Why the Pentagon Gets So Much Money So Easily

The five-sided puzzle palace on the Potomac is about to be flooded with new money

W.J. Astore

Over at Foreign Policy, there’s a good article on how the Pentagon gets so much money so easily.  Basically, the Pentagon complains about lack of “readiness” for war, and Congress caves.  But as the article’s author, Gordon Adams, notes, most of the boost in spending goes not to training and maintenance and other readiness issues but to expensive new weaponry:

But the big bucks, according to the Pentagon’s own briefing, will go into conventional military equipment. That means more F-35s and F-18s than planned, a new presidential helicopter, Navy surveillance planes and destroyers, Marine helicopters, space launch rockets, tank modifications, another Army multipurpose vehicle, and a joint tactical vehicle the Army, Marines, and Air Force can all use. Basically, the services will soon have shiny new hardware.

With its $160+ billion budgetary boost over the next two years, the U.S. military will soon have many more shiny toys, which pleases Congress (jobs) and of course the military-industrial complex (higher and higher profits).

All of this is par for the Pentagon course, yet there are other, cultural and societal, reasons why the Pentagon is winning all the budgetary battles at home.  Here are seven key reasons:

  1. The heroes narrative. Collectively and individually, U.S. troops have been branded as heroes. And who is churlish and ungenerous enough to underfund America’s heroes?
  2. Military weaponry has been rebranded as being all about our “safety” and “security.” With spillover into the Homeland, and even America’s classrooms (think about how guns for teachers are now being equated with safety for America’s children).
  3. Defense contractors increasingly influence (and even own) the media, ensuring “journalists” like Brian Williams will wax poetically about the inspiring beauty of weapons. Rarely do you hear sustained criticism from the mainstream media about wasteful spending at the Pentagon.
  4. At the same time, the mainstream media relies on “retired” senior military officers for analysis and commentary. Some of these men have links to defense contractors, and all of them are loath to criticize the military.  They are, in a word, conflicted.
  5. Throughout U.S. popular culture, military hardware is portrayed as desirable and “cool.” Think of all the superhero movies featuring jet fighters and other military hardware, or all the jets and helicopters flying over sports stadiums across the USA.  For that matter, think of all the video games that focus on war and weaponry.
  6. Related to (5) is a collective fantasy of power based on violence in war. Most Americans are powerless when it comes to politics and decision-making.  Here is where our “beautiful” weapons can serve as potent symbols for a largely impotent people.
  7. Finally, the ever-present climate of fear: fear of terrorists, immigrants, missiles from North Korea, Russian nukes, and so forth, even as the real killers in the USA (opioid abuse, vehicle accidents, shootings, bad or no healthcare, poor diets, climate-change-driven catastrophes, and of course diseases, some of which are preventable) are downplayed.

Defense spending used to be examined closely, with many programs exposed as wasteful.  This was common in the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the 1970s and early 1980s – remember Senator William Proxmire and his Golden Fleece awards?  Now, it seems there’s no such thing as wasteful spending.  It’s a remarkable change of narrative representing an amazing success story for the military-industrial complex.

It will take more than cutting the Pentagon’s budget to effect change.  America needs to change its mindset, an ethos in which weapons, even wars, are equated with safety and security and potency, and even occasionally with entertainment and fun.

In sum, the Pentagon is doing what it’s always done: issuing demands for more and more money.  It’s up to us (and Congress) to say “no.”

10 thoughts on “Why the Pentagon Gets So Much Money So Easily

  1. Agreed. Whenever you throw colossal sums at a project, you get neither value or success; the Dems loss the most recent $1Bil mistake. Let’s try movies! Cleopatra cost 44Mil to produce, a paltry 57M in box office. (=’s loss) Gangster movie Godfather cost about the same to produce, box office receipts a ‘criminal’ 575Mil! I’d guess the public interests in subject matter about the same, but one was well managed, the other not.


  2. Items 3 and 4 above – were recently commented on by Ralph Nader. Experts for the People—Shut Out by the Mass Media. Nader starts off with: — Ever wonder how the television, radio and newspaper people select whom they are going to interview or get quotes from when they are reporting the news or producing a feature? I do.

    What I’ve learned is that they go to guests that are connected with the established powers—such as think tanks in Washington, D.C. that work on “the military industrial complex” policy (to borrow President Eisenhower’s words) and somehow lean toward more war mongering (e.g. NPR and the U.S.-Iran relationship) or backing more weapon systems (such as a new nuclear bomb arsenal and more F-35s and air craft carriers).

    Whether it is NPR, PBS, the network news programs, the Sunday news interview shows and too often the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal their interviewees are the defenders of the status quo or those with corporatists’ viewpoints.

    These news outlets seem oblivious to the blatant economic conflicts of interest inherent in groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and professors who moonlight with corporations. These interviewees have economic and ideological axes to grind that are not disclosed to the general viewers, listeners and readers, when they are merely described as “experts.”
    Nader has been persona non grata since 2000, when he was blamed for taking votes away from Al Gore, even though the Gorebot lost his home state to Bush the Younger. No Nader to blame in 2016, ah yes, the Russians. Two Democratic Robotic candidates lose in 2000 and 2016 and it is some else’s fault.

