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The Peace Dividend

I was struck by two statements made on consecutive days by Bush and Rumsfeld. The first was Bush’s call in his speech for a defense spending increase of $40 billion. It echoed two great American declarations, the statement attributed to Secretary of War Pinckney as his response to demands by the Berber pirates for the payment of tribute. "Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute" and by JFK’s inaugural declaration that the nation would "pay any price, bear any burden" in the defense of liberty.

The next day Secretary Rumsfeld was questioned at his Pentagon briefing about the new defense budget for next year. Although Rumsfeld declined to make specific comments because the budget has not been published, he gave an extended defense of increased defense spending summing it up by saying in effect we can pay now to defend ourselves or we can pay in the future.

That combination is what struck me.

The Clinton mal Administration made much of the so called peace dividend. In fact it was not until 1998 that real spending on defense showed any sort of increase. Clinton spent the peace dividend by dividing it up among the special interest groups that supported him. Everyone got something except the taxpayers.

Now I’m not saying that higher levels of defense spending would have prevented the terror attacks on 911. No amount of defense cash can create a strong and realistic foreign policy nor can it provide intelligence where there is none. That requires leadership. An attribute notably absent at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from 1992 to January of 2001. But I do find it ironic that we will now write some pretty large checks to fix what is broken. And the list is far from exhaustive.

From my reckoning it includes

  • $18 billion for Bush’s 2001 military plus up
  • $43 billion for Bush’s 2003 military budget
  • $5 billion for Homeland Defense
  • $40 billion for direct and indirect aid to NYC
  • $1 billion per month for the war in Afghanistan

Makes the peace dividend look pretty unwise today.

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