While the United States government has made many good decisions in trying to fix the economy by investing in education and infrastructure in recent days, it has continually missed a chance to trim the biggest over-expenditure in the budget — the military. One of the biggest problems affecting the economy is the nearly $11-trillion national debt — and a large part of that is caused by the ridiculous amount spent on the armed forces.

In a time when the economy is struggling, cuts to unnecessary expenditures must be made. It’s extremely difficult to cut programs from the budget — the nation has come to rely on programs like Medicare and social security. But reducing the military would actually be a practical and possible cut in the size of the U.S. government. In 2008 alone, 21 percent of the national budget was spent on the military — the largest amount of all government expenditures. And our military employs almost 1.5 million troops, the second largest number of active soldiers of any nation in the world. While the military is important, the current size and breadth of the program is completely unnecessary.

With U.S. troops stationed in more than 150 countries according to statistics for the Department of Defense on the Census Bureau’s 2009 statistical abstract, U.S. armed forces sometimes seem like the United Nation’s police force. The wide spread of troops reeks of imperialism. Only a country with imperial intentions would spread their troops that widely. Examples range from the expansion of the USSR to Alexander the Great’s Macedonian conquest. The U.S.’s imperialism has dramatically damaged the way the rest of the world looks at our nation, and it continually damages the nation’s economy.

It’s sad that our nation is involved in two wars — Afghanistan and Iraq — that didn’t need to be waged. The foreign policy of preemptive strike or the ambiguous “War or Terror” may justify the actions to some, but it’s an expensive policy to maintain. Those two wars have cost nearly one trillion dollars. The best action the U.S. could take would be to contract the size of the military and bring our troops home from everywhere — including Iraq and Afghanistan.

The reduction and retraction of the armed forces would pay dividends inside the United States. The U.S. could use some of the remaining troops to protect its own borders, helping prevent illegal immigration. And moving the troops from a warzone to U.S. soil would lessen risk of casualties. The number of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder would also plummet.

While this logical fix to help the nation’s economy should appear evident to everyone, the nation’s capital is oblivious to it. And according to the Associated Press, the Pentagon is currently considering adding 30,000 more troops to the army so that they can continue to wage war on two fronts (Pentagon eyes plan to increase Army by 30,000, 07/16/2009). If the White House decides to add these troops, it will have obviously determined that fighting two purposeless wars is more important than putting soldiers’ lives at risk, as well as the cost of employing, preparing and training another 30,000 soldiers. The U.S. is paying for these wars not only with money, but with lives as well.

When the Bush administration started these wars, it was completely unprepared. It had no idea how to get out of them, and no idea how to pay for them. The wars have burdened the economy and the people of this nation as a whole, and cutting down the size of the military would be in the nation’s best interest to help boost the country out of this recession. The national debt is a big hole — one seemingly impossible to fill. But cutting into the biggest part of the federal budget would make as positive a difference as anything.

For some reason, the U.S. government has always had a need to be in control of the world. From manifest destiny to international imperialism, it has always felt this burden. The government needs to let go of this idea and focus on internal rather than external matters. Policing the world comes at a high price — a price that the U.S. simply can’t afford.

Ed McPhee can be reached at emcphee@umich.edu.

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