Busting Upward the Military Budget

The Trump administration and Congress are in accord on one thing: the budget constraints on military spending must be busted to sustain overseas bases and to fund local pork projects, writes Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

Although the Senate and House of Representatives have both passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 at the gargantuan sum of $700 billion, most of the largesse has little to do with defending the United States and much to do with policing the informal American overseas empire. Thus, at least some trimming to the huge amount is possible.

President Dwight Eisenhower delivering his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961, in which he warned about the growing influence of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Of the $700 billion, about $640 billion is the Pentagon’s base budget and another $60 billion dollars is allocated to fight simultaneous wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. This whopping amount exceeds last year’s $619 billion, thus flouting the “sequestration” spending caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Trump and the Republicans want to use budget savings from domestic spending to finance the defense spending increases. However, they will need Democratic votes to break the sequestration caps; the Democrats’ price for doing so is a logrolling that would also require increases in domestic spending.

Yet the Budget Control Act has helped control federal spending, budget deficits, and debt accumulation and should be retained. Apparently, when conservatives tout slimming down government, they don’t seem to think the Defense Department is part of the federal bureaucracy.

The idea is preposterous that a country which alone accounts for about half the world’s defense budget needs more money to keep the readiness of its forces high and to rebuild a military that has been depleted by long, senseless wars in the Middle East and South Asia. The Defense Department is already slathered with over $600 billion a year and just needs to reallocate some of its funds to improve readiness and conduct rebuilding.

Yet members of Congress always propose amendments adding extra weapons systems, such as ships and aircraft, to the budget that the Defense Department doesn’t request. Not coincidentally, all this wasteful and unneeded pork spending just happens to be in these members’ home states. Such pork is a regular occurrence in defense budgeting and explains why the Defense budget is so massive, yet force readiness and equipment depletion remain problems.

Other wasteful spending perennially occurs on stateside military bases that even DoD would like to close, but members of Congress like to keep open because it subsidizes local economies they represent. The Pentagon offered a useful proposal that would have opened another round of base closures to save money. These savings could have been put toward readiness and rebuilding. Both the House and Senate rejected it for the aforementioned parochial reason.

Overseas Bases

To save even more money, the United States should close some overseas bases and decommission military units at those bases. Essentially, the military is like a fleet of expensive sports cars that is short on money for gas, repair, and maintenance. The overseas bases and forces need to be pruned so that the remaining forces at home have enough money for operations and support. With a $20 trillion debt, the United States is overextended in the world; the U.S. half of global defense spending is paid for out less than a quarter of the world’s GDP. Pruning the U.S. overseas footprint will help reduce the overextension.

Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots fly near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, April 5, 2017. (Army photo by Capt. Brian Harris)

Another way to save money would be to end unneeded and counterproductive wars in the Middle East and South Asia, which lead to increased blowback anti-U.S. terrorism. Sen. Rand Paul, R- Kentucky, laudably proposed repealing outdated congressional authorizations for the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, passed in 2001 and 2002. Congress was so scared of the proposal that it didn’t even get a vote.

These two authorizations for the use of force should have been terminated. Going even further, one could question counterproductive (for the same reason as the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars), congressionally unapproved, and therefore unconstitutional air and drone wars in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and Libya. Lives and even more money could be saved if they were also ended.

Therefore, eliminating pork spending, unneeded and counterproductive wars overseas, and excessive bases and forces at home and around the world could free up more money for military readiness and any post-war rebuilding necessary without ending the sequestration limits on defense spending needed to control budget deficits and debt accumulation, which are dragging the U.S. economy and preventing higher economic growth rates.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. [This article also appeared as a blog post at HuffingtonPost.]

32 comments for “Busting Upward the Military Budget

  1. Superman
    October 19, 2017 at 22:33

    What happened to those real scary Kim Jong Un pieces? Well I guess this will have to do. Not like the $700 million war budget had anything to do with it and please stop calling it the defense department… just makes me giggle when people say that.

  2. Greg
    October 18, 2017 at 17:41

    This article on Facebook says there are 9 comments but when I go to look at them only 1 appears. Why?

