Back in January, James Carroll had an op-ed in the Boston Globe that called for eliminating the Air Force as a separate service. He claimed that the Air Force’s strategic components (its nuclear ICBMs and manned bombers) were now largely irrelevant, that the Air Force’s tactical mission could be folded into the Army and Navy, and that unmanned aerial vehicles or drones would soon largely replace manned surveillance and attack planes.
By folding the Air Force into its two older rivals, the Army and Navy, Carroll suggested the Pentagon would be forced to economize, the magic coming from reorganization. I highly doubt that.
OK. I’m a retired Air Force officer, so I’m biased. But there are certain things the Air Force does, certain skills the Air Force has, that won’t be easily duplicated and probably will be lost in a bureaucratic war touched off by elimination and reorganization. Here’s a quick list:
1. The Air Force concentrates on air and space, just like the Army concentrates on land and the Navy on sea. These are unique elements, requiring unique services with specialized mindsets.
2. The Air Force is not just about fighter planes and nuclear missiles. Much of the Air Force’s mission is in the less glorious aspects of air and space control. Missions like cargo transport, tankers for aerial refueling, aerial and satellite reconnaissance, and the like. Do we really believe the Army and Navy will adequately focus on and fund these vital missions?
3. The U.S. Air Force was hardly the first independent air force in the world. Great Britain saw the need for an independent air force in 1918 when the Royal Air Force was created. (The USAF had to wait until 1947, i.e. after World War II.) An independent air force reflects the technological revolution inaugurated by the Wright Brothers in 1903 and the inherent reach and power of aerial vehicles. This is especially relevant to “island” nations such as Great Britain — and the United States.
4. Related to (2), the Air Force has a wide range of missions, to include aerial intelligence-gathering, AWACS (airborne warning and control) and vital national command planes such as Air Force One. Again, are these missions truly suited to the Army or Navy?
5. In the chaos that is war, there’s something to be said for military continuity and tradition and experience. Eliminating the Air Force and folding it into the Army and Navy will generate enormous internal friction within the Pentagon, possibly destabilizing a national defense system that is already less than optimal in its stability (as well as its wisdom).
The Air Force today certainly has its problems. It’s the most top heavy of the services, with far too many colonels and generals. It spends way too much on under-performing aircraft such as the F-35 Lightning II. It’s always shied away from adequately funding the close air support mission, which is why the Army pursues its own fleet of attack helicopters. Since its early days, it’s placed way too much faith in the efficacy of bombing, so much so that it’s generated its own Strangelovian caricatures, men like Curtis LeMay.
That said, the last thing we need is more internecine warfare in the Pentagon. Eliminating the Air Force is not a recipe for cost-savings. It’s a recipe for a bureaucratic bloodbath that will ultimately hurt rather than help America’s national defense.
CBS News has an article that shows that President Richard Nixon sought to cover up the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. The article draws from notes taken at the time by H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff and hatchet man. The notes suggest that Nixon ordered “dirty tricks” to discredit the testimony of the true Army heroes who intervened to stop the massacre. It further suggests neutralizing the gory details of My Lai by playing up atrocities committed by communist forces at Huế (“You think we’re bad in massacring innocents at My Lai? Well, the commies are a lot worse”).
Here are Haldeman’s notes from his meeting with Nixon:
Note that My Lai is treated as a problem in public relations, not as a war crime. It’s to be managed by dirty tricks and the exploitation of a senator or two. As long as we all stay on the same page and spout the same message (while suppressing the facts and intimidating and discrediting witnesses), My Lai and the 504 Vietnamese killed there in 1968 can just be made to disappear. That’s the gist of Haldeman’s notes.
Haldeman’s notes are further evidence of what The Contrary Perspectiveargued previously on the Vietnam War: We lost more than a war in Vietnam. We lost our humanity.
My Dad, Julius Anthony Astore, was a child of the Great Depression. Born in 1917, he had to quit high school in 1933 to help support his family. In 1935 he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, working in forestry and as a firefighter in Oregon until he left in 1937.
