Washington is a slaughterhouse these days, as politicians from across the political spectrum take their knives to the budget. Going under the blade are dozens of social programs that provide food for low-income women and children, energy assistance to folks who can't pay their heating bills, and health care provided through community centers.
In its luxury pen, meanwhile, the sacred pig grows fatter and fatter. To relax the beast, our politicians give the monstrous thing periodic hand massages, like the Japanese do to their legendary Kobe beef cows. As a result, the sacred pig is well-marbled with fat. It is content and happy, and when it outgrows its enclosure, the government simply builds it a newer, grander, and ever bigger facility. But as soon as someone, anyone, approaches the pen with a sharp implement, sirens go off and the assailant is apprehended.
The Pentagon pig is off-limits. We've designed an entire religion around its untouchability. When the US government nearly shut down over the 2011 budget, both parties agreed to exempt the Pentagon from a spending freeze and actually added $5 billion over last year's base budget. For the 2012 budget, the Pentagon is looking at a free ride as well, with its base budget projected to increase 15 percent by 2016.
Uncompromised, uncompromising news
Get reliable, independent news and commentary delivered to your inbox every day.
President Obama, last week during his address on the budget crisis at George Washington University, seemingly broke the taboo. Approaching the sacred Pentagon pig with a sharp object behind his back, the president promised to cut $400 billion in national security spending. The alarm bells went off as Obama issued his threat. He pulled the sharp implement from behind his back to reveal…a nail file.
The pig doesn't really have any reason to worry. The president, you see, has promised to cut that money over a 12-year period. “These proposed cuts would come from an overall national security budget of approximately $1 trillion a year — which [also] includes portions of the budgets of Homeland Security, the State Department, intelligence services, and others,” I write in a Christian Science Monitor op-ed. “So in effect, the president is proposing only around a three percent cut, which still lets the Pentagon off easy.” Compare the proposed $33 billion annual reduction to the $70 billion the Government Accountability Office reports in Pentagon waste .
The United States is the biggest culprit behind global military spending. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute announced last week that the world hit a new and dubious record: $1.63 trillion in global military expenditures. As I write in an OtherWords op-ed, this is the 13th year in a row of global military spending increases, and “the United States was responsible for 94 percent of the global increase in military expenditures in 2010.” In all, the United States is responsible for nearly half of all global military spending. Our sacred pig is bigger than any other fatted sow out there.
It's imperative, then, that the United States leads the way in shoving the pig toward the chopping block. There is even some evidence that the pig is willing to drag itself toward the cleaver, at least according to a recent essay written by two anonymous members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They argue that instead of military dollars, the first U.S. investment priority should be “intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America's youth.”
So President Obama's recent speech was a beginning. But the president was one day late and tens of billions of dollars short.
The day before the president’s speech was the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. On April 12, people all around the world registered their exasperation at how much money we're wasting on military funding. The range of actions was inspiring. Here's just a small sample.
The Foundation for Peace in Barcelona produced this short, powerful video on military spending versus Millennium Development Goals. Activists leafleted subway stations in Medellin, Colombia. In Athens, protestors erected eye-catching displays and invited passers-by to indicate where they would spend government money. The Japanese NGO Peace Boat docked in the Philippines where atomic bomb survivors held events with local groups on the costs of war. The Australian anti-base movement produced this video of many citizens speaking with one voice. In front of the UN offices in Geneva, the International Peace Bureau was creatively thinking inside the box with this visual representation of global spending priorities. In London, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade did a die-in at the steps of the Treasury building. In the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, activists did a walk for peace through a community devastated by cuts in social spending. In Corvallis, Oregon, Veterans for Peace set up in front of the library, where hours have been cut back because of funding, and asked people to indicate their own budget priorities. The indie pop group Peachcake composed a song for the Global Day.
And in Washington, DC, the rain stopped and the sun came out for precisely the one hour that we were in front of the White House with poets, photo ops, and flash facts. Did the president hear our message and decide to break the taboo on talking about cuts in military spending the very next day? Perhaps: our entreaties were powerful enough to persuade the weather gods. And the UN high representative for disarmament affairsissued a supporting statement.
In any case, the Listener-in-Chief has promised repeatedly to keep his ear to the ground. It's our job to raise the volume on our demands.
Bring out the pig!
Arab Spring…for Women?
Saudi Arabia is planning its second-ever elections this September, a very modest attempt to preempt demands for democracy that have swept through its neighbors. At least half of the Saudi population won't be voting, however: Saudi women. A new group, Saudi Women Revolution, has emerged in the notoriously repressive country to demand the right to vote, the option to drive, and other things that people elsewhere take for granted.
The Saudi women could use some outside help, and they're not talking about a no-fly zone.
The new agency UN Women, argues Foreign Policy In Focus contributor Jessica Mack in The UN and Saudi Women, “should use its newly minted global platform to call attention to the discrepancy between Saudi Arabia’s promises and deliveries, with the message that continued disregard of women’s rights is unacceptable. Working constructively with government members and women’s advocates, UN Women is uniquely positioned to broker new progress that would set the country and the agency on a right path.”
Libya, Peru, Russia, and Islamophobia
The fight continues in Libya as NATO is discovering one of the perversities of the arms trade. Weapons that Italian and French arms manufacturers sold to Libya are now being used against Italian and French soldiers. “Since 2004, Italian companies signed contracts with the Libyan government of Muammar Qaddafi totaling $153.2 million,” writes FPIF contributor Paul Mutter in Postcard from…Libya. “They are by no means alone, though. French, German, Belgian and UK firms have all signed deals with the regime as well since 2004.”
In our Focal Points blog, FPIF contributors Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta Youngers have been tracking the elections in Peru. After a heavily contested first round, Peruvians will go to the polls again on June 5 to choose between the left-wing Ollanta Humala and the right-wing Keiko Fujimori. “Many voters will vote in opposition to one candidate or the other, rather than for a candidate they believe strongly in,” Burt and Youngersconclude.
This week, Noah Gimbel looks at a new book about the peace and democracy movement in Russia. Metta Spencer's The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, he writes, is a “colorful, informative account of how the Cold War really ended.”
Finally, we wrap up our special focus on Islamophobia with a short videoby FPIF contributors Farrah Hassen and Zach Kreinik. They mix interviews, news footage, and music to explain the recent spike in anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States.