  3. ADL
    October 18, 2017 at 15:19

    There are several places to find excellent info relating to our ‘elephant in the room’ Military Budget. TomDispatch particularly does a great service.
    A good place to start would be to reduce our overseas military bases, numbering between 700-1100 depending on the year and sources. Heck the Pentagon acknowledges over 600 while playing coy with the numbers in war zones, and no info at all on the ‘spook’ bases. The rest of the world combined has approx 30 bases total.

    Note: Reagan changed the Rep party from conservative to extreme far right wing. Govt was bad, Govt spending was terrible.
    But then Reagan and every Rep Prez and Congress since has enormously increased Govt Spending, especially military. So we have the Rep ideology of ‘small govt’ constantly parroted and propagandized by Fox News and right wing radio as gospel. And believed by the right wing masses. Up against the reality of Republicans doing the exact opposite. And never the reality is spoken by Fox or believed by the sheep. Baaaaaaa.
    Obama, and Clinton, reduced military spending. Not by much considering how we virtually outspend the rest of the world combined. But still a decrease, they and Dems made an effort. In doing so they were crucified by Rep’s/Right wingers. Yes there are war mongers in the Dems, but many if not a majority of Dems want to reduce military spending, and use that money on domestic policies or against the debt.
    You can count on 1 hand the # of Rep’s who believe in reducing the military. It is part and parcel of their fear mongering, their insanity that the USA must police the world. And attack any and all who do not kowtow to good ole USA. ( How dare those black SOB’s disrespect our flag !)

  4. xenophon
    October 18, 2017 at 10:05

    This defense spending increase won’t worry the Russians or the Chinese – unlike US taxpayers, they know this spending is for largely fake projects designed to launder tax and deficit money transfers to the deep state elite.

  5. Hank
    October 18, 2017 at 10:03

    And the meme is that one is “Un-American and anti-troops for opposing such draconian spending on global hegemony.

  6. R Davis
    October 18, 2017 at 05:03

    Be assured, that based on gauged, past behavior from it’s enemies, Russia has it’s proverbial finger glued to the ‘said’ button.

  7. R Davis
    October 18, 2017 at 05:00

    The borrowed monies to be repaid with interest
    For defense spending
    Are to facilitate the existing wars – okay.
    Where will President Trump get the extra billions to fund a war with North Korea ?
    Further – where will the more billions required to fund a war with China come from ?
    Thne we have Iran …………………………………………………………………………….. can the American people expect that Israel will put it’s hand in it’s pocket to provide the billions to help fund a war with Iran ?
    Then there is Russia – The USA & Israel already have the NUKES …………………………. a war with Russia will be the cheapest war yet.
    I suggest that as the weaponry to defeat Russia are readily available – a war with Russia – is today – the most frugally desirable – hence the wisest way to proceed to outcome expectations.
    Once Russia is defeated
    China will have no fallback
    North Korea will be a pushover.

  8. Kelli
    October 17, 2017 at 16:49

    One thing this article did not touch on but that is so glaring it reads as an ominous RED FLAG.
    21 TRILLION DOLLARS IS MISSING FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE AND HUD over a several years period ending in 2015.

    This is WAY MORE than the excess stated in the article, in that the department of defense and HUD are nothing less than GRAND THEFT OF THE AMERICAN TAXPAYER.

    Where is this money???

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 18, 2017 at 01:16

      I’m with you on that Kelli. I did make mention above about the DOD 2016 reporting they could not find 6.5 billion in the defense spending, but holy cow my figure is spilled milk next to your 21 trillion…here’s the best part I believe you, and the worst part is I’m not surprised.

      If you should just happen to find that missing money Kelli give me a call, and I will be right over. Why think of it Kelli we could be bigger than US Steel. Amazing isn’t it? Joe

    • October 18, 2017 at 09:18

      There are many theories on that. Some say in the secret space program–others say the CIA and their clandestine operations of controlling governments, organized crime, and so on. I don’t know myself but around the time that money went missing and the media became completely controlled by the Deep State (late eighties early 90s I saw McMansions and their larger cousins sprout like mushrooms in the Washington area.

  9. mike k
    October 17, 2017 at 15:05

    Capitalism is the religion of war. This Moloch consumes human lives to feed it’s hate and insatiable greed. It is the sworn enemy of peace. Contempt for truth is central to the operation of this God of Evil. Humans under it’s spell are it’s instruments in this world to destroy everything good and true and loving. You think this is just a fantasy? Look around you, and tell me what you see…… Why are so many tortured, starved, and destroyed? Are you still going to tell me that Evil is unreal??

