During the recent debate in New Hampshire among the Democratic Presidential candidates, one contentious and hotly

debated issue was funding for the US military. One candidate advocated cutting off all funding for US troops in Iraq. Others, particularly the front runners, were caught in a bind. If they continued to support funding, it made them appear as if they were in favor of keeping the war going. On the other hand, withholding money had connotations of not supporting the troops, which is sacred cow no politician in America is prepared to tackle. If I might take a liberty here, this near hero worship of US troops appears to be a bit naïve, although touching, to the rest of the world. US troops are probably the best trained – and undoubtedly the best equipped in the world. But the fact is that they are brave – sometimes nervous – young men doing their job; and doing it well. To attribute extraordinary feats of valor to all their actions smacks a bit of living in la-la land. However, this article is about military spending. I realize my usual detractors are sharpening their knives about now, getting ready to shout that, as a ‘foreigner’, I should keep my big mouth shut. I guess I never learn. One of the people at the debate mentioned that a lot of the military budget was going on bigticket items, which did not justify their cost. He was right on the money. A couple of months ago, an AP article discussed how the Pentagon was proposing to spend one billion dollars, just to entice army soldiers and marines to stay in the military, after four years of war in Iraq. There are genuine concerns that more soldiers will leave the military under pressure from families, who fear the rising death toll and are weary of the lengthy and repeated overseas deployments. The Iraq war has claimed the lives of almost 3500 US troops to date. Moreover, there have been sporadic shortfalls in the number of National Guard and reserve soldiers, since many are unwilling to sign on for multiple tours. Many have more attractive options. As one army colonel remarked, “Soldiers with valuable skills and experience are aggressively sought after by industry. People don’t re-enlist in a wartime Army for $13,000. If soldiers didn’t think they were doing the right thing for the right reason, they would get out and get a job back home.” The bonuses can range from a few thousand dollars to as much as $150,000 for very senior special-forces soldiers, who re-enlist for six years. All told, the army and marines spent over one billion dollars for re-enlistment payments last year, compared with $174 million in 2003, the year the war in Iraq began. The soaring bonuses have led some senior officers to question whether the country can still afford its volunteer force. So what’s the big deal about a billion dollars in a pentagon budget that runs into several hundred billion? Why is it leading to talk about a dramatic move, like bringing back the draft? Where do the rest of the trillions go every year? Good question: only don’t expect to get a straightforward answer. National security and all that, you know? It’s not too difficult to guess, though. Stealth bombers and nuclear submarines look great on the top brass’ resumes – and impress the crap out of members of the Senate Arms Committee. Make a real show in military parades too. Besides, they would come in real handy if the US got into a shooting war with Russia, say, or China. Wait a minute, though. Didn’t I read somewhere that the US military is already stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan? And those conflicts are kids in a sandlot compared to those big boys. Good thing, then, that the probabilities are real low. And using stealth bombers in Iraq would be a bit of over-kill. But America has to be prepared, right?

So let’s lower our sights precipitously and focus on something more practical, like the M1 Abrams battle tank – a real steal at less that five million dollars a piece. Great for desert warfare and frightening enough to make those nasty militants shit in their pajamas. One small problem, though. Each of those babies weighs over 60 tons; which makes it kind of difficult to fly them over an ocean or two. Let’s get real folks. The need of the hour in Iraq and Afghanistan is low budget items; like better armor for the troops and their humvees. And how about using some of those billions to recruit and train more troops, so that the ones already there do not have to return for so many tours of duty? Too little, too late, you say? I suppose quite a few Americans believe that after the election of a Democratic President – which they regard as a foregone conclusion – all the troops are going to come home anyway; and it will be one big happy ending. I’m not so sure. Getting into a war is easy. Some would point to the fact that even George Bush – with his stubborn streak and limited mental capacity achieved that – as proof of their hypothesis. Getting out of a war? Now that’s a whole new ball game.