Historically, massive increases in security budgets have been the prelude to a conflict.
A few days after the start of military operations in Afghanistan in October 2001, the commander of the U.S. forces admitted to the press with regret, that his troops were “running out of targets.”* An agricultural country covered in adobe houses was no match for the best army in the world.
Something similar happened in 2003 in Iraq. And on this occasion, the target to beat was the army of a country with abundant oil resources, galvanized by recent wars. But despite Saddam Hussein’s threats about “the mother of all battles,” the “fearsome Republican Guard” as it was always called by the media, lasted 21 days against the U.S. Army. So, in spite of the nonexistence of weapons of mass destruction, George W. Bush could be satisfied at having “kicked the butt” of Saddam without much disarray.
Save for the small detail that, as is common in these cases, against a superior force, the enemy changed into an insurgency and forced a long and costly occupation that, according to a study by the Watson Institute in 2008, cost $4 billion. In both cases, the U.S. discovered that it is much cheaper and easier to conquer a country than pacify, rebuild and govern it.
U.S. defense spending exceeds that of the next 14 countries, so contrary to what Donald Trump says, his military does not have any problem “winning wars,” nor does it seem to need a nine percent increase in spending, equivalent to Russia’s annual defense budget. What it has an enormous problem with is replacing the crockery, cleaning up the place, paying the bill and going home.
If we have learned anything from these wars and their 250,000 victims, it is the necessity of avoiding them — something that only diplomacy, which doesn’t seem one of Trump’s strengths, can prevent. And as 140 generals have reminded him, foreign aid, which he also wants to cut, is fundamental to guarantee security. It is foolish to confuse value with cost. It is even more foolish to confuse security with defense. Historically, massive increases in security budgets have been the prelude to conflict. My maximum security amounts to someone else’s maximum insecurity.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted remark could not be precisely verified.