By James A. Kidney
Every GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul and, possibly, John Kasich, claims he or she will order a more muscular U.S. military presence wherever there is a perceived threat anywhere in the world, as they boldly asserted during the third debate Tuesday night. (The Bloviating Donald said he would stay out of Syria for now, but otherwise seems inclined to toughen our policies by yelling at everyone.) If their propositions are to be taken seriously, then the military needs more money and more able bodies. But the frivolousness of their stated positions is proved by the fact they will offer up neither cash for costs, which would require higher taxes or add to the deficit, or bodies, through conscription.
As the respected Washington Post columnist David Ignatius remarked in a recent piece, “President Obama’s foreign policy has been a regular punching bag for Republican presidential candidates, but many of their criticisms are facile. The next president – from whichever party – will have to confront the same puzzle that Obama has faced about how to best use U.S. power in a world that resists military solutions.”
But, the candidates say, never mind the complexities. “Bulk Up, America!”
The Cost of a More Muscular Military Is High
Conservatively, the cost of our wars since 2001 has been nearly $1.7 trillion. This only includes the costs specifically assigned to those wars, not the many more trillions spent to support the war effort and national security throughout the government. For example, separately, the costs for Homeland Security are estimated at $653 billion. The Pentagon budget and related national security spending for FY 2015 was $598 billion, or 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending. The new spending bill signed by the President this week provides for a $607 billion Pentagon budget. According to the National Priorities Project, which tracks federal budget expenditures, U.S. military expenditures are “roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world.”
The militaristic GOP candidates don’t think that’s enough. But nowhere will you find out how they plan to pay for a more vigorous military except through the phony currency called Bluster. If the current, more cautious (but hardly pacifistic) military policies of the Obama administration are insufficient, and the country must rattle, and perhaps use, its sabers in Europe, the South China Sea, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere, including ground forces, a whole lot more money and manpower will be required to do so.
Yet, each of these candidates claims he or she can both balance the budget and cut taxes for all. Despite being nominally “conservative,” these candidates are in fact radicals who come close to favoring an impoverished anarchy of walled communities inside the nation in return for building walls around it and shipping troops elsewhere around the world. Their motto should be: “No governing OF the United States, but plenty IMPOSED by the United States on everyone else.”
Talk of flat taxes, VAT taxes and three page tax laws plus cutting the deficit plus balancing the budget is simply absurd. Adding more military might, i.e., spending, simply doubles down on the absurdity. Holding in laughter for a minute to take the plans seriously, they would not do any of what even their sponsors claim in the way of economic miracles until they are placed into effect and then, if the mammoth job growth predicted came about (it never has), more years would be required to begin enjoying the tax revenues. American participation in World War II lasted 44 months. Fanciful visions of a free lunch would not even begin to arrive until 2020 or later, even if the magic wands worked and all the tax and spending plans were implemented in 2016. A lot of money can be spent in that time on war and preparation for war. None of it would be paid for.
But no one talks of paying-as-you-go.
Would We Need Conscription?
Who will fight these wars, or be stationed on guard throughout the world monitoring, training, or acting as a special ops unit, or being on ready stand-by? Our current military force of 1,355,571 constitutes less than half of one percent of the nation’s 319 million people of all ages. About 32 million Americans are ages 18 to 24. According to a web site by David G. Coleman, an historian and author at the University of Virginia, the number of active military duty personnel has not increased since the early 1980s. It has been at about level since 1998 – before we conducted wars on several Middle East fronts. Many service men and women have had three, four and even five tours in the war zones. They already are spread very thin and institutionally exhausted. (Did the unnamed “generals” Tump and Ben Carson supposedly talked to mention that?)
How will the Military Muscle candidates address this obvious manpower shortage for a world police force? They don’t say.
Conscription would be an unpopular solution, but, properly executed, it could be a useful tool to address several important issues for national security and our economy. As I see it forming, anyone could volunteer for military conscription. If they, along with other volunteers, provided sufficient forces, the remainder of conscripts could go into public service. Assuming there was no need for all 18 year olds, selection would be by strict lottery.
But there would also be a carrot. Conscription would be for two years for those who did not want to benefit from specialized training or education. Those conscripts would be assigned duties consistent with their current talents, with training limited to boot camp or job-specific civilian training of a few days or weeks. Those who agreed to a three-year tour would be guaranteed a year or more of specialized education – plus placement in positions in the military, government or private sector for at least a year in which those skills would be applied. The costs of training would be paid by the government. The salaries for the jobs the last year or two would be covered by the employer, whether government or private.
The conscript obligation would be completed in two or three years, absent a national emergency requiring an extension. Each “graduate” would be entitled to a subsidized stipend for further education, if desired.
A program like this would be expensive, but it would satisfy the needs of a more expansive military, provide job training in skills which are actually needed by private business and government, and relieve some of the pressure on unemployment, which is still significant among the young and, especially, those with only high school diplomas.
There also would be a significant social benefit to conscription, as there was during our past drafts. If conducted fairly, men and women of different backgrounds, races, income and education levels would be thrown together for a couple of years. Of course, most would return to where they came from, with many of the same privileges and problems. But I believe the experience would help to make our citizens more sympathetic to the problems of people in other parts of our society as well as create lasting friendships that cross socio-economic boundaries. As one who was drafted during the Vietnam War (but never was sent to a war zone), I believe this would be a useful experience for everyone involved.
Any conscription would be extremely unpopular across all party lines. Just as people want good highways, good public schools and other benefits, but don’t want to pay for them, few Americans want to put their children in harm’s way where their chosen foreign policy might require the same for other children.
The best we can hope for is that as the presidential campaign goes on, media sites far more powerful than this one (a very, very low bar), pose the questions of cost and manpower, as well as security tactics and strategy, to the Very Very Tough On Everyone Else Candidates.