Where are you going to get the money? That question haunts congressional proposals to help the poor, the unhoused, and those struggling to pay the mortgage or rent or medical bills, among so many other critical domestic matters. And yet — big surprise! — there’s always plenty of money for the Pentagon.
In fiscal year 2022, in fact, Congress is being especially generous with $778 billion in funding, roughly $25 billion more than the Biden administration initially asked for. Even that staggering sum seriously undercounts government funding for America’s vast national security state, which, since it gobbles up more than half of federal discretionary spending, is truly this country’s primary, if unofficial, fourth branch of government.
Final approval of the latest military budget, formally known as the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, may slip into January as Congress wrangles over various side issues. Unlike so much crucial funding for the direct care of Americans, however, don’t for a second imagine it won’t pass with supermajorities. (Yes, the government could indeed be shut down one of these days, but not — never! — the U.S. military.)
Some favorites of mine among “defense” budget side issues now being wrangled over include whether military members should be able to refuse Covid-19 vaccines without being punished, whether young women should be required to register for the Selective Service System when they turn 18 (even though the U.S. hasn’t had a draft in almost half a century and isn’t likely to have one in the foreseeable future), or whether the Iraq War AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force), passed by Congress to disastrous effect in 2002, should be repealed after nearly two decades of calamity and futility.
As debates over these and similar issues, predictably partisan, grab headlines, the biggest issue of all eludes serious coverage: Why, despite decades of disastrous wars, do Pentagon budgets continue to grow, year after year, like ever-expanding nuclear mushroom clouds? In other words, as voices are raised and arms waved in Congress about vaccine tyranny or a hypothetical future draft of your 18-year-old daughter, truly critical issues involving your money (hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of taxpayer dollars) go largely uncovered.
What are some of those issues that we should be, but aren’t, looking at? I’m so glad you asked!
Seven Questions with ‘Throw-Weight’
Back in my Air Force days, while working in Cheyenne Mountain (the ultimate bomb shelter of the Cold War era), we talked about nuclear missiles in terms of their “throw-weight.” The bigger their throw-weight, the bigger the warhead. In that spirit, I’d like to lob seven throw-weighty questions — some with multiple “warheads” — in the general direction of the Pentagon budget. It’s an exercise worth doing largely because, despite its sheer size, that budget generally seems impervious to serious oversight, no less real questions of any sort.
So, here goes and hold on tight (or, in the nuclear spirit, duck and cover!):
One: Why, with the end of the Afghan War, is the Pentagon budget still mushrooming upward? Even as the U.S. war effort there festered and then collapsed in defeat, the Pentagon, by its own calculation, was burning through almost $4 billion a month or$45 billon a yearin that conflict and, according to the Costs of War Project, $2.313 trillion since it began. Now that the madness and the lying are finally over (at least theoretically speaking), after two decades of fraud, waste and abuses of every sort, shouldn’t the Pentagon budget for 2022 decrease by at least $45 billion? Again, America lost, but shouldn’t U.S. taxpayers now be saving a minimum of $4 billion a month?
Two: After a disastrous war on terror costing upwards of $8 trillion, isn’t it finally time to begin to downsize America’s global imperial presence? Honestly, for its “defense,” does the U.S. military need 750 overseas bases in 80 countries on every continent but Antarctica, maintained at a cost somewhere north of $100 billion annually? Why, for example, is that military expanding its bases on the Pacific island of Guam at the expense of the environment and despite the protests of many of the indigenous people there? One word: China! Isn’t it amazing how the ever-inflating threat of China empowers a Pentagon whose insatiable budgetary demands might be in some trouble without a self-defined “near-peer” adversary? It’s almost as if, in some twisted sense, the Pentagon budget itself were now being “Made in China.”
Three: Speaking of China and itsalleged pursuitof more nuclear weaponry, why is the U.S. military still angling for $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years for its own set of “modernized” nuclear weapons? After all, the Navy’s current strategic force, as represented above all by Ohio-class submarines with Trident missiles, is (and will for the foreseeable future be) capable of destroying the world as we know it. A “general” nuclear exchange would end the lives of most of humanity, given the dire impact the ensuing nuclear winter would have on food production. What’s the point of Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill, if America’s leaders are preparing to destroy it all with a new generation of holocaust-producing nuclear bombs and missiles?
