Let's Blame the Politicians,
Not the Press

Jude Wanniski
November 13, 1997


Memo To: Max Frankel, The New York Times
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Defense Budget

Your piece in the Sunday magazine (November 9), "Postwar Trance," blames the press corps for its failure to question the $260 billion annual spending on the military. As a former executive editor of the NYTimes, you have the standing to make this complaint. Yes, there has been no questioning of the Pentagon argument that the nation needs to spend this amount if it is going to be capable of fighting two wars simultaneously ~ when it is hard to imagine a scenario of even half a war somewhere. I think, though, you are too hard on the press, as it is the political class that refuses to tackle the issue. You don't expect the Republican Party to argue we need to spend less, do you? There is the odd John Kasich, campaigning against the B-l boondoggle, but for the most part Republicans are mired in Cold War atmospherics. I personally think it is a national disgrace that we are not working to slash military spending, partly for the reasons you enumerate, and also because the advocates of a big arsenal have to promote conflict in order to justify this kind of spending. You must have noticed both The New Republic (on the left) and The Weekly Standard (on the right) almost declaring war on China earlier this year, on the grounds that we are bound to go to war with them eventually, so why not declare them an adversary (enemy) now.

The Wall Street Journal should be raising questions in this area, but on the contrary does everything it can to look for new ways to spend arms money. The initiative has to come from the Democratic Party and the NYTimes and Washington Post, but President Clinton shows no inclination to do any more than cut nickels and dimes out of the budget with his line-item veto. When Democrats lose elections, they get nervous about taking on Republicans in the area of national security. They should be asking the kind of embarrassing questions you pose. Neither Vice President Gore nor House Minority Leader Gephardt want to get to the left of one another on national security, however. And organized labor, which has been steadily losing membership, has a stake in the military-industrial complex in which many of its members are still located. On the Republican side, the only candidate who clearly would contest the military-industrial complex is Colin Powell, which is why the GOP establishment hates the man.

When Jack Kemp in the 1996 campaign complained about Clinton's bombing of Iraq without consulting Congress or the Gulf coalition, he had no support from any quarter. George Will and the Weekly Standard independently announced that Kemp could get nowhere in the 2000 race as long as he has Jude Wanniski, a known pacifist, as an advisor. The Times sat on its hands, despite Clinton's obvious violition of the War Powers Act, not to mention the Constitution. As far as I am concerned, this was an impeachable offense, but as long as the political establishment is willing to wink at this, because everyone agrees Saddam is a bad guy, there is no need to follow the niceties of principle or law. What was your position, by the way?

The larger issue that has to be debated concerns the nature of the New World Order. We are the new Imperium, but how are we going to conduct ourselves? The answer has to involve some mixture of carrots and sticks, but that national discussion has not yet taken place. If you note the front page of the Times' "Week in Review" section on Sunday, you will find Craig Whitney posing the question of carrots and sticks in relation to Saddam Hussein. How many times have you heard it said that the only thing Saddam understands is the use of force? In his Times "Foreign Affairs" column last week, Tom Friedman argues that inasmuch as we are not going to reward Saddam for good behavior, but punish him whether he is good or bad, the only way out is to assassinate him, with a "Head Shot." If we would only recognize that the entire Islamic world is our enemy, we can count on wars with both Islam and China. There is our two-war problem. Right?

My suggestion, Max, is that you turn your firepower on the politicians, not the press. It's easy to blame the press, much harder to tell it like it is about our political establishment.