Finding a job after he left the CCC was tough, but eventually Dad got one working at F.B. Washburn’s Candy Company during the Christmas rush.
Here’s how Dad described his job:
I was hired for a five week job starting at 6:00PM and my night shift would be over 6:00AM the next morning. I would have Saturdays and Sundays off. My work hours would add up to sixty hours a week and I would get twenty cents an hour. Total twelve dollars a week. Those days there wasn’t any time-and-a-half after forty hours. It was quite a grind. I had to sugar hard candy that was shaped like a small peach stone. I won’t go into detail but it was a very tiring job.
From my life’s experience I’ve found that the harder I worked physically the less money I made.
Time goes by and I thought I was going to be laid off at the end of five weeks [but] I was put to work on the day shift permanently. That was in 1938, four years before I was drafted into the Army and introduced to World War II.
At Washburn’s candy factory, Dad operated a lollipop machine, candy cookers, and he mixed sugar. His starting salary was $9 a week (working forty-five hours). By 1942 he was making $17 a week. As with most factory jobs, the work was tedious, physically demanding, and unrewarding. Writing ruefully to his brother Gino in 1938, and comparing factory work to his time spent in the CCC, Dad wrote “The CCCs are a helluva lot better than that place [Washburn’s].”
When Dad was drafted into the Army in February 1942, he took a major cut in salary. From making roughly $70 a month at Washburn’s Candy Factory, his salary dropped to $21 a month as an Army private (which was still $9 less than what he had earned in the CCC in 1935!). When he was discharged from the Army in January 1946 as a corporal technician, he was finally making what he had earned at Washburn’s, about $69 a month.
Although it’s true that the American soldier was paid better than his British counterpart, it’s still shocking to hear that U.S. privates were fighting and dying in Europe and the Pacific for less than $30 a month basic pay.
The truth is simply this: Even the richest, most prosperous country in the world grossly underpaid its frontline troops. While contractors got rich on the homefront, never risking a hair on their precious necks, young Americans fought and died for peanuts.
Hasn’t it always been this way? Today, Americans are uncomfortable calling attention to pay discrepancies and exploitation because it smacks of Marxism and class warfare. Yes, some of the worst abuses of workers have been curbed since my Dad suffered through the Great Depression, but today’s workers are simply scared: scared that their jobs will be outsourced, scared that they’ll be “downsized” (i.e., fired); scared that they’ll be replaced by robots. Thus they put up and shut up.
For all the rhetoric about the dignity of work in the USA, Dad’s words still ring true: so-called unskilled labor, or demanding physical work, is still undervalued and disrespected in our country. And for all the talk of “supporting our troops,” those young men and women sent into harm’s way are still paid little when you consider they’re risking their necks.
Which makes me think of another one of my Dad’s sayings: “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Especially if we don’t work to change them.
A visitor to my home today saw my retirement plaque, which marks my twenty years of service in the US Air Force. He immediately thanked me for my service to my country.
I appreciated his thanks because I took (and take) some pride in having served honorably in the military. But people who thank me make me uncomfortable. Why, you ask?
Because I believe it was an honor to serve my country. It was an honor to be entrusted by the people of our great land with their trust.
So when people thank me, I always feel like thanking them back for allowing me to serve; for giving me this honor, this privilege.
Now, I write articles that are often critical of today’s military. And there’s lots of things to criticize. But I don’t believe in criticizing the military’s ethic of service, an ethic that should be based on humility and tinged with pride. Because our nation’s ideal is a citizen-soldier military. Note how the word “citizen” comes first. We are not supposed to want a military composed of mercenaries or warriors. Such a military is inconsistent with our democratic ideals.
Also inconsistent with our democratic ideals is our national tendency to idolize officers of high military rank. You know, the generals and admirals, men like Tommy Franks or David Petraeus. Why? Because any citizen-civilian outranks any citizen-soldier in the military, generals included.
