The administration last week floated a trial balloon that it wants to garrison 10,000 troops there indefinitely. That scrap of a story helps explain the bigger picture of why Congress and the president are deadlocked over resolving tax and deficit issues this month.
The disastrous Bush-Cheney tax cuts for the super rich are the immediate issue. But it is the Pentagon, and what President Dwight D. Eisenhower aptly called “the military-industrial complex” that uses your Treasury as a cash drawer, that play the largest continuing role in our fiscal crises.
There is no precise date that militarism became an American fixture. Mine is Aug. 7, 1964, when Congress approved the lamentable Tonkin Gulf Resolution – eight months after President John F. Kennedy's murder – that authorized unlimited spending on the Vietnam War.
While the United States lags other large, developed societies in longevity, infant mortality and student proficiency – and now, government borrowing – it is the global leader in spending on troops and weapons.
Republicans and talk radio chant that raising the top rate in the United States back to the Clinton-era rate of about 40 percent will kill growth and jobs. A look at other economies that are stronger shows that the modest increase Obama wants has little to do with economic strength.
Germany, Europe's banker, has a top income tax rate of 45 percent and is experiencing unemployment of 6.9 percent – a point lower than ours. Canada has a top income rate of 29 percent. Ontario's provincial income tax rate tops out at about 16 percent. Yet Canadians are hit with a brutal tax on sales and service, which rounds out to be an additional 15 percent.
Canadian unemployment is 7.4 percent – slightly less than ours, an announced 7.9 percent. Canada, whose banks and investment houses are subject to strong oversight, did not experience the crisis in debt and borrowing that we did. Canada has a much better grip on health care costs because of its single-payer system.
Canada was reporting surpluses for a decade until 2008. Now it is running a modest $1.8 billion deficit, but is anticipating a surplus of $1.2 billion the year after next.
Now look behind the potted plants. Canada and Germany and the United Kingdom have a massive budget advantage that we don't. They let us bear the greatest cost of defending what are described as the vital interests of the West.
The World Bank compiled what each nation spent on troops and weapons in 2011 as a share of all goods and services produced. While the United States spent 4.7 percent of our national wealth on “defense,” our neighbors to the north allocated only 1.2 percent. Germany 1.3 percent.
History suggests the more a society spends on war, the more likely it is to wage it. The British and French showed it in the 19th century; Germany and Japan in the 20th. After government, war is now Washington's biggest business. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reports 70 percent of the top retiring generals and admirals routinely get jobs in the weapons industry. CREW showed the five biggest defense contractors' spending on lobbying increased 40 percent over four years to a total of $62 million by 2011.
The weapons makers' power is so vast here that it would take an army of taxpayers with pitchforks to get Congress to seriously probe what our vital interests are in Afghanistan. What did we win after Vietnam? Low-cost basketball shoes.