Four: Why is America’s military, allegedly funded for “defense,” configured instead for force projection and global strikes of every sort? Think of the Navy, built around aircraft carrier strike groups, now taking the fight to the “enemy” in the South China Sea. Think of Air Force B-52 strategic bombers, still flying provocatively near the borders of Russia, as if the movie Dr. Strangelove had been released not in 1964 but yesterday. Why, in sum, does the U.S. military refuse to stay home and protect Fortress America? An old sports cliché, “the best defense is a good offense,” seems to capture the bankruptcy of what passes, even after decades of lost wars in distant lands, for American strategic thinking. It may make sense on a football field, but, judging by those wars, it’s been a staggering loss leader for our military, not to mention the foreign peoples on the receiving end of lethal weapons very much “Made in the USA.”
Instead of reveling in shock and awe, this country should find the wars of choice it’s fought since 1945 genuinely shocking and awful — and act to end them for good and defund any future versions of them.
Five: Speaking of global strikes with awful repercussions, why is the Pentagon working so hard toencircle China, while ratcheting up tensions that can only contribute to nuclear brinksmanship and even possiblya new world war as early as 2027? Related question: Why does the Pentagon continue to claim that, in its “wargames” with China over a prospective future battle for the island of Taiwan, it always loses? Is it because “losing” is really winning, since that very possibility can then be cited to justify yet more requests for funds from Congress so that this country can “catch up” to the latest Red Menace?
(Bonus question: As America’s generals keep losing real wars as well as imaginary ones, why aren’t any of them ever fired?)
Six: Speaking of global aggression, why does this country maintain a vast, costly military within the military that’s run by Special Operations Command and operationally geared to facilitating interventions anywhere and everywhere? (Note that this country’s special ops forces are bigger than the full-scale militaries of many countries on this planet!) When you look back over the last several decades, Special Operations forceshaven’t provento be all that special, have they? And it doesn’t matter whether you’re citing the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Put differently, for every SEAL Team 6 mission that kills a big bad guy, there are a surprising number of small-scale catastrophes that only alienate other peoples, thereby generating blowback (and so, of course, further funding of the military).
Seven: Finally, why, oh why, after decades of military losses, does Congress still defer so spinelessly to the “experience” of our generals and admirals? Why issue so many essentially blank checks to the gang that simply can’t shoot straight, whether in battle or when they testify before Congressional committees, as well as to the giant companies (andcongressional lobbying monsters) that make the very weaponry thatcan’t shoot straight?
It’s a compliment in the military to be called a straight shooter. I suggest President Biden start firing a host of generals until he finds a few who are willing to do exactly that and tell him and the rest of us some hard truths, especially about malfunctioning weapons and lost wars.
Forty years ago, after Ronald Reagan became president, I started writing in earnest against the bloating of the Pentagon budget. At that time, though, I never would have imagined that the budgets of those years would look modest today, especially after the big enemy of that era, the Soviet Union, imploded in 1991.
Why, then, does each year’s NDAA rise ever higher into the troposphere, drifting on the wind and poisoning our culture with militarism? Because, to state the obvious, Congress would rather engage in pork-barrel spending than exercise the slightest real oversight when it comes to the national security state. It has, of course, been essentially captured by the military-industrial complex, a dire fate President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about 60 years ago in his farewell address. Instead of being a guard dog for America’s money (not to mention for our rapidly disappearing democracy), Congress has become a genuine lapdog of the military brass and their well-heeled weapons makers.
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So, even as Congress puts on a show of debating the NDAA, it’s really nothing but, at best, a political Kabuki dance (a metaphor, by the way, that’s quite common in the military, which tells you something about the well-traveled sense of humor of its members). Sure, our congressional representatives act as if they’re exercising oversight, even as they do as they’re told, while the deep-pocketed contractors make major contributions to the campaign “war chests” of the very same politicians. It’s a win for them, of course, but a major loss for this country — and indeed for the world.
Doing More with Less
What would real oversight look like when it comes to the defense budget? Again, glad you asked!
