The Pentagon’s Mantra: Spend, Spend, Spend

Pentagon-Money
It’s spend, spend, spend at the Pentagon

W.J. Astore

The United States is addicted to war — and to war-spending.  That’s the message of Bill Hartung’s latest article at TomDispatch.com.  Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, writes:

The more that’s spent on “defense”… the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used.  As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting. 

It’s not just that its books don’t add up, however.  The DoD is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year — from using the separate “war budget” as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret.  Add in dozens of other secret projects hidden in the department’s budget and the Pentagon’s poorly documented military aid programs, and it’s clear that the DoD believes it has something to hide.

Having served in the military and DoD for twenty years and having read about it for twenty more, none of this surprises me.

Here’s the thing: In the Pentagon and the wider military, there’s absolutely no incentive to save money.  Indeed, the incentive is to spend as much as possible, because that is the best way to increase next year’s budgetary allotment. The military is filled with “Type A” officers whose job it is to spend, spend, spend, while fighting sister services for a bigger slice of the budgetary pie.  The more money you get for your program and service, the more likely you’ll get pats on the back, a medal or two, and a glowing promotion recommendation.

Next, Members of Congress.  Their incentive is also to spend — to bring home the pork to their districts.  And the most lucrative source of pork is “defense” spending, which has the added benefit of being easily spun as “patriotic” and in “support” of the troops.

Finally, the President.  His incentive is also to spend.  That’s the best way to avoid being charged as being “weak” on defense.  It’s also about the only leverage the US has left in foreign policy.  Just look at President Obama’s recent trip to Vietnam.  The headlines have focused on the US ending its 50-year arms embargo with Vietnam, as if that’s a wonderful thing for Americans and the Vietnamese.  As Peter Van Buren noted, normalizing relations with Vietnam by selling them lethal weapons is truly an exercise in cynicism by a declining American empire.

Whether it’s the Pentagon, the Congress, or the president, the whole defense wars and weapons complex is structured to spend the maximum amount of money possible while engorging and enlarging itself.  Small wonder it’s never passed an audit!

Making matters worse is how the Pentagon uses various shady practices (e.g. secret budgets) to hamstrung reformers seeking to corral the system’s excesses.  After detailing the Byzantine complexity of the budgetary process, Hartung concludes that:

If your head is spinning after this brief tour of the Pentagon’s budget labyrinth, it should be. That’s just what the Pentagon wants its painfully complicated budget practices to do: leave Congress, any administration, and the public too confused and exhausted to actually hold it accountable for how our tax dollars are being spent. So far, they’re getting away with it.

Put succinctly, the US National Security State may be losing its overseas wars, yet losing equates to winning when it comes to increased budgetary authority abetted by a Congress that prefers enablement to oversight.  And as any military officer knows, authority without responsibility is a recipe for serious abuse.

4 thoughts on “The Pentagon’s Mantra: Spend, Spend, Spend

  1. Apropos of the subject of Perpetual Pentagram Profligacy, Mr Fish has a spot-on cartoon treatment of President Obama, gun salesman, visiting Vietnam. He calls it:
    Viet Con. Perfect.

    Which reminds me of the occasion ten years ago when President George W. Bush finally made the trip to Vietnam, long after after the shooting had stopped, of course. The visit happened on my birthday, November 17, 2006, decades after a better American woman, Jane Fonda, made the trip in his place, at a time when protesting that misbegotten war crime actually mattered. Three-and-a-half years into his own Vietnam-style debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan — disasters that he would bequeath to his successor two years later — Dubya the Dimwit proved to the world that what he didn’t learn about America in Vietnam he wouldn’t learn about America in the Middle East, either. And now President Obama prepares to hand over even more losing debacles to his successor than he inherited himself — at his own request — from his predecessor.

    Hanoi Haiku

    In Hanoi at last
    Red-carpet in return for
    Our carpet-bombing

    The words no one heard,
    Due so many years after:
    “We apologize”

    Deputy Dubya
    Sheriff Cheney’s Barney Fife
    Lost in Mayberry

    Gullible Goofy
    The boy who cried Wolfowitz
    Far too many times

    Emerald City
    Naked ruler’s brand new clothes
    Viewed through glasses green

    Mission Accomplished!
    A cakewalk in its last throes
    Now a glacier race

    Four Years an “instant”
    Nothing happens right away
    What did you expect?

    Broken-egg omelets
    George Orwell’s Catastrophic
    Gradualism

    Shop till the troops drop
    Buy a plane ticket or two
    Your part in the “war”

    Rob the future now
    They will never break our will
    Those grandkids of ours

    Lecture the victors
    About their First and Second
    Indochina Wars

    Where did we get him?
    How come we can’t do better?
    We look so stupid

    [and now that we’ve gotten over losing and want to pick a monumentally stupid fight with China]

    Barack Obama:
    “Please buy some weapons from us.
    No hard feelings, right?”

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006-2016

    Like

    1. I mentioned this before, Mike: I increasingly see “Made in Vietnam” on finished good shipped to the USA, notably furniture. And what does the USA have to trade in return? Weaponry. God bless the USA!

      Like

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