    • Sam F
      October 18, 2017 at 09:04

      Yes, unregulated economic power serves only the most selfish bullies and produces only ruin, while we are capable of great international benevolence, diplomacy, and problem-solving. The failure of economic regulation has destroyed democracy in America.

  10. Joe Tedesky
    October 17, 2017 at 13:42

    Once all the sanctioned countries get to finalize their trading in anything other than the U.S. PetroDollar then and only then will the U.S. will face it’s final end of imperialism rebuilding challenge, and that is America’s struggling at best to become a viable country once again. In the next American society history should be urged to be the number one subject, because as of now our knowledge of history is poorly lacking, and it shows. Our respect for the scholarly and not so scholarly warnings of authors with great amounts of wisdom, are only pushed aside as being conspiracy theories, or these noble writers are cast to the wind as being ‘fake news’ deception artist. We stand upright for the National Athem, as fellow citizens, mostly of minority status, get killed under the guise of upholding the citizens law.

    If all that is bad, is that America’s empire wakes up one morning to find out how broke financially it is, then this will be a good thing other than the U.S. blowing up the entire planet, so as the wealthy elite 1% may finally end up owning all of mother nature’s resources, which they will destroy. America needs its own Putin, there I said it. America would do well militarily is we do as Russia has done, and reconfigure our defense system to be just that a defensive guard to protect and serve the American people. This would also mean not policing the world under the disguise of humanitarian concerns in search of more greedy land grabs.

    • robjira
      October 17, 2017 at 22:19

      Great post, Joe. Frankly, I would be fine with another Carter (minus The Doctrine and Afghanistan, of course). Did they ever reinstall solar panels on the White House…?

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 18, 2017 at 01:03

        I found this over at Think progress….

        “But as famous as the Carter installation?—?and subsequent Reagan removal?—?was, it was George W. Bush administration that installed the first active solar electric system at the White House (Carter’s panels were largely symbolic, though they were used for heating water). In 2002, multiple solar grids were installed on the White House grounds. The installation was done quietly, with far less fanfare than Carter’s, but the panels provided energy to several White House operations. According to a New York Times article from 2003, “a grid of 167 solar panels on the roof of a maintenance shed has been delivering electricity to the White House grounds. Another solar installation has been helping to provide hot water. Yet another has been keeping the water warm in the presidential pool.”
        It’s unclear still how much power the Obama administration’s solar panels will provide to the White House, but the White House official said the panels will help which will help “demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades,” and that the panels are estimated to pay for themselves in energy savings within eight years.
        Obama pledged during his June climate speech at Georgetown University that the federal government would consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and admittedly, 20 to 50 solar panels won’t contribute a substantial amount to that goal. But the administration’s decision to begin installation now is well-timed: a new report has found Americans who want to install solar power on their households are facing record-low costs, so Americans who might be inspired to install solar panels themselves can do so historically inexpensively.”

        I always thought Jimmy Carter was a victim of somekind of backroom assault. Kind of like Carter being in the wrong league. Carter I think was dodging the bullets, and remember he came after the Kennedy’s, MLK, Malcolm X, as among some others, so Carter knew these Beltway people meant business. Actually both Jimmy and Rosalyn to me, looked out of kilter between all those DC Creatures. Wow, look at me basing my opinions on people’s looks, but seriously sometimes pictures don’t lie….like Congressman Albert Thomas giving LBJ that infamous ‘the Wink’ aboard Air Force one while a traumatized Jackie stands next to LBJ getting sworn in. I might add take a look at Lady Bird’s expression, and then if you don’t see it, then I’ll know it’s me. But yeah, Carter had his good points I guess, as long as we leave out Zbigniew.

        Carter got the royal screws when he wasn’t picked to release the Americans held hostage in Iran, and for those hostages to released upon Reagan’s Inauguration Day to the minute was in my esteem a vile slap in the face of Jimmy Carter for his meddling into Israel’s affairs. In any regard Jimmy Carter will go down, as the ‘best out of office’ presidents America has ever had….well that is until you get to learn about the others.