It would focus on actual defense, on preventing wars, and above all, on scaling down our gigantic military. It would involve cutting that budget roughly in half over the next few years and so forcing our generals and admirals to engage in that rarest of acts for them: making some tough choices. Maybe then they’d see the folly of spending $1.7 trillion on the next generation of world-ending weaponry, or maintaining all those military bases globally, or maybe even the blazing stupidity of backing China into a corner in the name of “deterrence.”
Here’s a radical thought for Congress: Americans, especially the working class, are constantly being advised to do more with less. Come on, you workers out there, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and put your noses to those grindstones!
To so many of our elected representatives (often sheltered in grotesquely gerrymandered districts), less money and fewer benefits for workers are seldom seen as problems, just challenges. Quit your whining, apply some elbow grease, and “git-r-done!”
The U.S. military, still proud of its “can-do” spirit in a warfighting age of can’t-do-ism, should have plenty of smarts to draw on. Just consider all those Washington “think tanks” it can call on! Isn’t it high time, then, for Congress to challenge the military-industrial complex to focus on how to do so much less (as in less warfighting) with so much less (as in lower budgets for prodigal weaponry and calamitous wars)?
For this and future Pentagon budgets, Congress should send the strongest of messages by cutting at least $50 billion a year for the next seven years. Force the guys (and few gals) wearing the stars to set priorities and emphasize the actual defense of this country and its Constitution, which, believe me, would be a unique experience for us all.
Every year or so, I listen again to Dwight Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex speech. In those final moments of his presidency, Ike warned Americans of the “grave implications” of the rise of an “immense military establishment” and “a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions,” the combination of which would constitute a “disastrous rise of misplaced power.” This country is today suffering from just such a rise to levels that have warped the very structure of our society. Ike also spoke then of pursuing disarmament as a continuous imperative and of the vital importance of seeking peace through diplomacy.
In his spirit, we should all call on Congress to stop the madness of ever-mushrooming war budgets and substitute for them the pursuit of peace through wisdom and restraint. This time, we truly can’t allow America’s numerous smoking guns to turn into so many mushroom clouds above our beleaguered planet.
William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, is a TomDispatch regular and a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of critical veteran military and national security professionals. His personal blog is Bracing Views.
This article is from TomDispatch.
The views expressed are solely those of the authors and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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Sure,the American military or to put it the everyone around world describe it,the U.S, is a force for evil. When I was growing up,America was very much respected,its word(a), and ways were much respected as a force for good (albeit its arm twisting tactics) was respected.But today,all is gone and now known only as a force of destruction in the name of spreading democracy.But most importantly,what has exposed America as the worst of what a super power could be,is the destruction of largely Muslim countries in the name of fighting terror through lies whereas living its own citizens swimming in enormous debt and living as destitutes while the government is scondering trillions in fighting wars of destruction in order to dominate the world.If it we’re a family,it would be the worst of a family anyone wouldn’t wish to be born from.For America to try to regain the lost respect it had,they should first of all feed its people, respect International law,try as much as they could to demonstrate to rest of the world that it’s a force for good and stability throughout the world. That way perhaps,perhaps they’ll regain their past respect as a position as the ‘leader’ it claims to be.
I suppose Lincoln’s argument that if he allowed the south secede the country would not, because it could not survive the split. Some believe, including me, that Lincoln placed the survival of the United States ahead of commercial and personal freedoms. In doing so led the way for all who followed him to do the same. Except now the cry is doing it in the best interest of National security. SEE; bogus assed Patriot Act! = BAPA
The same mentality I might add that lead to the genocide that debilitated the Indian Nations. The leadership both civilian and military then learned that draconian methods worked very well. Those two groups haven’t changed much since those days. Instead they got bolder. See the irrational MAD philosophy and the BAPA
What has happened to the U.S. was something we were warned about by the likes of Neils Bohr and others. But the mad men ruled the day and Teller and his ilk got their “SUPER”.
Take away the leaderships Nuclear Weapons and they become mortal men with no “Big Stick” to poke everyone who challenges them in the eye with.