We must always remember that military members serve us: we the people. We don’t serve them. And we must remember as well that our president, a civilian commander-in-chief, is first and foremost exactly that: a civilian. And that he’s not the commander-in-chief of all Americans; merely of those Americans who choose to don a uniform and take the oath of office (to include active duty, reserves, and National Guard members).
These are fundamental points (or they should be). They are derived from our Constitution. Our founders saw (reluctantly) the need for a military, and perhaps our greatest founder, George Washington, was also arguably our greatest military leader. Not because he was a Napoleon, but precisely because he wasn’t. He was our Cincinnatus, a citizen-soldier, with the emphasis firmly placed on citizen. A man who placed his duty to the Constitution, and to the people, before himself and military vainglory.
If you wish to thank a service member for his or her service, by all means do so. Just don’t be completely surprised when they deflect your thanks, or even thank you back for the honor and privilege of being able to serve in the name of the people to protect our highest ideals as enshrined in our Constitution.
Rachel Maddow at MSNBC aired a new documentary last night on why we went to war against Iraq in 2003. In a word: oil. Bush and Cheney were looking to overthrow Saddam Hussein as a prerequisite to controlling and privatizing Iraqi oil production. Pre-war planning in the U.S. as well as Great Britain focused on identifying, safeguarding, and ultimately privatizing Iraqi oil facilities. When U.S. forces took Baghdad, the one building they protected was the Iraqi oil ministry (museums containing priceless objects from the dawn of human civilization, left unprotected, were looted).
This is a familiar story, of course, though many Americans continue wrongly to believe that Saddam had WMD or that he was allied to Al Qaeda (or both). Watching the documentary, I appreciated the honesty of the Polish government, which admitted that it had participated in the invasion of Iraq precisely to gain access to Iraqi oil resources. Bush and Blair, naturally, denied any such connection, even as Bush was warning Iraqis not to damage oil facilities, even as Blair’s government was negotiating with British Petroleum on how best to divide the spoils.
When it comes to oil, maybe “The Beverly Hillbillies” song had it right: “Black gold. Texas tea.” And whether it’s black gold or the yellow variety, the West has always shown a rapacity for it that borders on the insane. Just ask the Aztecs and the Incas, for example.
Here’s an article I wrote back in 2012 for Huffington Post on the question of why the U.S. invaded Iraq and not, say, North Korea, which as Maddow points out was identified as one head of Bush’s three-headed “Axis of Evil,” but which unlike Iraq and Iran actually was hard at work on building an atomic bomb, efforts that ended in a successful test in 2006. But North Korea is not floating on a sea of oil, is it?
Why We Fight? Oil (written in 2012)
I’m old enough to remember the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and long lines for gasoline in the United States. A joke that circulated among my schoolmates caught the spirit of the moment. It involved calculators, which were fairly new back then for the masses. It went like this: 142 Arabs fight 154 Israelis for control of 69 oil wells for five years. Who wins?
Punch the numbers 142, 154, and 69 into your calculator and then multiply by 5 and you get 71077345. Turn the calculator upside down and those numbers spell out “ShELLOIL,” or so we joked. Call it the cynicism of 11-year-olds.
Thirty years later, as an Air Force officer I recall a discussion of what we should name the operation to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein. Wags in my office suggested the obvious: Operation IRAQI LIBERATION, with lots of chuckles about the resulting acronym (OIL). Call it the cynicism of 40-somethings.
Fighting for vital resources is nothing new in history, and nothing new in U.S. history either. Smedley Butler, the famous U.S. Marine general who penned War Is a Racket, wrote in the 1930s that “those damned oil companies” should fly their own flag — perhaps one with a gas pump on it — over foreign lands that they viewed as their personal property. Call it the cynicism of a retired major-general who twice was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
But is it cynicism — or just plain honesty? Consider the book by Greg Muttitt on the Iraq war and its fallout, which places oil back where it belongs, front and center, in American motivations and machinations. This is hardly surprising, for recall the words of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz that Iraq floated on a sea of oil, or the background of then-Vice President Dick Cheney and his overweening ambition to dominate global energy resources.