        Okay robjira. Joe

        • October 18, 2017 at 09:11

          My father was on the Hill in the Carter days and met regularly with leaders and he was universally hated as an outsider as is this President.

          • Joe Tedesky
            October 18, 2017 at 17:03

            Thanks Banger then I wasn’t wrong by your fathers account, right? It’s not so important that I’m right, but as I said, I always thought that Jimmy Carter was not accepted by the DC Beltway crowd. Joe

        • robjira
          October 18, 2017 at 13:53

          Thanks for doing the legwork on the solar panel thing, Joe. I would only offer caution regarding getting “our own Putin.” We just might get one, and it won’t be a caricature like Trump. More like a reverse polarity Pol Pot would be my guess.
          My opinion is, one of the reasons humanity has been stuck in this same authoritarian-based rut for the past 5-6000 years is our collective tendency to rush under the protective wings of some “parental,” but almost always dictatorial figure when the spaghetti hits the fan. If we all are ever to finally achieve some kind of true cultural maturity, we’ll need to ditch the tendency to dominate each other through various means, and move toward a more cooperative type of coexistence. My own two cents. Thanks again, Joe.

          • Joe Tedesky
            October 18, 2017 at 17:12

            I like, and agree with what you said robjira. The reason I brought up Putin, was because he went after the bad oligarchs in Russia, and by all accounts he distributed Russian wealth more evenly among his country’s people. I’ll admit I still have a lot to learn about this man Vladimir Putin, but you must concede that America’s leadership abilities are sorely lacking any compassion for this country’s citizens. But you are right, we need a new dawn and a fresh start, or as much of a fresh start as it can be, to make America a passive country with a good defensive structure in place, and a nation for the people and by the people to prosper and live freely in. Hope to hear from you on another comment thread robjira, your good to converse with. Joe

    • Curious
      October 18, 2017 at 01:13

      Well done Joe. So, the US can increase it’s military budget by 10% while Russia reduces there’s by 7% and they are the aggressors on the planet somehow. Putin really is, and should be considered a statesman and a responsible leader for his country. We can only dream of someone, or anyone who comes close to that level of maturity in our system of abuse, I mean, government. And since we are off the gold standard we now only spend paper, right?
      Russia is reported to have one of the lowest debt to GDP ratios in the world as well. No wonder Washington is upset.

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 18, 2017 at 01:35

        One of the differences between the U.S. approach to it’s poorly named Defense Dept is that the U.S. is technically spending more on global offensive outreach, and no so much on actual defense. Russia on the other hand is all about protecting their home front. I’ve said this before how I’m a bad one for having a lot of faith in Big. Big didn’t help Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium, and Hitler learned nothing from Napoleon. My concern is if a international coalition force were to engage the U.S. all at one time would the U.S. and it’s allies be able to manage that much global activity? If the answer is an unequivocal yes then call be worry wart, but if there’s any doubt then call the whole thing off.

        Seeing the U.S. Defense Budget so gloriously inflated, and then some, tells me it’s good to be a legislator in the U.S. Congress. Here’s one for you, does any of these war toys work reliably, no failures? Nothing to worry about right?

        Great hearing from you Curious. Joe

    • Sam F
      October 18, 2017 at 08:59

      The US would indeed do far better with 80% of our military/intel re-purposed to foreign aid, and if we had done so after WWII, would have lifted the poorest half of the world from poverty, a true American Century, and would have no enemies.

      But our oligarchy may continue its debt-financed warmongering long after the people are up in arms against their impoverishment, and direct its forces against its own people. We will see who the true patriots are when officers refuse to suppress riots and strikes.

      Let’s hope that America II protects democratic institutions from oligarchy, restricting funding of elections and mass media to limited individual contributions, and provides for monitoring of public officials and their families and associates during their lives. It must also improve checks and balances, eliminate nearly all secret agency activity, regulate the corrupt judiciary, provide national health care, regulate product quality, and make many other improvements to be worthy of loyalty.