Could be CIA should be credited with spreading the “Teller virus” to Israel. I believe they were in on it and I also believe the facts there speak for themselves. One simply has to read two three very good books on the subject to reach that conclusion.
Now add a magnificently groomed and paid for congress and voila’.
Oh and that warning was that in order to support a / the nuclear weapons program leadership would have to turn the country into an armed camp. The next natural progression or step would be ending up with a planet that was an armed camp.
I’m not positive on this story but. I will look it up if challenged on this .
In Richard Rhodes’ book “The Making of The Atomic Bomb ” he recounts a story about when , Neils Bohr toured all the U.S. installations after the end of the war and Arthur Compton was his tour guide and he asked Neils what he thought. Bohr responded with something to the effect, Yes and you have turned the entire country into an armed camp. He wasn’t that far off. All for something no one dare ever use.
Irrational: Not endowed with the power of reason. When we examine how far all these “smartest men in the room” carried this madness we also see they neither cared about the consequences or could,through projection, honestly say they believed the pursuit was a safe venture. Quite the contrary in fact. They but were driven by some very strange religious beliefs maybe. Funny thing how religion continually interferes with rational thought.
This is exactly what happens when smart men become delusional and believe their own bullshit.
delusional: characterized by holding false beliefs or judgements about external reality that are held despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, typically as a symptom of a mental condition. Or maybe exhaustion.
Teller knew or should have known the stakes and did everything he could to stop making bigger fire crackers.
I don’t get it. Teller was a constant visitor to Israel during this time and a fool should have known what he was up to. In fact many in the CIA and some at the USAEC did know so what gives? The fix was in. Friggin’ stellar move jerks!
His actions ,I believe, directly lead to the death of a president diametrically opposed to proliferation.
The world would be a much safer place without nukes and those people who would justify their use under ANY circumstance.
Just caught a few moments of Fareed Zakaria on the MSM fool tool CNN. No I didn’t watch the Queen of Chaos I was caught by the intro and wanted to hear the news coming from Mother Israel.
Get this! Israeli journalist Anshell Pfeffer, says, as do others, leaders from Israel that the US getting out of Iran Nuke agreement was a really big mistake. No shit Sherlock!!!
Now with the world focused on Russia / Ukraine, and the virus and Israeli stock way down among Americans in general Israeli leaders want to start their poor me bullshit again.
Things don’t look quite to rosy for them now.
I suggest that we all meticulously go back and list any SOB who backed Trump and his Israeli government sympathizers in their efforts to trash that Iranian nuke deal.
As we all can see now that some decisions made by previous administrations needs to be more protected. This government has to develop some credibility and going back on treaties and contracts and promises is sure in the hell NOT the way to do it.
When will America ever learn? Look kids we simply do not have the time to baby Israel and it’s criminal government, especially when our government supports such bullshit!
We gonna fish or cut bait?
“[B]ases … on every continent but Antarctica”
The US has two bases on the Antarctic continent, one at McMurdo Sound and another at the South Pole. These are officially scientific stations but transport and infrastructure are the responsibility of the Pentagon. Flights to the base at McMurdo take place from Christchurch, New Zealand. Even during the 1980s dust-up over NZ’s refusal to “hold the handle of the Nuclear Umbrella” that resulted in the end of the ANZUS defense pact the USAF cargo planes of ‘Operation Deep Freeze’ continued to fly.
Remember in Oliver Stone’s JFK when the Fletcher Prouty character (played by Donald Sutherland) is sent to Antarctica to get him out of the way, and finds the cover story already in the NZ newspapers during the trip home?
Frighteningly prophetic that the national security state
should be called the “fourth estate” because an American
free press journalism, to protect democratic government,
used to have that name.
That’s a good point about the ethic of resourcefulness in the military not applied in the government funding of the military. Instead, the taxpayers who pay the bill are the ones asked to handle their own financial woes with clever and creative accounting. It’s like their message is “stop bitching about no money, Improvise, Adapt, Overcome!”, while they, on the other hand, waste our money like a compulsive gambler without even any accounting of the spending. It’s really going to be the downfall of this country as it weakens the former strength we had.
