- The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.
- The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?
- The intelligence community is so vast that more people have “top secret” clearance than live in Washington, D.C.
- The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.
The world and the problems it faces are changing. Traditional military solutions, as we have seen in our very recent history, are not always effective; rather, they sometimes worsen the problem. There are several proven ways of "winning hearts and minds" that have nothing to do with the DoD budget. (Kristof mentions several of these, and not for the first time.)
In a New Republic article, Paul Kennedy writes that American power is and has been abnormally huge and that is must, like every other great power, decline to a more normal size. He doesn't deny that America will remain enormously powerful, but that the level of power we wield today cannot be sustained. It will take on more normal proportions and we must prepare ourselves for this. Citing Joseph Nye, he says that American power is like a stool of three legs: soft power, economic power, and military power. Soft power (the ability to persuade other nations to do what we want) is clearly waning. Economic power has taken a serious blow. Military power is the only leg that remains strong. But, like Kristof, Kennedy says that military power is not an all-purpose cure.
In light of all of this it seems to me (and my opinion plus a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee) that we should cut military spending and direct it toward strengthening those other two legs, especially since it is increasingly clear that it is an ineffective way of solving our problems.