Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times today:
There’s a sound political rationale for this, of course. Reducing spending is always difficult, and a Republican Party coasting toward a midterm victory has little incentive to stake out controversial positions. And as everybody knows, the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security, a topic that nobody in Congress — save the indefatigable Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan — is particularly eager to touch…
Step right along, folks, nothing to see here. Or so goes the Conventional Wisdom, taken totally for granted by the political and the media establishments in our whole debate over taxes and the deficit.
And yet what’s that huge corpse lying beside the road, bloated and stinking in the sun for all to see? Why doesn’t “everybody know” that cutting War Department spending is also a way of balancing the budget, and one that has the added advantage of being sane?
Presidents Johnson and Carter both tried to impose a discipline called zero-based budgeting on the government, with barely visible success. It involved assuming that your department’s budget had just been reduced to zero, and then restoring functions one by one until you reached a prescribed limit.
Let’s try that with the War Department. Overnight it’s all gone, every bit of it. No more soldiers or sailors, tanks, bombs, planes, guns, submarines, aircraft carriers, drones, generals or admirals. Nothing left. The end of our known world. We stand here naked in a hostile world, shivering and defenseless like Costa Rica — which actually does lack an army.
What will become of poor us? Surely we will be crushed by our enemies, all three hundred million of us from sea to shining sea. Our cities burned, our fields sowed with salt, our women raped, our children sent to madrasas, our surviving men reduced to serfdom.
Just like Costa Rica, except that in the real world none of those things ever seems to happen to Costa Rica.
Nor would they happen to us. We, too, have no military enemies — and therefore no rational reason to maintain much more than a token army. After all America hasn’t been invaded since 1812, and then we pretty much asked for it.
We have wars because we have a War Department, simple as that. No department, no wars. Then we might be forced to think for a living instead of priming the pump of our economy with bombs, bullets and blood. Sure it would be tough, but we can handle tough. We’re Americans.