Beltway austerity values

The Washington Post wants more money for more wars, while reducing healthcare benefits for those who fight them

By Glenn Greenwald

Published April 21, 2011 5:22PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II - Update III [Fri.

The Washington Post Editorial Page for years has been the Beltway media leader in crusading for cuts to entitlements programs for ordinary Americans in the name of battling deficit spending and the debt.  That this same Editorial Page has been the leading cheerleader for every debt-fueled American war over the last decade reveals how inauthentic are their purported fiscal concerns, but any doubt about that should be forever dispelled by its Editorial today, opposing meaningful cuts to America's bloated, debt-financed military budget:

Even with significant trims in those areas, however, reaching Mr. Obama’s goal would probably require cuts in the size of the Army and Marines beyond the reduction of more than 40,000 troops already proposed by Mr. Gates. Defense analyst Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution thinks it could require the elimination of more command structures and another round of base closures. What will then happen if the United States is forced into more conflicts like those of the past decade — if it must intervene to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon or respond to aggression by North Korea, for example?

Mr. Gates, who is expected to leave office this year, said that big defense cuts “would be disastrous in the world environment we see today.” While some reductions in defense are inevitable, that is a warning that the administration and Congress cannot afford to disregard.

In other words:  it's vital that we continue to splurge for military spending that is almost equal to what the entire rest of the world spends combined, and that we continue to spend 6 times more than the second-largest military spender (China).  Why is that?  Because we may need to fight our fourth, fifth and sixth wars (not counting the covert ones) and must remain ready to start those wars at a moment's notice.  There are many things one can say about someone plagued by that warmongering mentality; that they are serious opponents of borrowed spending and debt financing is most assuredly not one of them.  There are undoubtedly many motives driving the Post Editors to demand that ordinary Americans -- already under severe economic stress -- "sacrifice" the remaining aspects of their safety net, but concern over the debt is manifestly not among them.

To see what the Post Editors are really all about -- and they are worth examining because they are the ultimate establishment mouthpiece -- consider which military cuts they are affirmatively advocating (beyond the elimination of weapons systems which the Pentagon says it does not want):

Defense savings beyond those already achieved by Mr. Gates are certainly possible and even needed -- though by and large they lie in areas that Congress has been unwilling to touch. As we pointed out in a recent editorial, military health care now costs as much as the war in Iraq, in part because military families — including working-age retirees — pay one-tenth as much for their health plans as do civilian federal workers. 

Think about how rancid that is.  The Post Editors and their corporate bosses are people who have used their influence as much as possible not only to start multiple wars but to vehemently argue against their end.  Those wars have not, of course, been fought by Post Editors; that's why they've so blithely cheered them on and demanded their continuation:  because it isn't their lives endangered by them.  Their pro-war advocacy has instead imposed extreme burdens on a tiny portion of the population -- members of the military and their families -- and yet when it comes time to cut the military budget, they refuse to consider limiting the number of new wars they might want to start.  Instead, they demand that the people they send off to fight their wars and their families be forced to pay more for their health care.

That's a perfect microcosm of the deficit and austerity debate taking place in Washington.  It consists of privileged elites demanding that ordinary, financially strapped Americans sacrifice what little is left of their First World living standard, while the policies that benefit those elites and which they love (especially the ones that explode the deficit and debt in whose name the "sacrifice" is justified) continue indefinitely (though even the much maligned Simpson-Bowles report called for relatively significant reductions in military spending).  Shielding the military budget from meaningful cuts on the ground that America must fight still more wars -- while calling for reductions in the health care benefits of those who fight them -- is about as warped a value system as one can find. 

That's well into Marie Antoinette territory, but so is most of our economic policy.  This is the rotted mindset -- abolition of all societal opportunity and mass prosperity accompanied by endless militarization and a gorging oligarchical class -- that lies at the heart of most instances of imperial collapse.  The Post Editors are worth scrutinizing not because they're aberrations, but because they're so representative of our political and media class.


UPDATE:  Speaking of Beltway austerity values:  supremely sleazy D.C. lobbyist Lanny Davis -- who has made millions of dollars engaged in legalized influence peddling on behalf of dictators and other assorted figures -- today demands bipartisan cuts in Social Security, in the name of political courage.  That may be even a better expression of this dynamic than Post Editors demanding reductions in health care benefits for the people they keep sending into wars.

UPDATE II:  And now we have this:


As the war in Libya escalates on a seemingly weekly basis, I think it's time for another urgent speech about how imperative it is that we all tighten our belts. It's probably also time for another Nobel Peace Prize (and yes, I know: these drone attacks are designed to bring about peace -- because War, as we know, Is Peace).

UPDATE III [Fri.]:  A new NYT/CBS poll this morning finds that "Given the choice of cutting military, Social Security or Medicare spending as a way to reduce the overall budget, 45 percent chose military cuts, compared with those to Social Security (17 percent) or Medicare (21 percent)."  But as Andrew Sullivan points out, this plurality view is almost entirely excluded from the Beltway deficit and debt debate.

Glenn Greenwald

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