U.S. taxpayers finance almost half the world's military spending. President Trump says it's not enough. His "America First" budget calls for taking $52 billion from civilian programs to boost last year's $587 billion military budget.
It's not just Trump. Former President Barack Obama projected spending nearly that much, writes Standard & Poor's analyst Christopher DeNicolo. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) wants to add billions more than Trump does -- "and I think the McCain plan is more likely to get passed," Brian Ruttenbur, senior analyst for Philadelphia-based Drexel, Hamilton & Co. and a former Air Force officer, told me.
Trump has said our allies should defend themselves more. So why are we planning to spend more than China, Russia, India, Britain, and other major military powers combined?
"We're also the biggest target in the world," including cyberspace, said Philip P. Jaurigue, chairman and CEO of Warrington-based Sabre Systems Inc., a 500-person engineering and info-tech defense contractor.
With Special Forces and troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, among other units, in Iraq and nearby countries, "we've been fighting these asymmetric wars against terrorists, house to house, for the past 15 years," said Ruttenbur. "We haven't been preparing for open warfare," fighting the Russians with tanks, or the Chinese with ships. "So we have equipment issues. Training issues."
Contractors had to make do with less after Obama budget cuts, said Jaurigue. Low-bid contracts left engineers working part time, pushing some into retirement, he noted. "It's hard to find young talent."
But are we getting enough for our dollars? Is American military spending -- much of it restricted to U.S.-based businesses -- like American health care and college and highway-construction spending: the most costly in the world?
Ours is better, said Ruttenbur: "We operate 11 aircraft carriers. The Russians have two. The Chinese have one. They can put maybe 100 planes in the air. We have catapults, we can put 180 planes on each carrier. And we have 11."
Why so many? "The problem is, we still have a World War II doctrine. That means we have to be able to fight two all-out wars simultaneously, in the Pacific and the Atlantic, and win in both places. But instead we've been fighting terrorists in the desert," said Ruttenbur.
So now, Washington is planning for three simultaneous wars.
"You know about the 'Asia pivot' " in U.S. policy, from the Middle East to Asia? "How do you stop the Chinese from building islands, except you put your warships over there and say, 'Don’t do that'?" Ruttenbur asked. Or the Russians from invading the Baltic countries, our smallest European allies?
"We have 280 ships. Trump wants 350. Of course, Reagan had over 500," Ruttenbur said, searching for context. But then again, today's ships are a lot more powerful: "Our ability to deliver anywhere in the world has so increased from the '80s."
Won't a bigger military mean a lot more military recruitment -- and higher pay for our volunteer forces? "You will need more people," Ruttenbur affirmed. "They are talking about adding 50,000 Marines. There will be a lot more Army and Air Force." And those 70 hoped-for Navy ships.
Does hiring more military personnel and providing more hardware make war more likely?
Reagan rearmed, but there was no new world war, the analyst reminded me.
Just a lot of smaller wars. Or maybe the long war that doesn't end.