The Choice Trump’s Budget Creates
Trump proposes to increase U.S. military spending by $54 billion, and to take that $54 billion out of the other portions of the budget, including, in particular, he says, foreign aid. If you can’t find foreign aid that’s because it is a portion of International Affairs. To take $54 billion out of foreign aid, you would have to cut foreign aid by approximately 200 percent. But let’s not focus on the $54 billion. It is already 54 percent of discretionary spending (that is, 54 percent of all the money that the U.S. government chooses what to do with every year). It’s already 60 percent, if you add in Veterans’ Benefits. (We should take care of everyone, of course, but we wouldn’t have to take care of amputations and brain injuries from wars if we stopped having the wars.)
Trump wants to shift another 5 percent to the military, boosting that total to 65 percent. There’s a ski slope that Denmark is opening on the roof of a clean power plant—a clean power plant that cost 0.06 percent of Trump’s military budget. Trump’s pretense that he’s going to just screw the no-good foreigners by taking $54 billion out of foreign aid is misleading on many levels. First, that kind of money just isn’t there. Second, foreign aid actually makes the United States safer, unlike all the “defense” spending that endangers us. Third, the $700 billion that Trump wants to borrow and blow on militarism every year would not only get us close in 8 years to wasting directly (without considering missed opportunities, interest payments, etc.) the same $6 trillion that Trump laments blowing on recent failed wars (unlike his imaginary successful wars), but that same $700 billion is more than enough to transform domestic and foreign spending alike. It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world. It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. These are massive projects, but these costs as projected by the United Nations are tiny fractions of U.S. military spending. This is why the top way in which military spending kills is not with any weapon, but purely through the diversion of resources.
For similar fractions of military spending, the United States could radically improve U.S. lives in each of those other areas in the pie chart. What would you say to free, top-quality education for anyone who wants it from preschool through college, plus free job-training as needed in career changes? Would you object to free clean energy? Free fast trains to everywhere? Beautiful parks? These are not wild dreams. These are the sorts of things you can have for this kind of money, money that radically dwarfs the money hoarded by billionaires. If those sorts of things were provided equally to all, without any bureaucracy needed to distinguish the worthy from the unworthy, popular opposition to them would be minimal. And so might be opposition to foreign aid.
U.S. foreign aid right now is about $25 billion a year. Taking it up to $100 billion would have a number of interesting impacts, including the saving of a great many lives and the prevention of a tremendous amount of suffering. It would also, if one other factor were added, make the nation that did it the most beloved nation on earth. A December 2014 Gallup poll of 65 nations found that the United States was far and away the most feared country, the country considered the largest threat to peace in the world. Were the United States responsible for providing schools and medicine and solar panels, the idea of anti-American terrorist groups would be as laughable as anti-Switzerland or anti-Canada terrorist groups, especially if one other factor were added: if the $100 billion came from the military budget. People don’t appreciate the schools you give them as much if you’re bombing them.
Instead of investing in all good things, foreign and domestic, Trump is proposing to cut them in order to invest in war. New Haven, Connecticut, just passed a resolution urging Congress to reduce the military budget, cut spending on wars and move funds to human needs. Every town, county, and city should be passing a similar resolution.
If people stopped dying in war, we would all still die of war spending.
War is not needed in order to maintain our lifestyle, as the saying goes. And wouldn’t that be reprehensible if it were true? We imagine that for 4 percent of humanity to go on using 30 percent of the world’s resources we need war or the threat of war. But the earth has no shortage of sunlight or wind. Our lifestyles can be improved with less destruction and less consumption.
Our energy needs must be met in sustainable ways, or we will destroy ourselves, with or without war. That’s what’s meant by unsustainable. So, why continue an institution of mass killing in order to prolong the use of exploitative behaviors that will ruin the earth if war doesn’t do it first? Why risk the proliferation of nuclear and other catastrophic weapons in order to continue catastrophic impacts on the earth’s climate and ecosystems? Isn’t it time we made a choice: war or everything else?
David Swanson is an activist, author, journalist, and radio host.