PracticalDad:  Honey, I Shrank the Empire (About Damned Time, Too)

In a recent speech, retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted that with significant cuts in defense spending, American influence would diminish and wane in the future.  My only response is, yep.  But I’m not clear if that’s such a bad thing. 

Our nation has been around for 235 years, but we’ve only been in imperial mode for the past several decades.  Our forefathers purposefully wanted us out of foreign entanglements and I’ve come to conclude that they were correct; the only time that our forefathers were involved internationally was the Barbary War, when we fought pirate states to preserve American trade and even then, some argued that paying tribute was still cheaper than building and maintaining a navy.  Jefferson, Madison and Washington would be spinning like tops in their graves if they could see the status of our military establishment and foreign agreements.  Human nature being what it is, being #1 – woot! – places a giant target upon your back and the target has been getting rather heavy after several decades. 

Everybody wants to be #1 with their giant foam camoflage fingers jutting into the air, but good thing or not, the reality is that we can simply no longer afford the extensive global military establishment.  Let’s be honest, the defense spending is only one – smaller – part of the fiscal picture as the bulk of the federal budget is tied up in entitlement programs that need to reworked with the social contract.  But it is still spending that begs the question, do we really need this?  Do we really need forces remaining in Europe?  Do we really need bases in more than 100+ different countries?  In a far more low-tech series of opponents, do we really need the exceptionally costly, high-tech weapons systems?  What about the Chinese? 

Folks, the Chinese have their own problems with which to contend.  Besides, they’re so busy tying up natural resource contracts globally that if we really wanted to have a war with them, we’d be borrowing barrels of oil from them within the month just to run our planes.  Think about it:  there’s a decent chance that a future war would be about obtaining natural resources that would be principally used in wartime by our military.  We’ve had more than 35 years since the first oil crisis to recognize that we’ve got a problem, and we’ve done nothing to truly address that problem.  Sorry, but while I truly do support the military – I didn’t serve since my Korean War veteran father talked me out of it – I see no reason to sacrifice our young people for oil, resources, or peacekeeping someone else’s family feud.  The great majority of Americans can’t recall who won Super Bowl XXXIII but there are those around the world who remember exactly who stole the family goat in 1598.  We don’t need to send Mike and Austin to settle the goat feud. 

A significant part of our economic problem is that we simply spend too much for foreign merchandise while they buy far less of our stuff.  The balance of trade data also shows that much of our imports aren’t even for the crap sold in Walmart; we spend it on oil purchased from other nations.  If we were able to put significant dents in those oil purchases, that would be money that could be used for other purposes – or even better, not spent at all.  There would be less worry about oil supply lines which would diminish the need for the overwhelming foreign involvement and voila!  A positive cycle is born.  There’s no conceivable way that we can simply decide to cut out $1.2T without huge pain; it would be akin to saying that we can lose that pesky forty pounds by simply amputating the right leg.  But there can be significant and phased changes made to actually help.  A greatly lessened dependency upon foreign energy sources would lessen the need for the military force structure.

  • Establish clear goals on energy usage and oil purchases.
  • Determine what’s required to meet those goals.
  • We are capable of acting in the common interest if properly led.  Time is running short and any plan would require a Manhattan Project/Apollo effort to meet the goals that steer us away from the overwhelming energy usage and subsequent dependency on foreign oil sources.  Take the money spent on defense and put it into energy, and projects that are usable now.  Why not a new energy infrastructure?  Ninety years ago, the mantra was a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage; why not solar/wind on every house? 
  • Start now with the kids – always, always, always the kids – and begin to talk constantly about the need to both conserve and think outside the energy box.  They are the ones who are going to inherit an America that’s very different than that with which we were raised and the more that they hear about it, the easier time that they’ll have to adjust to it. 

 Our choices ahead are going to be painful as we renegotiate the social contract.  What do we owe our senior citizens and what do we owe our children?  What do we owe a generation that has been terrible in preparing for the future and how do we wean ourselves of a consumer mentality that’s akin to a locust swarm in it’s willingness to devour everything?  The real money available to us is going to become very dear and if we spend too much of our wealth maintaining what is arguably an empire, we’ll be consumed by the cancer that’s grown within.

And for the record, Mike and Austin are real young men entering the military. 


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