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 18, 2017 at 17:20

        Sam we need people like you in our government. I won’t embarrass you with too much praise, but your kind of conscientious is what is missing in not only our nation’s capital, but in many a state capital as well. I’ve read your comments, you are very thorough, and that is a talent if ever there was one to have. So there now that I have embarrassed you, I will apologize and encourage you to run for office…any office Sam will do, since a starting place could lead a determined politician to anywhere they may wish to go. Maybe try being a Community Organizer, or a tv reality show host, okay I’m done. Take care Sam. Joe

        • Sam F
          October 19, 2017 at 06:38

          Thanks, Joe, I have not served above town office level, and have little interest at the state level, but perhaps could run for Congress with preparation and party fundraising. Will give it more thought when not busy. Your comments are also much appreciated here.

    • Paranam Kid
      October 18, 2017 at 09:22

      The end of the petrodollar has started, with China having introduced the petroyuan that is convertible to gold, and forcing its oil suppliers to accept petroyuan as payment or stop supplying. Russia and Iran have already accepted that Nigeria has reduced the amount of USD in its forex holdings & replaced that by yuan. Qatar is likely to accept petroyuan for its gas, and so the process is ongoing, and there is nothing the US can do about, short of destroying China.

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 18, 2017 at 17:26

        Paranam Kid, I think you and I will see this country go from ‘Great Again’ to more like ‘Great No More’. Let’s hope that our country will finally come to it’s senses, and that we all may straighten out this American mess. Joe

        • Paranam Kid
          October 19, 2017 at 06:50

          That would be the ideal process, but history shows that empires go down all the way and only recover after a long time to reach a normal, more balanced level of statehood.
          I believe the hubris of the US has gone on for too long & too far for it to come to its senses & straighten out the mess :-((

  11. Chris Chuba
    October 17, 2017 at 12:37

    2018’s budget deficit will be at least that large and the Defense Hawks will say … ‘even if you eliminated Defense spending you still wouldn’t balance the budget’. Their talking points are so predictable. Of course they ignore about another $300B that is Defense related but not part of the official budget in the VA program, nuclear arsenal (Dept of Energy LOL), and interest on debt from past deficit spending. And the band played on.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 17, 2017 at 13:59

      I like to read an article which would expand upon how our tax money gets spent, and hear how much money is going down the drain on all of America’s security madness. Like what does Homeland Security get budgeted, and when will we every know how much the CIA gets funded? This kind accounting transparency like the CIA’s always seems to be filed under the same heading as what the Federal Reserve accounting is filed under, ‘you don’t need to know that’. Oh, and in July of 2016 the DOD Inspector General made a report where 6.5 billion dollars was unaccounted for (I just checked and the site for this DOD information has been taken down). Lastly, we should all fear, that coming soon will be our being lawfully prohibited from knowing any of this…it’s coming!

      • Chris Chuba
        October 18, 2017 at 08:33

        I thought these were good itemizations …


        and this puts the total at $1T but they were starting with a baseline of Trump’s old $640B (baseline Pentagon + Overseas contingency Spending, OCS) to his credit, Trump includes both numbers. Add another $60B because of Congress.

        I really like the first link because they made an effort not to inflate Defense spending. Sometimes sites that don’t like Defense spending like to pile on, they made an effort not to double count items. I had one issue that I noted in the comments section. I’m not certain about the retiree benefits of $80B.

        • Joe Tedesky
          October 18, 2017 at 17:00

          You know Chris I have to give you lots of credit for trying to nail this Government budget maze down. I sometimes picture, that after we get all of the official reports on America’s finances that somewhere in a windowless basement office in DC are a couple of accountants trying to balance the real U.S. budget sheets. It’s either that, or nobody real knows, or cares. I care, and you most definitely care, but I don’t think that all those big way over paid girls in boys in our nation’s capital give a hoot, because it ain’t their money they are a wasting.

          (There is much more to be said, but this sites comment board rules prohibit me from going there)

          Great stuff you left links to Chris, I learned something new today, thank you. Joe

  12. Anon
    October 17, 2017 at 12:31

    Clearly the DoD and secret agencies are part of the oligarchy that controls government. The presumption that they are an “elite” that deserves to govern must be broken by the People, the warmongers prosecuted for war crimes, and the agencies of force and coercion must be relegated to the emergency purposes for which they were created. We do not need more than 20% of them.

    But of course they speak only the language of force and deception. So long as the people are pacifist they shall be slaves.

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