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Robert Greenwald

Robert Greenwald is a producer, director, political activist, and Brave New Films founder and president.

August 18th, 2011 5:40 PM

Enough With the Scare Tactics, Secretary Panetta

If you thought we were going to have a rational, fact-based debate about cuts to the out-of-control military budget in this country, think again. The Pentagon and their war industry allies are mounting an aggressive, fear-based campaign of hyperbole and spin to scare Congress away from cuts that could affect contractor profits. The reason for this propaganda push is simple: if Congress rationally considers how much we should spend on our military, major cuts will follow. And that's a good thing.

The new Defense Secretary is leading the scare campaign, decrying possible cuts to the out-of-control war budget as “doomsday.” On August 4, he lamented:

“If it happened, and God willing that would not be the case, but if it did happen, it would result in a further round of very dangerous cuts across the board – defense cuts that I believe would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military’s ability to protect the nation.”

This is hysterical hyperbole, and the press is simply running with Panetta’s sexy soundbite without doing the essential job of putting it in perspective. The above refers to automatic budget cuts that would occur if the new Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction fails to come up with a deficit reduction plan that passes Congress by November. In that scenario, war spending would be cut by roughly $1 trillion dollars over 10 years. Those cuts would leave us spending more the military than we spent during the Cold War. You know, back when secretaries of defense were contemplating actual doomsday scenarios that left the majority of the U.S. and Russian populations dead.

Unfortunately, the press isn’t just running with Panetta’s Jerry Bruckheimer-esque soundbite. The media also pair it with war industry talking points about jobs without contextualizing or fact-checking the broader implication that military spending is good for the economy. For example, one of the articles that included Panetta’s one-liner essentially used Associated Press letterhead and war-industry rhetoric to threaten committee members’ jobs. AP’s Donna Cassata wrote:

“The six Republicans and six Democrats [serving on the new ‘super-committee’ created as part of the debt ceiling deal] represent states where the biggest military contractors — Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co. and Boeing Co. — build missiles, aircraft, jet fighters and tanks while employing tens of thousands of workers.

“The potential for $500 billion more in defense cuts could force the Pentagon to cancel or scale back multibillion-dollar weapons programs. That could translate into significant layoffs in a fragile economy, generate millions less in tax revenues for local governments and upend lucrative company contracts with foreign nations.”

Cassata then helpfully provided a litany of communities in the districts of the super-committee members where these companies have big production facilities and warns of “political peril” for members (by name, in some cases) who fail to prevent cuts to military contracts. This is typical war industry “jobs blackmail,” enabled by these corporations’ decades-long effort to spread their operations into every possible congressional district. They use this omnipresence to threaten job losses for any Member of Congress who dares threaten to cut a wasteful or unneeded (but lucrative!) weapons contract.

Of course, Cassata and others writing articles like this fail to mention that the massive war budget actually costs jobs when you compare it to alternative uses for those public dollars. An October 2007 study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) found that per $1 billion invested in the following fields, you create wildly different numbers of jobs:

  • Defense: 8,555 jobs
  • Tax cuts for personal consumption: 10,779
  • Construction for home weatherization/infrastructure: 12,804 jobs
  • Health care: 12,883 jobs
  • Education: 17,687 jobs
  • Mass transit: 19,795 jobs

You could literally take the amount of money we would spend on these big military contracts, dump it on the National Mall for anyone to grab and spend, and you would still generate more jobs than those created by spending the funds on “defense.” That’s a critical piece of context for Cassata to leave out. Unfortunately, this is typical of much of the reporting on the war industry--spouting talking points from corporations that make billions off lucrative contracts instead of checking the rhetoric against facts. (Our friend Robert Naiman goes into further detail on the bad economics of war spending in his piece on The Huffington Post.)

The simple truth is that we spend far too much on military purposes in the United States. If you want evidence for that statement, look no further than our actual doomsday budget: we’re paying to maintain a nuclear arsenal that could generate 156 times the mega-tonnage needed to incapacitate the Soviet Union. That’s unjustifiable when compared to the massive non-military needs facing this country, including strangling unemployment and economic stagnation (caused in part by massive war spending).

There is no superpower-sized threat on the horizon. Returning to a level of military spending we maintained when facing the Soviet Union isn’t “doomsday.” It’s just a good start.

Join Brave New Foundation’s new War Costs campaign and help us fight back against out-of-control military spending and war industry influence in Washington.

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