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PARIS — As the United States and the world mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, debates are raging about the consequences — for Iraq, the Middle East and America’s standing in the world. But the Iraq war’s domestic impact — the Pentagon’s ever mushrooming budget and its long-term influence on the U.S. economy — may turn out to be its most lasting consequence.

The U.S. Defense Department’s request for $515.4 billion in the 2009 fiscal year dwarfs every other military budget in the world. And this huge sum — a 5 percent increase over the 2008 military budget — is to be spent only on the U.S. military’s normal operations, thus excluding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since he took office in 2001, President George W. Bush has increased America’s regular military budget by 30 percent, again not taking into account the cost of the wars he launched.

Last year, America’s entire military and counterterrorism expenditures topped $600 billion. One can assume that next year’s total spending on military affairs will be even bigger. Adjusted for inflation, U.S. military spending has reached its highest level since World War II.

Is there any limit to this spending boom? The U.S. is allocating more money for defense today than it did during the war against Hitler or the Cold War. The Bush administration seems to think that today’s military threats are graver. Talk about the “peace dividend” that was supposed to come with the fall of the Berlin Wall has been silenced.

Of course, because the U.S. economy has grown faster than military spending, the share of GDP dedicated to military expenditures has fallen over the years. The U.S. spent 14 percent of its GDP on the military during the Korean War (1950-1953, the Cold War’s peak), 9 percent during the Vietnam War and only 4 percent nowadays.

Yet, given the sheer scale of military spending today, one can wonder if it is rational. The U.S. economy is probably in recession, clouds are gathering over its pension and health-care systems, and its military budget may not make sense even in strategic terms. America alone accounts for around 50 percent of the world’s military expenditures, which is historically unprecedented for a single country. Most other countries don’t come anywhere close.

Indeed, the second-ranked country in terms of total annual military spending, Britain, lags far behind, at $55 billion, followed by France ($45 billion), Japan ($41 billion) and Germany ($35 billion). China and Russia, which can be considered strategic rivals of the U.S., spend $35 billion and $24 billion, respectively (though these figures probably underestimate expenditure, the true amount is certainly still far below the U.S. level). Iran, depicted by the Bush administration as a major threat, is a military dwarf, spending $6.6 billion on its military.

Some voices in America are calling for even bigger increases. Indeed, the Pentagon wants to enlarge the Marine Corps and Special Operations forces. Since it is increasingly difficult to recruit and retain soldiers, to do so will probably require raising their wages and improving their quality of life. Disabled soldiers also will cost a lot of money, even if the Pentagon won’t automatically pay everything for them.

But fulfilling the ostensible rationale for this seemingly interminable spending orgy — success in the “war on terror” — does not seem anywhere within reach. Mike McConnell, America’s Director of National Intelligence, recently admitted to a U.S. Senate panel that al-Qaida is gaining strength and steadily improving its ability to recruit, train and even attack the U.S.

That assessment is stunning, yet few American leaders — Democrats and Republicans alike — appear to be wondering if military power is the best answer to security issues.

Indeed, by relying mainly on military solutions to political problems, the U.S. seems to be increasing rather than reducing the threats it faces.

After all, the dangers that America faces today do not come from nation states, but from nonstate actors against whom nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers are useless. It would be less expensive and more fruitful for America to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, return to a multilateral approach, and respect the moral principles that it recommends to others. Likewise, only by adopting such a strategy can the U.S. start to compress the Pentagon’s inflated budget and begin to address its many domestic woes.

Pascal Boniface is director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations, Paris (IRIS). His most recent book is “Football et Mondialisation” (Football and Globalization). Copyright 2008 Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)

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