On Being Number One

Tomgram: Berrigan, U.S. Takes Gold in Arms Olympics

Hey, aren’t we the most exceptional nation in history? George Bush and his pals thought so — and they were in a great American tradition of exceptionalism. Of course, they were imagining us as the most exceptional empire in history (or maybe at the end of it), the ultimate New Rome. Anyway, explain this to me: Among all the exceptional things we claim to do, how come we never take credit for what may be the most exceptional of all, our success of successes, the thing that makes us uniquely ourselves on this war-ridden planet — peddling more arms to Earthlings than anyone else in the neighborhood? Why do we hide this rare talent under a bushel? In the interest of shining a proud light on an under-rated national skill, I asked Frida Berrigan to return the United States to its rightful place in the Pantheon of arms-dealing nations. Tom

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We’re # 1! A Nation of Firsts Arms the World
By Frida Berrigan

They don’t call us the sole superpower for nothing. Paul Wolfowitz might be looking for a new job right now, but the term he used to describe the pervasiveness of U.S. might back when he was a mere deputy secretary of defense — hyperpower — still fits the bill.

Face it, the United States is a proud nation of firsts. Among them:

First in Oil Consumption:

The United States burns up 20.7 million barrels per day, the equivalent of the oil consumption of China, Japan, Germany, Russia, and India combined.

First in Carbon Dioxide Emissions:

Each year, world polluters pump 24,126,416,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the environment. The United States and its territories are responsible for 5.8 billion metric tons of this, more than China (3.3 billion), Russia (1.4 billion) and India (1.2 billion) combined.

First in External Debt:

The United States owes $10.040 trillion, nearly a quarter of the global debt total of $44 trillion.

First in Military Expenditures:

The White House has requested $481 billion for the Department of Defense for 2008, but this huge figure does not come close to representing total U.S. military expenditures projected for the coming year. To get a sense of the resources allocated to the military, the costs of the global war on terrorism, of the building, refurbishing, or maintaining of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and other expenses also need to be factored in. Military analyst Winslow Wheeler did the math recently: “Add $142 billion to cover the anticipated costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; add $17 billion requested for nuclear weapons costs in the Department of Energy; add another $5 billion for miscellaneous defense costs in other agencies…. and you get a grand total of $647 billion for 2008.”

Taking another approach to the use of U.S. resources, Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard Business School lecturer Linda Bilmes added to known costs of the war in Iraq invisible costs like its impact on global oil prices as well as the long-term cost of health care for wounded veterans and came up with a price tag of between 1 trillion and $2.2 trillion.

If we turned what the United States will spend on the military in 2008 into small bills, we could give each one of the world’s more than 1 billion teenagers and young adults an Xbox 360 with wireless controller (power supply in remote rural areas not included) and two video games to play: maybe Gears of War and Command and Conquer would be appropriate. But if we’re committed to fighting obesity, maybe Dance Dance Revolution would be a better bet. The United States alone spends what the rest of the world combined devotes to military expenditures.

First in Weapons Sales:

Since 2001, U.S. global military sales have normally totaled between $10 and $13 billion. That’s a lot of weapons, but in fiscal year 2006, the Pentagon broke its own recent record, inking arms sales agreements worth $21 billion. It almost goes without saying that this is significantly more than any other nation in the world.

[snip]

After all, what does a drug dealer do? He creates a need and then fills it. He encourages an appetite or (even more lucratively) an addiction and then feeds it.

Arms dealers do the same thing. They suggest to foreign officials that their military just might need a slight upgrade. After all, they’ll point out, haven’t you noticed that your neighbor just upgraded in jets, submarines, and tanks? And didn’t you guys fight a war a few years back? Doesn’t that make you feel insecure? And why feel insecure for another moment when, for just a few billion bucks, we’ll get you suited up with the latest model military… even better than what we sold them — or you the last time around.

Why does Turkey, which already has 215 fighter planes, need 100 extras in an even higher-tech version? It doesn’t… but Lockheed Martin, working the Pentagon, made them think they did.

We don’t need stronger arms control laws, we need a global sobriety coach — and some kind of 12-step program for the dealer-nation as well.

Read all of it here.

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