The Pentagon and the National Rifle Association have a lot in common these days. They’re in love with guns. They maintain powerful lobbies. They refuse to acknowledge the dangerous consequences of their policies.
And they’re both on the defensive.
After the Tucson massacre, the NRA has a lot to answer for. The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), in which the Congresswoman and a dozen bystanders were wounded and six others were murdered, has again focused attention on how easy it is to buy guns and use them in this country.
The NRA has managed to survive attempted and successful assassinations of presidents, horrifying school shootings, and other killing sprees. Every year, nearly 100,000 Americans are shot and guns kill approximately 10,000 people, according to gun control advocates.
It’s practically a war. The NRA will yet again dig in its heels to make sure that “the guys with the guns make the rules,” as NRA head Wayne LaPierre phrased it in 2009. Support for stricter gun laws has declined from 78 percent in 1990 to only 44 percent in 2010.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, faces a similar public relations disaster. Iraq is a mess. The Taliban still controls large sections of Afghanistan. Unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan have simply disturbed the hornet’s nest.
Given all this, it would be fitting if the American people demanded cuts in military spending because of the Pentagon’s failed policies. Instead, the Pentagon faces the ax because of the overall budget deficit. The Pentagon is doing all it can to prevent the cuts. Like the NRA, the generals and majors won’t give up their guns without a fight.
President Barack Obama recently ordered the Pentagon to cut $78 billion over the next five years. This comes on top of about $100 billion that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates identified as savings that could be reinvested in “boots on the ground.”
Yet the military budget is projected to increase until at least 2015. Military contractors have dodged a bullet. In exchange for giving up a few token systems, the $100 billion of redirected savings will mean more money for other big-ticket items like missile defense systems and long-range strike bombers. To ensure that the spigot remains open, Gates has played up the alleged China threat.
Like the NRA, the Pentagon refuses to connect the dots between policies and consequences. The United States is responsible for nearly half of all global military expenditures–and yet we’re bewildered by our perennial budget deficits.
As the world’s No. 1 arms peddler, Washington continues to push exports to the developing world–and then we’re surprised at all the conflicts that continue to burn. Our policymakers labor under the persistent delusion that war is the answer to our foreign policy problems–and then we’re aghast that our adversaries seize on violence in return.
Through it all, the Pentagon continues to claim that it’s in the “defense” business and that demilitarization would make us all less safe. The NRA likewise argues that gun control would only take weapons away from people who need to defend themselves. Through repetition and money, these institutions transmute such madness into conventional wisdom.
The very faint good news is that both the NRA and the Pentagon are digging in their heels because they realize they’re standing on slippery slopes. It’s our job to seize this moment of tragedies at home and abroad to push both organizations downhill. We have to stop the guys with the guns from making their deranged rules–and fast.
John Feffer is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. This op-ed is adapted from an essay that appeared in FPIF’s weekly World Beat newsletter. www.fpif.org