Our nation’s great thirst for oil should come as no surprise to anyone. Even former President George W. Bush gave a speech in which he declared that the U.S. was addicted to foreign oil. What’s surprising is that we continue to wrap our wars in the rhetoric of “freedom” even as we pursue the fix that our leaders believe they need to thrive: foreign oil, and lots of it.
There’s plenty of oil still in the ground in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, and at $100 a barrel for oil and $4.00 a gallon for gasoline, you’re talking trillions of dollars for oil companies over the next few decades.
Considering the vast profits involved, you don’t have to be a cynic to recognize that concerns about oil continue to drive our nation’s foreign policy. But you do have to be willing to face that fact; and you do have to be willing, like General Smedley Butler was willing, to ignore the siren song about waging war for freedom and democracy.
As former President Bush said, we’re addicted to oil. And history has shown we’re willing to fight for it, though the biggest winners may well be powerful energy companies.
Don’t believe me? Read Smedley Butler or Greg Muttitt. Or just ask to see an 11-year-old’s calculator.
I wrote this for Truthout but debated whether to publish it. I just didn’t want to deal with all the gun enthusiasts who equate liberty with owning lots of guns and ammo. This article is not specifically about guns. It’s about our propensity for seeking quick and violent solutions to societal and political problems. It’s about our willingness to spend billions on weaponry and also our willingness to sell billions in weaponry. It’s about a mentality that’s captured in the image of fingers tensed on so many hair-triggers, whether metaphorically or literally.
A nation that used to espouse isolationism has morphed into one poised for hair-trigger pre-emptive war, privately armed to the teeth and the leading purveyor in the global arms trade.
We live in hair-trigger America, an America that’s quick to kill, slow to think. A nation and a people that used to espouse isolationism (even if the practice was imperfect) has morphed into one poised for constant warfare. America’s leaders call for hair-trigger pre-emptive war even if the odds of an attack on the United States are 100 to 1against. America’s military and the CIA use Predator and Reaper drones to kill “enemies,” even when they’re not completely sure they are the enemy.
This is not the first time we’ve been a hair-trigger people. When I worked in the Air Force at the Cheyenne Mountain complex in Colorado in the 1980s, fear of nuclear annihilation was palpable. US nuclear forces were on hair-trigger alert. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, annihilatory fears abated. We were, in the words of President George H.W. Bush, offered a chance to cash-in our peace dividends. We were, in the words of Jeanne Kirkpatrick (no dove she), offered a chance to become a normal country in normal times.
What intervened, of course, was the shock and awe of 9/11, together with what President Dwight D. Eisenhower termed the growing power of the military-industrial complex. Motive and opportunity drove a military (and militantly hysterical) response to 9/11 (to include torture) that was in retrospect entirely out of proportion to the damage done as well as to the threat posed by the attackers. At the same time, US troops were lauded as so many heroes, their leaders as so many Caesars. Forgotten was our founders’ hard-earned skepticism of militarism and war, their prediction that constant warfare would trigger the end of liberty.
More than a decade after 9/11, America remains poised to strike, fingers at ready on so many hair triggers. The military and especially its Special Forces remain on alert, trigger-pullers who are forward-deployed in 100-plus countries for rapid responses (and deadly interventions). Drones patrol foreign skies, always circling, always seeking targets. Full-spectrum dominance is the military’s stated goal. The land, the seas, the skies, space, even cyberspace – all must be treated as potential war zones. All must therefore be dominated.
A hair-trigger mentality is both glitch and feature of a distinctly militarized and authoritarian American moment. And those hair-triggers often morph into trigger-pullers, literally so, domestically as well as internationally. Gun deaths in America continue to exceed 30,000 a year; by 2015, they may exceed traffic deaths. If not trigger-pullers, so many millions of Americans are trigger owners. As of 2009, there were 310 million non-military firearms in the United States, enough guns to arm every man, woman and child. One nation, under guns (but certainly not under-gunned).