Tyranny is a subculture, a groupthink of bullies who tyrannize each other and compete for the most radical propositions of nonexistent foreign threats. They fully well know that they are lying to the people to serve a factional agenda that involves the murder of millions of innocents, the diversion of nations’ budgets from essential needs, and they have not an ounce of humanity among them. Those who waver are cast aside, and the worst of the bullies rise to the top. This is why the US founders opposed a standing military, and they were right.
Apart from NATO and a few other treaties, the US would have no constitutional power to wage foreign wars, just to repel invasions and suppress insurrections, and that is the way it should be. Any treaty becomes part of the Supreme Law of the land, and must be rigorously restricted to defense, with provisions for international resolution of conflicts. NATO has been nothing but an excuse for warmongering since 1989.
I would suggest re-purposing about 80 percent of the US military for international aid projects, to create James’ (and Carter’s) “moral equivalent of war,” to train the young, the citizen, and the mass media to see humanitarianism as robust and to reject the selfish amorality of US oligarchy pop culture, to serve as a “backup” peacekeeping or defense force (probably little used), and to avoid alienating their staff with unemployment.
Stabilization of democracy further requires amendments to protect elections and mass media debate from economic power, better checks and balances within the government branches, purging the corrupt judiciary and Congress, monitoring of government officials for corruption, and regulation of business so that bullies and scammers do not rise to control economic power.
We cannot stop the wars, establish a humanitarian democracy, nor achieve benefits for the people, until the oligarchy is deposed; this is the greatest problem of civilization. Apart from the revolutions of the largest present democracies (US and India), where the colonial power was small and remote, every solution in history has involved external conquest (e.g. Rome) or violent revolution (e.g. Russia, China, and Cuba). Unfortunately the US is now in the latter category. But it can and will direct its tyranny to this hemisphere and then to domestic opposition, a disguised totalitarianism already in progress. It may decline over a century as did UK, a dead tree in the forest of democracies, and none too soon for the rest of the world.
We may seek and hope for some new solution, but we must see and resolve that the outcome is the only historical meaning of our lives
Mr. Astore hit upon the effects but soft pedaled the answer to all these questions. The wars we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan are really not losses. Think of all the bullets and bombs that were exploded. This ordinance has to be replaced and who is better at that than the “defense” contractors. Google defense contractors and you’ll get an overwhelming number of companies that are in this line of business. Forget about the poor fools who have a John Wayne complex and shed nary a tear on those whose number is up. A few insincere boiler plate words and they are off to the next band of suckers.
I’m so glad CN chose to publish this. It was also on a couple of other web sites, and I hope it gets a wide readership! Please forward it to your friends. Everything Col. Astore says is dead on, and needs to be said as often as possible to journalists, congressmen and government employees.
Perhaps if we talk about it enough , we can get the citizens of this country to vote out the people in the House and Senate and the presidency who think belligerence and threats are the way to deal with others.
I hope Astore will write something that points out the fact that both China and Russia are essentially reacting to our aggressive movements. CN has published good articles explaining our aggression in Ukraine that has resulted in Russia’s massing some military along the Ukraine border. Less has been written about China and our back and forth on Taiwan, but it needs to be pointed out that China’s actions are predicated on our aggressive actions in the whole Pacific ocean area.
China and Russia do not have perfect governments, any more than we do. All too many of the undemocratic things we accuse them of, we are equally guilty of- and more. It is time we learned to deal with diplomacy and not threats. And it’s time we practiced what we preach and we stop breaking our agreements.
We Canadians refuse to recognize American military spending is a problem for us as well. We are about to spend 76 billion dollars on 88, F35 JSF that we don’t need and can’t afford. The US is not only bankrupting itself but through extortion doing the same to its allies.
Starting with the pandemic there are other much more urgent expenditures but we continue to piss trillions into the sink hole of military spending . The world is in a state of emergency with the new COVID variant and governments just sleep on.
What are the relationships between the Military, the petrodollar, and the Exchange Stabilization Fund?
. . . and why is the Exchange Stabilization Fund running foreign and domestic policy rather than the US people?
