Yesterday, after failing to come to any consensus on a new budget, President Obama initiated the sequester. Honestly, I don’t understand the reaction to this “devastating” act. Our national debt is substantial and we are spending more than we are saving so to speak. The options are simple: increase revenue (taxes) and/or reducing spending.
There is a lot of animosity against not raising taxes for the wealthy. Certainly, this increases government revenue. But do we need to spend so much? The President specifically called out that Navy shipbuilding will be affected. People may lose their jobs, which is unfortunate. But why do we need so many ships? As an ex-Naval officer and defense contractor, the defense industry can certainly trim the fat. The military by and large does what it’s told, with the resources it’s given. But the populous needs to keep them in check. Having been to Afghanistan, albeit briefly, I am not sure the progress made there is worth the price we are paying. There is a great TED talk by Rory Stewart about leaving Afghanistan (in 2011) and how the surge only increased the violence in the country. His book, was the best preparation for going my deployment to Afghanistan.
I was in Afghanistan for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. On the Armed Forces Network, the military’s news channel, a story was being reported on how the locals felt about our decade there. I’ll never forget this story. Soldiers showed pictures of the twin towers to the local tribal leaders and asked them what they thought. The tribal leader thought for a bit and then slowly answered, “I think this is a picture of Kabul. Yes, yes, it is Kabul.” While there has been positive change there, I’m not sure we are getting our money’s worth.
I recommend that Americans read foreign newspapers. It’s useful to gain an outside perspective and it’s a especially cheap way to travel 😉 I particularly like German newspapers like Deutsche Welle and Der Speigel. DW actually reports frequently on Afghanistan, much more than any US newspaper of which I’m aware. Today’s DW article on the budget cuts was poignant. Josef Braml, a member of the German Council on Foreign Affairs has this comment:
Folks in the US only do some navel gazing with the Democrats and Republicans, but they don’t have the broader view. The broader view is the rest of the world doesn’t finance the United States debt any longer. The US has to find a way to not live beyond its means. And to do that is cutting expenses and raising taxes.
Compare that statement to the NY Times article, which ignores the question of why we are spending so much and focuses on the political drama. It also points out that, “The Air Force Thunderbirds — the elite team of F-16 pilots who perform tricks at air shows — announced on its Web site that all of its shows have been canceled starting April 1.” While the Thunderbirds don’t match the caliber of the Blue Angels, the public can breathe a bit of relief from paying their gas bill.
When my credit card bill increases, I don’t first go ask for a raise, I look to cut out excess spending. And while only a small percentage of citizens have served in the military and are perhaps reluctant to disagree with Generals and Admirals who say we need more defense spending, it’s perfectly within your right to ask them and Congress, “Why are we spending so much?”