Of course, Americans are not only trigger-pullers, but trigger-pushers. And by that I mean that the United States dominates the world’s (legal) arms trade. In 2010, we accounted for 53 percent of this trade; in 2011, a banner year, we accounted for a whopping 75 percent of this trade, dropping back to only 58 percent in 2012. Add to this legal arms trade the propensity for American guns to cross borders illegally to end up at crime scenes in Mexico and elsewhere, even when our own government isn’t involved in facilitating the trade.
To be seen as ready, willing, and able to pull various triggers is a distinctly American trope. Toughness, especially in dealing with foreign adversaries, is measured by a willingness to kill, a form of martial virtue. No American president can be seen without a gun in his hand, a trigger being pulled, even Barack Obama, whose staff took pains to release a photo of him shooting skeet.
When will we learn, as Eisenhower said, that only Americans can hurt America? And that trigger-pulling and trigger-pushing Americans are an especially grave threat, not only to America, but also to the world?
Recalling the words of Kirkpatrick, it’s long past time for America to become a normal country in normal times. A time when fingers need not be tensed on so many hair triggers. Or any triggers at all.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
The Pentagon brass and bureaucrats can’t win foreign wars, but they sure as hell kick ass in domestic budgetary wars. That point is clear from Mattea Kramer’s new article at TomDispatch.com. Allowing the Pentagon a largely untouchable second budget to fund the ongoing military occupation of Afghanistan is an invitation both to prolong that war and for exercises in money-changing. Masters at budgetary sleight of hand, the military spins any reduction, no matter how small, in apocalyptic terms, as we saw with claims that cuts in the end strength of the US Army would reduce it to 1940 levels, i.e. the somnolent peacetime days just before Pearl Harbor.
Any cut to military spending is spun as “appeasement,” as recklessly endangering our security vis-a-vis the exaggerated threats of the day, usually China or Russia or both. Yet the true “threat” that the Pentagon sees is not so much China or Russia (they can be handled) but cuts to their privileges and power. The Pentagon still maintains an unimaginably top-heavy bureaucracy that continues to throw pallets of money into the afterburners of costly weapons programs like the F-35 jet fighter.
Here is Kramer’s full text, courtesy of TomDispatch. Isn’t it nice to know that in lean times the Pentagon continues to live off the fat of the land?
The Pentagon’s Phony Budget War: Or How the U.S. Military Avoided Budget Cuts, Lied About Doing So, Then Asked for Billions More
By Mattea Kramer
Washington is pushing the panic button, claiming austerity is hollowing out our armed forces and our national security is at risk. That was the message Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered last week when he announced that the Army would shrink to levels not seen since before World War II. Headlines about this crisis followed in papers like the New York Times and members of Congress issued statements swearing that they would never allow our security to be held hostage to the budget-cutting process.
Yet a careful look at budget figures for the U.S. military — a bureaucratic juggernaut accounting for 57% of the federal discretionary budget and nearly 40% of all military spending on this planet — shows that such claims have been largely fictional. Despite cries of doom since the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration surfaced in Washington in 2011, the Pentagon has seen few actual reductions, and there is no indication that will change any time soon.
This piece of potentially explosive news has, however, gone missing in action — and the “news” that replaced it could prove to be one of the great bait-and-switch stories of our time.
The Pentagon Cries Wolf, Round One
As sequestration first approached, the Pentagon issued deafening cries of despair. Looming cuts would “inflict lasting damage on our national defense and hurt the very men and women who protect this country,” said Secretary Hagel in December 2012.
Sequestration went into effect in March 2013 and was slated to slice $54.6 billion from the Pentagon’s $550 billion larger-than-the-economy-of-Sweden budget. But Congress didn’t have the stomach for it, so lawmakers knocked the cuts down to $37 billion. (Domestic programs like Head Start and cancer research received no such special dispensation.)
