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Cold War - the sequel.

When he unveiled the Pentagon's spending plans for fiscal 1994 at the end of March, Defense Secretary Les Aspin was pleased to tell reporters that the Clinton Administration had devised "the first truly post-cold War budget."

Truly?

It's difficult to imagine how much more military spending the Administration might have proposed if the Cold War were still going full blast. During the 1992 Presidential campaign, Bill Clinton denounced George Bush - quite properly - for failing to recognize that the Cold War was over. But Clinton's $263 billion Defense Department budget is a mere $10 billion lower than that projected by the Bush Administration, and retains just about all of the silly or sinister weapons boondoggles from the Reagan/Bush era. Not one major weapons system is scheduled to be canceled.

Even the $10 billion cut is suspect, since it was primarily achieved, as The New York Times noted, "by accelerating reductions that the Bush Administration had planned for later years."

The "truly post-cold War budget" includes some military hardware that not even Bush (or the Pentagon) wanted, such as the Seawolf submarine and the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft - items Clinton endorsed during the campaign in a bid for the support of military contractors and their employees. It continues funding for the Strategic Defense Initiative, Ronald Reagan's fatuous Star Wars fantasy of a "perfect" missile defense, which has already cost American taxpayers almost $30 billion. It provides more money for such flawed projects as the C-17 cargo plane and the F-22 fighter.

"This is a cautious budget on the weapons side - very cautious," Secretary Aspin said.

According to the authoritative Center for Defense Information, the total purchase price for six new warplanes carried forward in the Clinton military budget will eventually reach "an astounding $432 billion" - and that does not include the inevitable cost overruns that afflict all military projects. The General Accounting Office says the Pentagon "is pursuing close to 100 major weapons-system acquisitions at a projected research, development, and procurement cost of over $1 trillion."

As the late Senator Everett Dirksen, Illinois Republican, once quipped, "A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."

The Pentagon spending schemes endorsed and advanced by the Clinton Administration reflect bizarre amounts to be squandering on instruments of death and destruction at a time when the President is engaged in a desperate and unsuccessful budgetbalancing act, when he is cutting back various Federal programs - help for the aged, for example - and deferring full funding for others, such as Project Head Start. Each time Clinton suggests the need to "phase in" some urgently needed Federal program because total financing is beyond reach at this time, he should be forcefully reminded of the Administration's determination to perpetuate the Pentagon's profligacy.

Why continue with military spending levels that made no sense even when Ronald Reagan was determined to rout the Soviet "evil empire"? Surely it hasn't escaped the Clinton Administration's notice that the Cold War is over. But as the Center for Defense Information observes, "politicians of all stripes seem preoccupied with keeping military spending high for economic and political reasons." Those reasons include a pathetic eagerness to please such Congressional hawks as Senator Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee. They include Clinton's political skittishness about his lack of military experience, which is sure to be raised by Republicans again in 1996. They include the Democrats' fear of being tagged "weak on defense."

But the principal reason for perpetuating Cold War-level military spending is the durability of the Cold War mentality.

Specifically, the budget is based on the assumption that the United States will have occasion to intervene simultaneously in a number of "trouble spots" around the world - in Central and South America, in Eastern Europe, in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, in Korea. Why in the world would a "truly post-cold War budget" include a dozen aircraft carriers and their attendant naval task forces, a dozen Army divisions, and two dozen active and reserve Air Force fighter wings? What possible threat to U.S. interests justifies that kind of bloated military establishment? Only the threat that somewhere in the world someone will choose to follow a different path than the one decreed in Washington - and that someone will be brought to heel by U.S. military might.

Americans paid dearly for four decades of Cold War. We watched our economy enfeebled, our domestic welfare undermined, our democratic system damaged by the demands of the garrison state. When the Soviet Union collapsed, we thought our nation might be able to return to a rational and humane set of national priorities and a suitably modest military budget. Many believed that by electing Bill Clinton, they could speed that process. Apparently, they were wrong.
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Title Annotation:Clinton Defense budget
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:798
Previous Article:Ahead of the news.
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