The idea of “Fortress America” must be done away with. Nationalism must be done away with. As we have been discovering over and over again, the problems of “civilization” are global problems and if the human race wishes to survive, the nation-state system must be dissolved and these global problems–environmental devastation, the Covid-19 pandemic–dealt with by a united world. Nationalism is the ruse used to whip up support for wars that are only desired by the power-mad and the munitions industry, working hand in hand to destroy the planet. In the meantime, millions of people are killed by war, want, and capitalist domination.
Ah, Mr. Astore, it’s always a delight to read you. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think where we fail is by not keeping the roles separate. The military’s role is to fight wars. It is the civilian government’s role to decide what wars to fight and when to end them. A quick review of WWI and II plus any number of conflicts that we have started says that our opponent’s (Japan, Germany, Italy for starters) military didn’t resign the game. It was the opponents political leadership that put an end to their war effort (except for WWII Germany but that was because the entirety of the political leadership was dead. Even WWII Japan after two nukes wasn’t prepared to call it quits and somebody (I forget who) had to kidnap the emperor so the Japanese military couldn’t capture him themselves and prevent him from surrendering. Our failure is in our Legislative and Executive branches.
Like I keeps saying the U.S. Congress had enough ” congressional boot lickers” to undermine legislative efforts to hold the CIA and other intelligence agencies in check. CIA went after them by hook or crook. They wanted unyielding cooperation and through every coercive method known to man they got the results they wanted.
Virtually the same thing happened to the officials at DOJ. Apparently the only office of the U.S. government that can say no to CIA. Something seriously needed by the country. The State Department needs to be held accountable also.
Now , as if things weren’t bad enough already, we also have the Dark Money problem to contend with and why. Because of an activist SCOTUS. DOJ again rears it’s ugly head
Accountability is the one word solution but those in the positions of the power for holding individuals accountable refuse to break ranks. So be it. They need to be held accountable also. It is time to call the CIA and all those of their ilk out, what happened in Nov 1963 sent a message and that threat needs to be eliminated now.
No government positions for former CIA, NSA, NIA you get the idea.
New rules for those who man the pentagon – no government office, positions or weapons contracts after military service.
“Instead of reveling in shock and awe, this country should find the wars of choice it’s fought since 1945 genuinely shocking and awful — and act to end them for good and defund any future versions of them.”
One could also reverse this sentence: the choice of wars fought since 1945 was genuinely shocking and awful.
One can make a table listing the wars, adversaries, costs and outcome — success or “not so much”.
I guess that among the wars that can be chalk as “success” and with big costs we can list Korean War.
Otherwise we can see successes in Grenada, Panama, Haiti… and a number of enormously expensive failures. Imagine a company that produces small tools with profit, but puts bulk of investments in making nuclear reactors that do not work and are next to impossible to sell. Any sane CEO would close the nuclear reactor division. Even if 50 years ago the company sold several reactors that work till today.
I have been read Mr. Astore’s article for over 15 years and this one, to me is his best one yet!
Look at the viciousness of American threats around the world on nations across the globe who want to govern themselves without American interference, and how we destroy them from without or from within. Read John Perkins ‘Confessions of an Economic Hitman’ Dr. Michael Parenti’s book,’The Face Of Imperialism’, and Stephen Kinzer’s book, ‘Overthrown’, for starters. Too many people think the U.S> military is a force for good in the world and bury their heads in the sand if you try telling them otherwise.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new Russian Federation, some of the former Soviet states and China, formed the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) to counter NATO.
If China backs Russia with manpower and supplies when the next World War occurs, The U.S. and vassal states of NATO, will be in for a rude awakening or perhaps a permanent sleep. My bet is those two nations won’t go down in defeat like the “superman” and the “samurai” did in WW2.
The big investors in the war industry are making huge amounts of money, but that to will come to an end, when the nukes are launched. If Russia is attacked, they’ll retaliate with thermonuclear bombs or the “H” word.
The propaganda machines work tirelessly, 24/7 in promoting fear of an aggressive boggyman wanting to destroy our “way of life.”
Yeah driving around in “tank-sized” pickup trucks and wondering what climate change is real or a hoax.
Heaven help us!
I think I can sum most up in one sentence; “What is known as our National military will be turned into a so called “Public – Stakeholder partnership (whatever stakeholder actually means) and will be used for profit purposes only”.