With Smoke and Mirrors

Congress claim to represent different approaches to national governance, they have virtually no disagreements when it comes to setting the Pentagon budget. Key leaders of both parties, including Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, agree that military spending must rise in the years ahead to ensure continued American military supremacy.

In March 1996, when the Republican-dominated Congress was avidly slashing federal aid to the poor, the homeless, and the infirm, Clinton sent to Capitol Hill a six-year Pentagon budget laying out steady increases in military spending. Under the administration's plan, Department of Defense allocations will rise to $276.6 billion by 2002, an increase of 14 percent over fiscal year 1997. If the Republicans maintain their control of Congress (and/or win the presidency), these figures could go even higher.

Underlying this agreement on budget levels is a deeper consensus on the nature of future threats and on the type of forces needed to counter those threats. This consensus was forged in 1993, when Clinton unveiled a new U.S. military blueprint for the post-Cold War era. Known as the "Bottom-Up Review," this blueprint calls for sufficient U.S. forces to fight and win two "major regional conflicts"—that is, Desert Storm-like engagements—"nearly" simultaneously, a force about three-quarters of that supposedly needed to defeat the Soviet Union at the peak of its strength.

The Bottom-Up Review (BUR) also specifies the nature of the enemies we will encounter on these future battlefields: hostile Third World powers equipped with large military forces. Then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin described the anticipated combat capabilities of these future enemies, using figures that reflected the capabilities enjoyed by Iraq prior to 1991. And because the United States may someday have to fight two such adversaries simultaneously, Aspin argued, the combined potential enemy threat is doubled—the

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1996
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