projecting a sharp drop to a flat $50 billion.
These steps are the beginnings of a challenge to the power of the military industrial complex, for whom war and weaponry are a big fat gravy train. No wonder the Dick Cheneys of Halliburton fame want to bring Obama down.
But the total Pentagon price tag still adds up to $680 billion - a number with so many zeros ordinary Americans can't wrap their minds around it.
Military spending continues to suck up the bulk of our money, starving vital areas like education, social services, health, science, technology, the environment, and non-military international initiatives.
An over-emphasis on military might distorts and damages both our economy and our national security. And the two are inter-related.
Along with eliminating waste and corruption, it is time to move to a new way of defining American national security. War is not the answer.