By law, the cuts were to be applied across the board. But that, too, didn’t go as planned. The Pentagon was able to do something hardly recognizable as a cut at all. Having the luxury of unspent funds from previous budgets — known obscurely as “prior year unobligated balances” — officials reallocated some of the cuts to those funds instead.
In the end, the Pentagon shaved about 5.7%, or $31 billion, from its 2013 budget. And just how painful did that turn out to be? Frank Kendall, who serves as the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, has acknowledged that the Pentagon “cried wolf.” Those cuts caused no substantial damage, he admitted.
And that’s not where the story ends — it’s where it begins.
Sequestration, the Phony Budget War, Round Two
A $54.6 billion slice was supposed to come out of the Pentagon budget in 2014. If that had actually happened, it would have amounted to around 10% of its budget. But after the hubbub over the supposedly devastating cuts of 2013, lawmakers set about softening the blow.
And this time they did a much better job.
In December 2013, a budget deal was brokered by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray. In it they agreed to reduce sequestration. Cuts for the Pentagon soon shrank to $34 billion for 2014.
And that was just a start.
All the cuts discussed so far pertain to what’s called the Pentagon’s “base” budget — its regular peacetime budget. That, however, doesn’t represent all of its funding. It gets a whole different budget for making war, and for the 13th year, the U.S. is making war in Afghanistan. For that part of the budget, which falls into the Washington category of “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO), the Pentagon is getting an additional $85 billion in 2014.
And this is where something funny happens.
That war funding isn’t subject to caps or cuts or any restrictions at all. So imagine for a moment that you’re an official at the Pentagon — or the White House — and you’re committed to sparing the military from downsizing. Your budget has two parts: one that’s subject to caps and cuts, and one that isn’t. What do you do? When you hit a ceiling in the former, you stuff extra cash into the latter.
It takes a fine-toothed comb to discover how this is done. Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, found that the Pentagon was stashing an estimated extra $20 billion worth of non-war funding in the “operation and maintenance” accounts of its proposed 2014 war budget. And since all federal agencies work in concert with the White House to craft their budget proposals, it’s safe to say that the Obama administration was in on the game.
Add the December budget deal to this $20 billion switcheroo and the sequester cuts for 2014 were now down to $14 billion, hardly a devastating sum given the roughly $550 billion in previously projected funding.
And the story’s still not over.
When it was time to write the Pentagon budget into law, appropriators in Congress wanted in on the fun. As Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight discovered, lawmakers added a $10.8 billion slush fund to the war budget.
All told, that leaves $3.4 billion — a cut of less than 1% from Pentagon funding this year. It’s hard to imagine that anyone in the sprawling bureaucracy of the Defense Department will even notice. Nonetheless, last week Secretary Hagel insisted that “[s]equestration requires cuts so deep, so abrupt, so quickly that… the only way to implement [them] is to sharply reduce spending on our readiness and modernization, which would almost certainly result in a hollow force.”
Yet this less than 1% cut comes from a budget that, at last count, was the size of the next 10 largest military budgets on the planet combined. If you can find a threat to our national security in this story, your sleuthing powers are greater than mine. Meanwhile, in the non-military part of the budget, sequestration has brought cuts that actually matter to everything from public education to the justice system.
Cashing in on the “Cuts,” Round Three and Beyond
After two years of uproar over mostly phantom cuts, 2015 isn’t likely to bring austerity to the Pentagon either. Last December’s budget deal already reduced the cuts projected for 2015, and President Obama is now asking for something he’s calling the “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative.” It would deliver an extra $26 billion to the Pentagon next year. And that still leaves the war budget for officials to use as a cash cow.
And the president is proposing significant growth in military spending further down the road. In his 2015 budget plan, he’s asking Congress to approve an additional $115 billion in extra Pentagon funds for the years 2016-2019.
My guess is he’ll claim that our national security requires it after the years of austerity.
Mattea Kramer is a TomDispatch regular and Research Director at National Priorities Project, which is a 2014 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is also the lead author of the book A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget.