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Palin’s Militarism

Sarah Palin’s remarks opposing cuts in military spending were part of a speech she gave at “Freedom Fest” in Norfolk, Virginia. What most reports haven’t mentioned was that elsewhere in Palin’s speech she made one of her most deliberately misleading claims to date. Here it was:

Did you know the US actually only ranks 25th worldwide on defense spending as a percentage of GDP?

PolitiFact confirmed the ranking in the CIA World Factbook, but pointed out that most of the countries that “outrank” the U.S. in military spending as a percentage of GDP are exceptionally poor countries, and many of them are also U.S. allies or clients. So Palin makes a claim that is technically valid in the narrowest sense, but utterly irrelevant to the debate over military spending. When it comes to the sheer amount the U.S. spends on its military, it is nearly equal to the amount spent by all other states combined. As PolitiFact concludes:

Todd Harrison, a fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said other factors set the U.S. apart.

“In absolute dollars, we spend almost as much as all other countries combined,” Harrison said. “So saying we are 25th is a bit misleading and a selective use of facts.”

We agree. Although she’s technically correct, the numbers are wildly skewed by tiny, non-industrialized countries. We find her claim Barely True.

The problem isn’t just that Palin drops this figure into her speech to mislead her audience into thinking that U.S. military spending isn’t all that great, but that she seems to think that she has actually made a really significant point.

Much of the rest of her speech was a tiresome rehashing of the standards complaints that have been circulating for the last year and a half. These have all been debunked or answered so many times that I’m not going to waste your time or mine going through them again, but towards the end Palin made a statement that sums up the dangerous worldview she and her enthusiasts hold:

It is in America’s and the world’s best interests for our country to remain the dominant military superpower, but under President Obama’s leadership that dominance may be slipping away. It’s the result of an agenda that reeks of complacency and defeatism.

A policy of maintaining unending military supremacy is neither desirable nor sustainable, but what is far more worrisome than her support for that is that Palin purports to believe that this basically unchallenged supremacy is currently in jeopardy because the Obama administration is not being aggressive and activist enough. Confronting Iran over its nuclear program, sending additional forces to Afghanistan, and authorizing countless strikes inside Pakistan signal “complacency and defeatism”? This is simply unhinged.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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