I grew up in a British army family during the Cold War. During that period,we were bombarded with the message that the Russians had a vast and powerful military machine. By contrast, when I read about the USSR, the discussion was always that their equipment broke down all the time. This week, I talked with an ex-Soviet tank commander, who told me that his tank was inoperable every three days.
The source of this disparity was a combination of the arms manufacturers, faced in the late 1970's with their first downturn since 1939, and Leo Strauss' neo-conservative movement. Their propaganda assured us that the Soviets had invisible and powerful secret weapons that we had to counter. Under Reagan, the US engaged in the biggest peacetime arms build-up in history.
When the USSR collapsed, so did the need for all of our weapons. Just in time, we had the War on Terror. Rather than a counter-terrorist operation, we managed to turn it into a massive conventional war, when we chose to invade Iraq.
To date, we have spent at least $1 trillion in Iraq, $4 trillion on an uneccessary and unworkable Star Wars missile defense, and the military consumes over 50% of the budget.
Had we not been consumed by paranoia and fear, would we have a deficit now?