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U.S.: Analysts Say Bush's Military Budget Proposals On Target, Difficult To Criticize

  • Andrew Tully

U.S. President George W. Bush announced on 23 December that his proposal for the federal budget for next year will include an increase in military spending of $48 billion. This is the largest rise in military spending in two decades. Bush's opponents in Congress complain that the president's fiscal policies have greatly reduced the comfortable surpluses that characterized the country's budgets in the past few years. But analysts say it would be a miscalculation for them to criticize Bush's spending on defense as he pursues his military campaign against international terrorism.

Washington, 25 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Many political and military analysts say it would be a mistake for U.S. President George W. Bush's opponents in Congress to oppose his proposal for an increase of $48 billion in military spending for the 2003 fiscal year.

The Bush administration says the increase would include about $38 billion for expected operational expenses, plus about $10 billion as a so-called "war reserve" -- an emergency fund available for unexpected expenses in the battle against international terrorism.

If approved by the U.S. Congress, the Defense Department annual budget's would increase to $380 billion. Further details of Bush's budget proposal will not be known until it is published on 4 February.

The White House announced the military-spending plan in an apparent effort to dilute bad news from Congress's own financial center, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It reported that the projection of a budget surplus over the next decade has shrunk from an estimated $5.6 trillion to about $1.6 trillion.

In fact, the CBO said the government will run a deficit for the next three years before the surpluses return.

Many members of the Democratic Party in Congress -- who oppose the economic policies of Bush, a Republican -- say the tax reductions that the president won last year were too generous and contributed greatly to lowering the surplus.

Bush counters that the current recession is responsible for the lower surplus by cutting into tax revenue. He says the tax cuts will help bring the country out of the recession by giving consumers and businesses more money to spend.

And the Bush administration argues that the enormous increase in military spending -- the largest since Ronald Reagan was president during the 1980s -- will do more than improve America's ability to fight terrorism worldwide. Administration officials say so much spending also will help stimulate the economy further.

So far there has been little negative reaction in Congress to Bush's proposal for military spending. And there has been no official reaction so far from the Russian government. However, a member of the State Duma, Valery Cheban, says it could be interpreted as the start of a new arms race. And he contends that even a well-equipped military cannot properly fight terrorism.

Many military analysts say America's armed forces were neglected during the administration of Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, at least in part because the Soviet Union had broken up and the Cold War was over. These observers say this neglect led to a force that was not always prepared for the many duties it encountered during the past decade.

One of these analysts is Jack Spencer, who specializes in military affairs at the Heritage Foundation, an independent policy center in Washington. Spencer told RFE/RL that Heritage has conducted several studies that conclude that Bush's spending increase for the Defense Department is exactly what is called for.

"We feel that this is the right amount to start to rectify some of the funding shortages in the past that have led to an aging force. And it will also give us the ability not only to modernize our force, but also transform it to be more in line, more consistent with what the needs of the 21st century are."

According to Spencer, it would be politically unwise for Democrats in Congress to oppose Bush's military spending proposals. He points out that the country is at war, and that the vast majority of Americans fully support the way in which Bush is waging it. He says Democrats' opposition to the budget would be viewed as meddling with that endeavor.

"Do I think it [opposing Bush's military budget proposal] would be politically detrimental to [the Democrats]? Yeah, I do -- regardless of party."

Leo Ribuffo agrees. He is a professor of politics and history at George Washington University in Washington.

"It would not be politically wise to oppose a substantial increase in military spending when there's a sense of national crisis in the post-Cold War period, or even the Cold War period."

But Ribuffo told RFE/RL that the war is going well for the U.S. and its coalition partners, so Americans do not perceive Bush as an embattled president who is struggling to maintain the survival of his country. Therefore, Democrats can differ with the president on many other issues, especially his handling of the economy.

"Those two boxes can be kept separate, particularly since the war seems to be won, at the moment."

Ribuffo says that if the U.S. economy declines even further, voters will not punish Democrats for faulting Bush's insistence on tax reductions and other efforts to stimulate business activity -- as long as they do not criticize his spending on defense.