WASHINGTON (IPS)–If there was any doubt about the global ambitions of the Bush administration hawks, it was dispelled recently when a group of influential conservative figures complained that the current military budget of almost $400 billion–greater than the world’s 15 next biggest military establishments combined–is not enough to sustain U.S. strategy abroad.
In a letter to the president released on the eve of his State of the Union address, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose alumni include both figures close to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as most of their top aides, called for increasing the defense budget by as much as $100 billion next year.
“Today’s military is simply too small for the missions it must perform,” said the letter whose signatories included mainly key neo-conservatives, former Reagan administration officials, and a number of individuals close to big defense manufacturers like Lockheed Martin. “By every measure, current defense spending is inadequate for a military with global responsibilities.”
The letter, which also suggested that Washington should prepare for confrontations with North Korea, Iran and China, was to be published in the Weekly Standard, the conservative journal financed by Rupert Murdoch and edited by William Kristol, PNAC’s co-founder and chairman.
Publication of the letter comes as public confidence in Pres. Bush’s leadership, and particularly his apparent eagerness to invade Iraq, has slipped substantially, according to recent by recent polls.
The same surveys show increasing concern as well about his management of the economy, including the return of $300 billion budget deficits fueled mostly by military and security-related spending and tax cuts.
It also comes as veteran foreign-policy analysts here and abroad warn that anti-American sentiment is rising sharply in both the Islamic world and among U.S. allies in both Europe and North-east Asia due to the perception that the Bush administration is insensitive to their views and seeks permanent military domination of Eurasia.
In his State of the Union Address scheduled at Final Call press time, Pres. Bush was expected to lay out his budget and other priorities for the coming year. If the administration asks increases urged by PNAC, public concerns about Bush’s intentions both here and abroad are likely to rise steeply.
On the other hand, PNAC’s past letters, particularly its recommendations on its anti-terrorist campaign and Middle Eastern policy, have anticipated to a remarkable degree the administration’s policy evolution.
Just nine days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, PNAC issued an open letter that called on Bush to take his anti-terrorist war beyond Afghanistan by ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq, severing ties with the Palestinian Authority, and preparing for action against Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
PNAC in many ways is the latest incarnation of a series of hawkish groups dominated by Jewish neo-conservatives dating back to the 1970s, when they fought the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party and combined with Republicans like Mr. Rumsfeld to oppose detente with Moscow.
Midge Decter and her husband, Norman Podhoretz, for example, helped found the Committee on the Present Danger in the late 1970s and the Committee for the Free World in the early 1980s, which Ms. Decter co-chaired with Mr. Rumsfeld. Both signed the new letter.
Among PNAC’s charter members were Rumsfeld, Cheney, and their chief deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby, respectively, as well as a dozen other top administration policy-makers today.
The administration, which already won an $80 billion increase in the defense budget for fiscal 2003, has called for further increases up to $442 billion by 2007. But hawks have warned that this will not match what is needed if Bush’s global ambitions are to be realized.
“A year into this activist foreign policy,” wrote Frederick Kagan, a military historian late last year, “the defense agencies that will prosecute the war on terrorism remained starved of resources. Increases of some $100 billion annually or more–over and above the increases already called for–will be necessary to provide for a defense establishment able to fulfill the president’s national security strategy.”
The hawks insist this is realistic, because an increase of $100 billion will bring the defense budget’s percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) to only four percent, still lower in percentage terms than what the Pentagon received in the mid-1980s.
“Less than a nickel on the dollar for American security in the 21st century is cheap at the price,” according to the letter.
It enumerates the challenges that U.S. power must address, noting that the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan was “an essential first step” and that “an overwhelming military coalition (is) now ready to end the threat of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.”
“Removing Saddam is but the first step toward reconstructing a decent government in Iraq and carrying out your strategic vision for the Middle East. Other rogue states remain a major problem,” the letter added.