    The drumbeats for Iraq 2 were sounded loud and often by the Mass Media. I was reminded of the song 99 Red Balloons. Selected lyrics below:
    Ninety nine red balloons
    Floating in the summer sky
    Panic bells, its red alert
    There´s something here from somewhere else
    The war machine springs to life
    Opens up one eager eye
    And focusing it on the sky
    The ninety nine red balloons go by

    To worry, worry, super scurry
    Call the troops out in a hurry
    This is what we’ve waited for
    This is it boys, this is war
    The President is on the line
    As ninety nine red balloons go by

    Ninety nine knights of the air
    Ride super high-tech jet fighters
    Everyone’s a super hero
    Everyone’s a Captain Kirk
    With orders to identify
    To clarify and classify
    Scrambling the summer sky

    It’s all over and I’m standing pretty
    In this dust that was a city
    If could find a souvenir
    Just the prove the world was here
    The song encapsulates most of the features of our warrior society and how eager it is to be turned loose, straining at the harness.


    1. Thanks for the link to Nader, ML. He’s right, of course. The same “experts” get called on, despite conflicts of interest and despite bad records of prognostication.


    2. Nader wrote a book about how the two parties shut him out. . .”Crashing the Party: Taking on the Corporate Government in an Age of Surrender”
      “Primarily, Nader sees the current political structure as ominously flawed: a two-party system, he says, exists in a “drowsy equilibrium,” and the parties–both in thrall to corporate interests–are concerned less with the people’s needs than their own self-perpetuation. . . . .Nader presents a strong case that national politics is run more by money than issues and that there is a “democracy gap” that “discourages people from shaping the future for our country.” Like a plucky protagonist in a Frank Capra film, Nader insists on speaking up for the little people and backs his arguments and decent sentiments with hard facts: an appendix of stats on affordable housing needs, “corporate welfare,” personal bankruptcies, uneven distribution of wealth and the current minimum wage (which, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in 1979) is an impressive indictment of the state of the national economy.”


  3. Why does the Pentagon Gets So Much Money So Easily? . . .crooked politicians
    Ever heard of this guy?
    “Rodney P. Frelinghuysen is serving his twelfth term as the Representative for New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District. In the 115th Congress, Rep. Frelinghuysen serves as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee where he developed, drafted and passed the nearly $600 billion funding bill for the Pentagon and the 16 agencies of the Intelligence Community.”

    …now the funny part….
    “His focus on keeping the tax burden low and encouraging economic growth and job creation has earned him the “Hero of the Taxpayer” Award from the Americans for Tax Reform, as well as praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. ”

    ..from Open Secrets dot org
    defense sector contributions
    top recipient, 2017-2018
    Frelinghuysen, Rodney (R-NJ). . . $222,200

    It’s the best Congress money can buy!


  4. And what did all that money and generations of unrepayable debt actually buy the United States (other than the inevitable and predictable Soviet style imperial implosion)? Russian President Vladimir Putin just pointed out the answer to that question, as explained by the always excellent Dmitry Orlov, someone who survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and who has written much about the impending American version of it :

    Better Nukes for a Safer Planet, Club Orlov (March 06, 2018)

    “Apres nous, le deluge.”


    1. I wonder if Putin & Co. are trying to provoke the U.S. “hawks” into even more unnecessary spending on “defense,” thereby accelerating U.S. decline? The Pentagon loves a threat, which they then typically inflate for their own budgetary purposes. Putin knows the score: wave a red nuclear cape at the USA and expect the bull to charge. So it’s full speed ahead on our $1.2 trillion nuclear “modernization,” plus more spending on missile defense, now complicated by Putin’s recent announcement. Thus those in the missile defense community will be crying for even more money. Mission accomplished to Russia, as the USA throws away its money on more unneeded and largely ineffective weaponry.


  5. Good point; I’ve thought about that also. Many today claim Reagan bankrupted the USSR with his ‘Star Wars’ + other projects. Today I don’t know…the arms race is certainly bankrupting US also!
    Many friends claim “I trust” Putin too much; again I don’t know, but Russia was certainly plundered by the West after USSR’s downfall.
    Writing stupid books like “The World is Flat”, “The End of History”, etc., the guns* go off every night in Amerikan cities. (*Not that I’m for strong control, knowing it’s there to protect us citizens from our GOVERNMENT, not some mall sniper!)
    Back to US budget; we’re running out of dough real fast, whether be corporate bailouts – for mistakes – or our sinfully wasteful ‘Military’ budget – also many mistakes..
    Blaming Russia for the West’s ills & problems is past my logical mind; blaming a single person – Putin – for it all is insane! Most of his speech was on improving Russia & it’s people; better healthcare, schools, economy, etc. Find me a US or European politician who does that and I’ll damn him! But you can’t.
    That none of the West showed up for Russia’s colossal sacrifice in WW2 parade celebration shows me what terrible “leaders” we have. Perhaps Putin’s turning point…..but he’s too smart!
    I’d guess he knows how nobody Hitler accumulated such fortunes in a mere 3 years! Look at the videos! Impossible without outside help.
    I can’t finish the rest because I’m being censored about, yeah those buildings……


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