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Big and bigger

June 15, 2009 - Jim Anderson
The United States has a big military.

With less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States spends about as much on “defense” as the rest of the world combined.

Yet few politicians (or commentators) have the courage to suggest we downsize.

If anything, the “common wisdom” is to keep upping our worldwide military ante. Barack Obama is escalating the war in Afghanistan, with scant attention given to voices of dissent.

According to the Pentagon’s 2008 Base Structure Report,” (summarized by Chalmers Johnson in Mother Jones) the United States maintains 761 active military “sites” in foreign countries. As of last December, the U.S. had 510,927 service personnel (including sailors afloat) deployed in 151 foreign countries.

Why? To keep us safe, of course.

Yet how many Americans are aware — or remember — that in the 1980s during the war between Iraq and the Iran, the Reagan administration gave intelligence and weapons to Saddam Hussein. He’s hardly the only enemy to fight us with our own guns.

Tom Engelhardt, of the Nation Institute, (an independently funded liberal-left organization), also points out that our adventure in Afghanistan dates to the early 1980s. In the jihad against the Soviets, “we were supporting some of the very same fundamentalist figures now allied with the Taliban and fighting us in Afghanistan,” he writes at

Engelhardt laments “decades of folly” in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

There was a time when plain-speaking politicians suggested it was unwise and unaffordable for the U.S. to be the “world’s policeman.”

Today, such complaints are given little Beltway credence — even with our enormous fiscal problems. Even with so many unwanted consequences of military interventions.

Obama, an agent of change? The president has proposed an increase in the defense budget from the Bush years.

This needn’t be a partisan issue.

An ambitious Republican might be surprised to learn how much grassroots support exists for rethinking our military posture.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll conducted last month showed that 50 percent favored the war in Afghanistan and 48 percent opposed it.

Perhaps more interesting, only 26 percent supported sending more troops; 27 percent said keep it the same; 22 percent said withdraw some; and 23 percent said withdraw all.

In this poll, then, only 26 percent supported escalation, while 45 percent opposed it.

One could hardly guess, given media coverage of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, that this is where public opinion might stand.


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