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A view from veterans on the sequester

Posted: March 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm   /   by

Warning: One instance of bad language from an obviously passionate and concerned Pete Hegseth


Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook


  1. TateFegley says:

    Good points about the nature of sequestration. It is just kicking the can down the road and not addressing the cause of the problems. But to be accurate (and this is not a minor quibble) the sequester does not cut spending; it reduces the growth in spending that was previously projected.
    I think he kind of hurts his case when saying that defense is being gutted. It will take many times more guttings before the US military is even close to having a rival in terms of spending. I did browse through the CVA’s Defense & Reform report, and I’m glad they actually acknowledge that the DoD is not a jobs program and seemingly make a good faith effort to find ways to reduce waste on defense. This is a breath of fresh air in comparison to nearly every major Republican presidential candidate who refused to reduce ANY spending on the military. To be fair, clearly most Democrats have little interest in taking servicemen out of harm’s way as well.
    What I’d like to see is a real discussion about what the role of the US military should be. If it were really based on the defense of Americans, I think spending on defense would be a fraction of what it currently is.

    1. @TateFegley Maybe, maybe not. As I may have said in our previous discussions, external security is the first social contract function. The only determinations to be made are How dangerous is the world? and How much defense is needed to meet that danger? I respect the fact that different people will come to different conclusions. Personally, I’d like to see a very large military, with bases everywhere and equipment the rest of the world will take 50 years to match . . . but I’d like to see our forces used in a lot fewer engagements than they have been recently.

      1. TateFegley says:

        @WesternFreePress I suppose my problems with, as you say, ” a very large military, with bases everywhere and equipment the rest of the world will take 50 years to match” are as follows:
        1) The monetary cost. You correctly say that different people will come to different conclusions. I would prefer to pay less than the cost of the current state of affairs. Until we are able to establish markets for defense, we won’t know what level of spending on it is efficient. Nor will we simultaneously be able to allow those, such as yourself, who prefer a larger military that is stationed abroad, to pay for their preferences while others, such as myself, who would prefer to have a smaller military pay less for less defense.
        2) Undoubtedly, the consideration about meeting different people’s preferences will be met with the public goods argument (i.e., the latter group will be able to free ride off of the former). But I think this is already the case. For example, I live in Idaho. I seriously doubt that it is even on the radar of someone who wants to attack Americans. Yet, I know of no one in Idaho paying less taxes because of their lower risk of being attacked. Thus, I think an insurance-based approach would be more appropriate. (We can see the moral hazard problems that any government-based insurance programs entail: federal flood insurance discourages people from taking account of the costs in locating in a flood-prone area.) This would encourage people to really consider the costs and benefits of certain types of locations in terms of defense without forcing others to subsidize their more risky choices.
        3) Special interests are able to benefit whenever governments involve themselves in the provision of goods or services. Military defense is no different in this regard. There are large military contractors who benefit from large amounts of military spending, whether or not that spending actually contributes to the safety of Americans. I think we can trust that politicians will consider their interests before those of the American people.
        4) Despite the best intentions of the Posse Comitatus Act, the government tends not to follow its own rules. As well, government power continues to be centralized in Washington and even more vested within the Executive with no checks. We already know that the President is willing to use drones to kill Americans without a trial and now desires the ability to do that on American soil. Thus, I fear any one entity having such a military, especially since there is no guarantee it won’t be used against Americans themselves. I don’t think anyone should be trusted with such power.
        5) I have trouble with the idea of having bases everywhere. You and I both know that most Americans would go berserk if some foreign military tried to build a base near where they live. I hope this isn’t seen as some naive dedication to the Golden Rule, but I have a hard time saying it is right and just that my government places a base in your country while it is wrong and alarming if your government places a base in mine. As well, I just don’t think it’s a good allocation of resources.

        1. @TateFegley 
          1) Can you explain exactly what you mean by “markets for defense.” I think I know, but I want to be sure. Is this a Rothbardian thing?
          2) This one doesn’t work for me. I understand the argument, and I have even contemplated before whether it is really correct to call defense nonrivalrous and nonexcludable for this reason. However, at the end of the day, those ruminations were hypothetical. In the real scenario, foreign enemies are not thinking much about Idaho vs. California. Yes, CA and VA and CT are bigger targets than ID, but enemies would be thinking of the U.S. as one nation the enemy to be defeated. I am deeply opposed to centralization, but external security is one of the few matters upon which the states are actually supposed to be united and working together.
          3) Yes, totally a problem. Public choice-based corruption is a monster that plagues us all! And I would like to see government shrunk in its size and the areas it covers to the point where public choice is reduced by many orders of magnitude. However, I am not sure that going Rothbard on the national defense is a good idea in and of itself, and the public choice problem alone is not enough reason. And if we reduced government down to minimal levels and roles, we could at least police the remaining areas for this problem with a lot more scrutiny.
          4) Centralization is a problem, and lots of decentralization is necessary in a lot of areas. But if things went the way they should in that regard, I would be a lot less worried about central control over the military.
          5) Many countries want our bases, and cry bitterly if we talk about removing them.
          But more than that, I just think history has shown that the world is dangerous enough that a really large military is required. More free trade will reduce the danger levels in the world. More commerce and cooperation. More spread of free enterprise. But until we start to see a world that is safer, a big deterrent is needed. The necessary size is a matter of dispute, as is the real degree of danger, so we may not agree there. I just think the world is still in for some horrors wrought by those with evil design, and it’s better to be ready.

