After the Sequester, the Pentagon Gets a Reprieve
It looks like we're never going to get a full peace dividend from the war on terror.
Yesterday's budget deal doesn't spare the Pentagon from the full impact of the sequester cuts, but it sure eases the impact considerably. As things stand now, the inflation-adjusted defense budget is still bigger than it was in 2001, before the 9/11 buildup, and shows no signs of ever coming back down to that level. The chart below tells the story:
This is part of "Can't Touch This," a detailed look at the Pentagon budget from our upcoming print edition. The story it tells is pretty simple: the defense budget skyrocketed after 9/11 and never fully returned to its pre-war level. The base budget (which doesn't count the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan) ran to about $1,400 per person in 2001, and by the end of this decade, nearly 20 years after 9/11, it will still be over $1,600 per person.
In past wars, we usually got a peace dividend afterward as spending returned to its old level. It happened after Vietnam and it happened after the Cold War. But this time it's stalled. Spending is down a bit from its Bush-era peak, but only a bit. The war on terror, apparently, really is a forever war.