The National 2008-04-15 15:24:10Comity in this most bitter of American presidential campaigns is as routine as interplanetary alignment. But there is at least one thing all three candidates agree upon: the US is not spending enough money on national defence. Welcome to Planet Washington. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democrat candidates, and John McCain, the Republican contender, have pledged to spend more on the US military than the Pentagon’s current $518 billion (Dh1.9 trillion) annual funding request, which is equal to four per cent of gross domestic product. If you toss in related, off-budget expenditures – most notably for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are funded separately as emergency appropriations – the figure could be as much as twice that amount. The US now accounts for more than half the world’s outlays on national security. The combined defence spending of China, Russia, Cuba, Iran and North Korea, the usual suspects trotted out by Pentagon officials on the rare occasions they are asked to justify their budget requests, is estimated at $206bn. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there has been no serious opposition to the wanton subsidy of a Cold War-era US arsenal that is all but irrelevant to the country’s asymmetrical security threats. With a recession looming and the all-in bill for America’s two wars estimated at $1tn to $3tn, voters have had little to say about record-high defence bills beyond a bromidic vow to “support the troops”, as if the welfare of American soldiers and Marines were an end in itself rather than a means to protect US interests at home and abroad. Lawmakers, assiduously courted by the Pentagon and defence contractors by locating factory lines for new weaponry in their districts, are equally passive in the face of the largest military budget since the Second World War in inflation-adjusted dollars. A riff through the Pentagon’s $100bn procurement budget is like sitting in on the war counsels of the Truman years. At a time when the US faces no conventional threat, a thoughtful electorate and responsible legislators might ask the following questions: Why does the US need two next-generation fighter-bomber programmes, the $200bn F-35 and the $70bn F-22, the latter of which was designed in the early 1980s to dogfight Soviet jets that were never developed? Does the US Navy need to spend $65bn to upgrade and expand its fleet of attack submarines, Cold War relics that were tasked to trail Soviet ballistic missile subs, a mission that no longer exists? Of what use is the proposed $15bn DDX destroyer, rife as it is with cost overruns and delays, against terrorist cells? Does the deployment of some 370,000 troops overseas really make America safer? Was it not US bases in Saudi Arabia (and Washington’s unequivocal support of Israel) that provoked Osama bin Laden’s attacks on American soil in the first place? What exactly are 100,000 troops doing in Europe – waiting for the Warsaw Pact to reactivate itself? Ditto the 70,000 soldiers and GI’s in Japan and South Korea, two of the world’s richest economies with the capacity to provide their own deterrence against real and potential threats. It has been nearly two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Chinese economy, although robust, is generations away from being a credible threat to US dominance of air and sea. (Only a lunatic would consider waging a land war in Asia.) The American people should demand a defence budget appropriate to the threats arrayed against them. As it stands, what they’re getting now is a welfare state for the manufacture of outdated weaponry and a jobs mill for their fungible representatives in Congress.