Plenty of Money for the Pentagon

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Should we enlarge the military, buy more weapons, or fight more wars?  Heck, let’s do all three!

W.J. Astore

Inside the Washington beltway, the debate is never focused on making major cuts to the defense budget, then using that money to improve infrastructure, health care, education, and other projects that benefit all of us domestically. No: the debate is whether we should fight more wars overseas or buy more weapons and enlarge the military for those wars.

That is the lesson from the following summary at FP: Foreign Policy that I’m pasting below:

There’s a fight brewing over the 2017 Defense Department budget, and right in the middle of the scrum is how to use the $58 billion the White House has set aside to pay for military operations in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. The House of Representatives votes this week on its version of the bill, which yanks $18 billion from that account and uses it to buy more ships, dozens of fighter jets, and adding about 50,000 more troops to the rolls.

The White House and Pentagon aren’t happy about the whole thing.

On Monday, the Office of Management and Budget released a memo threatening a presidential  veto of the bill, calling the move a “gimmick.” The memo added, “shortchanging wartime operations by $18 billion and cutting off funding in the middle of the year introduces a dangerous level of uncertainty for our men and women in uniform carrying out missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. ”

And there are lots of elsewheres. Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic, just to name a few. On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its own version of the 2017 defense policy bill, which rejects the House funding plan. The entire defense bill is $610 billion.

Indeed, there are lots of “elsewheres.”  And how are those “elsewhere” wars going for the United States?  As Peter Van Buren wrote on Sunday at TomDispatch.com, those wars have been repetitive disasters.

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Peter Van Buren

Van Buren, who learned firsthand about the folly and fruitlessness of US reconstruction efforts in Iraq while working for the State Department, writes that:

Starting wars under murky circumstances and then watching limited commitments expand exponentially is by now so ingrained in America’s global strategy that it’s barely noticed. Recall, for instance, those weapons of mass destruction that justified George W. Bush’s initial invasion of Iraq, the one that turned into eight years of occupation and “nation-building”? Or to step a couple of no-less-forgettable years further into the past, bring to mind the 2001 U.S. mission that was to quickly defeat the ragged Taliban and kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. That’s now heading into its 16th year as the situation there only continues to disintegrate…

Or for those who like to look ahead, the U.S. has just put troops back on the ground in Yemen, part of what the Pentagon is describing as “limited support” for the U.S.-backed war the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates launched in that country.

The new story is also the old story: just as you can’t be a little pregnant, the mission never really turns out to be “limited,” and if Washington doesn’t know where the exit is, it’s going to be trapped yet again inside its own war, spinning in unpredictable and disturbing directions.

The baseball-philosopher Yogi Berra coined the motto for recent US military efforts in the Greater Middle East: It’s like deja-vu, all over again.  The same saying applies to Pentagon budget “debates.” It’s never about how to save money, or what “defense” truly means to America. It’s always about how to get more money, and whether it should be spent on enlarging the military, buying more weapons, or fighting more wars.  The perfect trifecta is doing all three. Perhaps that’s the true “triad” of US defense policy.

5 thoughts on “Plenty of Money for the Pentagon

  1. From David Halberstam’s classic work The Best and the Brightest:

    “… in late 1967 Tom Wicker of the New York Times went to see Robert McNamara. When the subject of the economic miscalculations of the [War on Southeast Asia] came up during the inteverview, McNamara dismissed it in a casual way which shocked Wicker. “Do you really think that if I had estimated the cost of the war correctly, Congress would have given any more for schools and housing?” he asked. Implicit in what he was saying, as far as Wicker was concerned, was that Congress would have given anything necessary for the war and very little for domestic legislation, so they might as well lie. Wicker left totally appalled by the conversation.”

    Fast forward to 2016, nearly a full half century later, and the appalling conversation continues unabated. Profligage Congressional war spending expands without debate while spending on anything for the domestic betterment of the country declines. Not a very smart country, America, and one not the least capable of electing and supervising a capable, responsible government.

    Nothing but decline and failure can await a corporate subsidiary (formerly a nation) so divorced from reality and common sense.

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  2. Peter Van Buren wrote: “Starting wars under murky circumstances and then watching limited commitments expand exponentially is by now so ingrained in America’s global strategy that it’s barely noticed.”

    Which brings us back, again, to David Halberstam and his explanation of this “mission creep” U.S.-loser-war phenomenon, circa 1960s:

    “By the time the general public realized the extent of the war [pick your favorite current one], the depth and totality of it all, then the rationale in Washington would change, it would become Support of our boys out there. At first the critics were told that they should not be critics because it was not really going to be a war and it would be brief, anyway; then, when it became clear that it was a war, they were told not to be critics becuase it hurt our boys and helped the other side.”

    That this tacky bait-and-switch flim-flam reliably works decade after decade in the United States, reveals a country and people so incapable of critical thought — or even simple memory — that George Orwell’s 1984 looks less like a literary masterwork of prediction and more like a training manual for the Oligarchical Collective’s outer party apparatchiks.

    Ignorance is Strength
    Freedom is Slavery
    War is Peace

    and now …

    Defeat is Victory

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    1. Mike: In the latest debate over the Pentagon budget (2017), I saw where any reduction to war funding was construed as betraying our troops overseas. Here’s the exact quote:

      On Monday, the Office of Management and Budget released a memo threatening a presidential veto of the bill, calling the move a “gimmick.” The memo added, “shortchanging wartime operations by $18 billion and cutting off funding in the middle of the year introduces a dangerous level of uncertainty for our men and women in uniform carrying out missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. ”

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  3. William.

    The problem with the argument to “spend less on this so we can spend more on that” is the inter-generational theft called the national debt. As a people, we don’t know what we really need because we’ve arranged for others to pay for much of what we don’t need.

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  4. Good point, Walt. My father’s philosophy was simply to spend less — wisdom hard-earned during the Great Depression.

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