America's creditor identifies its budget problem

China to the U.S.: shouldn't you be spending less on your military and more on social programs?

Published July 12, 2011 10:13PM (EDT)

As the GOP and a Democratic President plot to cut the safety net for Americans based on an alleged debt crisis, it's extraordinary how little attention this problem receives:

The United States is spending too much on its military in light of its recent economic troubles, China's top general said Monday while playing down his country’s own military capabilities.

The chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, Chen Bingde, told reporters he thought the U.S. should cut back on defense spending for the sake of its taxpayers. He was speaking during a joint news conference in which he traded barbs with visiting U.S. counterpart Adm. Mike Mullen.

"I know the U.S. is still recovering from the financial crisis," Chen said. "Under such circumstances, it is still spending a lot of money on its military and isn’t that placing too much pressure on the taxpayers?

"If the U.S. could reduce its military spending a bit and spend more on improving the livelihood of the American people ... wouldn’t that be a better scenario?" he said. . . .

China’s military budget of $95 billion this year is the world’s second-highest after Washington’s planned $650 billion in defense spending.

Since America's political and media class steadfastly ignore this glaringly obvious point, it's nice (albeit self-interested) of the Chinese to point it out for us.  As we endlessly hear about a massive debt crisis, the current President has started one optional war that has already exceeded its estimated costs, plans to continue (if not escalate) two more, is drone-attacking a new country on a seemingly weekly basis, expands sprawling covert military actions in still other countries, builds new overseas detention facilities, all while offering only the most modest, symbolic and illusory "cuts" in military spending.  The alleged need to slash the financial security of American citizens -- and the notion that America faces a severe debt crisis -- would be more persuasive if the country didn't continue its posture of Endless War and feeding the insatiable, bloated National Security State (to say nothing of the equally insatible and wasteful Drug War and its evil spawn, the increasingly privatized American Prison State, which the Obama administration is expanding as aggressively as the War on Terror).

While it's true that reducing American military spending to a level in line with the rest of the world would not erase American debt levels, it would be a meaningful contributor.  More important, it would indicate that American elites are willing to do more than blithely impose pain on, and demand sacrifice from, ordinary Americans, already suffering economically in so many ways and victimized by third-world levels of rapidly growing wealth inequality.  That America's war-making industry is largely shielded from this "austerity" reveals how pretextual are these claims of crisis.  It's nice of the Chinese to point this out, but doing so only reveals how incomplete and distorted our own political discourse has become.

* * * * *

Even as he vowed to veto temporary increases in the debt ceiling, President Obama today threatened that Social Security checks may not be able to be sent after August 2, prompting this email from a reader -- who relies on disability checks -- expressing severe fears that I am certain are pervasive across the nation:

Intellectually, I know this is all kabuki and that I ought to ignore the whole contrived issue. Yet, it would harm me so severely if checks really did not go out, and moreover, I am increasingly certain that "they" will be coming after my disability and Medicare/Medicaid soon regardless of what happens in August; they've already taken away my optical coverage and much of dental. (And as I age, I need both more and more.) These issues make it hard for me to stay politically aware because they are so personally threatening, and yet, I still care so much about those things that matter that I can't stay offline.

As is always true, the ones who bear the brunt of American political "sacrifice" and posturing are the ones who can least afford to do so.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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