        2. TateFegley says:

          @WesternFreePress 1)”Markets for defense” is just as it sounds: defense provided by voluntary, mutually agreed upon means. It is typically theorized as being provided by insurance agencies. I think Hoppe wrote a good description here: 2) Enemies will probably think of the US as one big enemy to be defeated, and I find this to be particularly relevant to the problem at hand. For example, the overwhelming majority of Americans have done nothing to cause the grievances that much of those in the Middle East have with the US. Rather, at least as I see it, their grievances have mostly to do with the foreign interventions of the US government. And yet these Americans who have nothing to do with the situation are targeted (as well as have their liberties destroyed by the federal government in name of the War on Terror). And thus another problem I see with centralization is everyone being held to pay for the sins of the politicians.
          3) I think we’re majorly in agreement about the public choice problem (though it is unfortunate that my last response was a bit convoluted in that it involved criticisms of both centralized defense and a large military; I should have stuck with only the latter but got a bit carried away). So the public choice problem was to be a criticism of larger military spending itself rather than a sole reason to embrace private defense.
          4) I can agree with that. I don’t know of any case where a dictatorial government allowed freedom in most areas of life but had ironclad control over only a few; typically, they want control over all of it. If the government didn’t do so many things, it would be much easier to hold accountable.
          5) If that’s the case, I would respond that the US military is not a charity. Let the European social democracies defend themselves. As it is now I see it as the US government subsidizing foreign welfare states.
          I’m trying to understand what you would consider the ideal role of the US military. Even if the world is dangerous, is it dangerous to Americans on American soil? If so, I would consider it within the role of the US military to change that. I am not convinced that it ought to be the role of the US government to “make the world safe for democracy” or defend territories that are not part of the US. I’m also having a hard time thinking of a justification for foreign deployment that is not directly related to protecting Americans. Protecting “American interests” is a slippery slope (as usually these seem to involve defending some connected corporate interest, such as what happened with the United Fruit Company in Guatemala). 
          I think there will always be dangerous places in the world and I don’t think it’s the case that a military can or should be expected to change that.

        3. @TateFegley I will check out Hoppe. That said, I am not convinced of the private approach to security, internal or external. I am not saying never, but there are so many other things on the list to take out of government’s hands before we try that. In fact, I see security as the *first* social contract duty, so if security went private, that (to me) would presume everything else was already private, thus we’d cross from minarchy to anarcho-something. Again, I am not saying never, but we’re a long way away, and I’d like to try a lessarchist approach that prioritizes and scales back the state starting with the things it should *least* be doing first. You may place defense a lot higher on that list than I do. I respect anarcho-capitalist theory, but for the time being at least, I place defense on the list of things the govt. should do.
          With regard to the kind of military I want—-I want a military that is so large and powerful, and deployed strategically throughout the world in such a way, that no nation would ever dream of threatening our allies, our country, or our people (at home or abroad). I think human history has given us ample reason to believe that the human race is disposed to doing terrible things, and we need to deter bad guys as much as possible. Less USE of the military in hopeless or problematic circumstances, but a very large military.
          I am leaving for CPAC, so I won’t be able to carry on these terrific discussions until I return next week. Cheers!

        4. TateFegley says:

          @WesternFreePress I think Hoppe would agree with you in seeing security as the “first” purpose of government (in fact, within the first few sentences of the PDF he talks about the belief of legitimacy of the modern state rests upon it). I don’t think anyone advocating privatized defense would envision external defense ever being one of the first functions of government to be dissolved; rather, it’s being so central would probably make it one of the last. So, when I say that a change in the size and scope of the Department of Defense is a high priority, what I have in mind is ending the death and destruction that come with unnecessary wars, not necessarily its privatization.
          I think you’ve given a fairly reasonable goal for defense (though I am wary of potentially entangling alliances and having difficulty picturing the logistics of protecting Americans abroad), the next question is what the best means of achieving it are.
          I sincerely hope you have a good, productive time at CPAC. Cheers to you.

        5. @TateFegley You’re right; it is a hard question determining the best methods. But we do need to protect ourselves, our embassies, etc. That is basic. As far as alliances go, I understand your feelings. However, we also do need to stand for something. Just as each individual person must have ethics and a code, and choose good friends and reject relations with malign people, nations too must stand for something. We must either be good, and do good; or be neutral, and ignore as much as we can; or be bad and do bad things. I understand the impulse to ignore, and perhaps there are a few more things we should not have our fingers in, but at the end of the day, I believe that we must be good, stand for good things, and do good things. That means standing up for good nations and our friends. Australia, Canada, the UK—these are examples of good, friendly nations. We must stand with good nations just as each of us should stand up for good people and our friends.
          BTW: I am NOT making a full equivalence between individuals and the state; I am just using this as a metaphor :-)
          Okay, now I really am leaving for DC!

A view from veterans on the sequester