The Pentagon’s $733 Billion “Floor”

$1.6 trillion to “modernize” this triad?  Doesn’t sound like a “peace dividend” or “new world order” to me

W.J. Astore

In testimony last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “longtime diplomat Eric Edelman and retired Admiral Gary Roughead said a $733-billion defense budget was ‘a baseline’ or a ‘floor’ – not the ideal goal – to maintain readiness and modernize conventional and nuclear forces,” reported USNI News.

Which leads to a question: How much money will satisfy America’s military-industrial complex? If $733 billion is a “floor,” or a bare minimum for national defense spending each year, how high is the ceiling?

Part of this huge sum of money is driven by plans to “modernize” America’s nuclear triad at an estimated cost of $1.6 trillion over 30 years.  America’s defense experts seek to modernize the triad when we should be working to get rid of it.  Perhaps they think that in the future nuclear winter will cancel out global warming?

Also last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a foreign policy speech that  addressed military spending in critical terms.  Here’s an excerpt:

The United States will spend more than $700 billion on defense this year alone. That is more than President Ronald Reagan spent during the Cold War. It’s more than the federal government spends on education, medical research, border security, housing, the FBI, disaster relief, the State Department, foreign aid-everything else in the discretionary budget put together. This is unsustainable. If more money for the Pentagon could solve our security challenges, we would have solved them by now.

How do we responsibly cut back? We can start by ending the stranglehold of defense contractors on our military policy. It’s clear that the Pentagon is captured by the so-called “Big Five” defense contractors-and taxpayers are picking up the bill.

If you’re skeptical that this a problem, consider this: the President of the United States has refused to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia in part because he is more interested in appeasing U.S. defense contractors than holding the Saudis accountable for the murder of a Washington Post journalist or for the thousands of Yemeni civilians killed by those weapons.

The defense industry will inevitably have a seat at the table-but they shouldn’t get to own the table.

These are sensible words from the senator, yet her speech was short on specifics when it came to cutting the Pentagon’s bloated budget.  It’s likely the senator’s cuts would be minor ones, since she embraces the conventional view that China and Russia are “peer” threats that must be deterred and contained by massive military force.

Which brings me to this week and the plaudits being awarded to President George H.W. Bush before his funeral and burial.  I respect Bush’s service in the Navy in World War II, during which he was shot down and nearly killed, and as president his rhetoric was more inclusive and less inflammatory than that used by President Trump.

But let’s remember a crucial point about President Bush’s foreign and defense policies: With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bush could have charted a far more pacific course forward for America.  Under Bush, there could have been a true “peace dividend,” a truly “new world order.” Instead, Bush oversaw Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-91 and boasted America had kicked its “Vietnam Syndrome” once and for all (meaning the U.S. military could be unleashed yet again for more global military “interventions”).

Bush’s “new world order” was simply an expansion of the American empire to replace the Soviet one.  He threw away a unique opportunity to redefine American foreign policy as less bellicose, less expansionist, less interventionist, choosing instead to empower America’s military-industrial complex.  Once again, military action became America’s go-to methodology for reshaping the world, a method his son George W. Bush would disastrously embrace in Afghanistan and Iraq, two wars that proved a “Vietnam syndrome” remained very much alive.

In sum, defense experts now argue with straight faces that Trump’s major increases in defense spending constitute a new minimum, Democrats like Elizabeth Warren are content with tinkering around the edges of these massive budgets, and the mainstream media embraces George H.W. Bush as a visionary for peace who brought the Cold War to a soft landing.  And so it goes.

Note: for truly innovatory ideas to change America’s “defense” policies, consider these words of Daniel Ellsberg.  As he puts it:

“neither [political] party has promised any departure from our reliance on the military-industrial complex. Since [George] McGovern [in 1972], in effect. And he was the only one, I think, who—and his defeat taught many Democratic politicians they could not run for office with that kind of burden of dispossessing, even temporarily, the workers of Grumman, Northrup and General Dynamics and Lockheed, and the shipbuilders in Connecticut, and so forth.”

13 thoughts on “The Pentagon’s $733 Billion “Floor”

  1. Has everyone seen “this” Nation article on the failure of the DoD audit? I knew spending was out of control but this article shows how horrendous it is, and un-consitutional too since the Constitution requires Congress be presented an accounting of all spending.


    1. Yes! I love the part about failure being redefined as success, in that at least we tried to perform an audit.

      The same could be said of the Pentagon’s real wars. We tried to win in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq … and we knew we might not succeed, so the fact we tried is really a sign of victory … because we worked really hard. Really!

      Just don’t ask us where all the money went …


  2. Apparently the Pentagon and Congress realized at some point in the wayback that if you can’t beat socialism/communism, may as well join ’em!

    Just, socialism reserved for the already wealthy and well-connected. Everybody else gets Social Darwinism with a new paint job – that is to say, neoliberalism.

    Oddly enough this is exactly what happened after the dissolution of the Soviet Union: oligarch free-for-all. Result: A hollow nation consumed by its nuclear-armed State, with nothing left to hold it together but fear.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. By that logic, the Soviet Union actually won the Cold War. In fact, I would so far to say that, if this was a struggle of “liberty vs. tyranny,” as many people like to paint it, then liberty lost long before 1991.


      1. The Soviet elites – at least, the rats who were smart enough to seize control of key industries and political positions – came out of the thing ok. America’s will do the same, when it comes right down to it. Hell, how many already park most of their wealth offshore, and own property on little islands?

        The enemy of liberty, in my view. is always the elite. Those with disproportionate access to/control of the mechanisms of power. Most everyone else, Soviet or American, just wanted to live out their lives and get by.


  3. Hi Bill, If you check the current DOD Green Book, you will see that the “floor” we returned to throughout the Cold War was about $400 billion in today’s dollars ($412 billion in 1954; $407 billion in 1975; and $417 billion in 1998).  Maybe you can explore why a Cold War with the USSR required a “floor” of $400 billion, while failed U.S. ambitions for a unipolar world and ” half full spectrum dominance” now require a $700 billion one.  Peace!Nicolas J S Davies  


    1. I hear you. As I’ve argued elsewhere, we didn’t just “contain” the Soviet Union: they contained us. When their empire fell, our empire was uncontained. Our ambitions grew. It was “the end of history,” right? Time for the good guys to prevail everywhere. So global reach, global power became global folly at a very high price.

      And now we refuse to disengage almost everywhere, since any retreat or retrenchment is a sign of weakness. Huh?

      At least Tulsi Gabbard has the right idea. She said this during her visit to New Hampshire recently: “Since 9/11 alone, we have spent trillions of your taxpayer dollars to pay for these regime change wars, these unnecessary wars of choice that have been counterproductive in every single way, making it so that we don’t have those resources to address the very real and urgent and pressing needs of the people of our communities right at home.”


  4. thank you for your informative and sobering posts, w.j. astore. i have never deleted a single post from the inbox b/c they are sufficiently arresting and inspiring, it is imperative that i maintain the option for more sedulous re-reads.

    as a life-long advocate for reduction of the esurient US military and the parasitic US govt’s ‘security state’, i realize at the age of 77 that we have never been less secure. commensurately, i have devolved from mere skepticism to pyrrhonism to hopeless desuetude.

    the crack-brained bedlamites who own and operate the govt have seduced US taxpayers into concatenating patriotism w/ ‘war, war, and more war’; in fact, war and patriotism have become synomous in the american lexicon. the US govt has succeeded in dispiteously perverting ‘peace’ into an empty, banausic, trivialized word.

    this may be classified as treasonous sedition, but the only hope for a revitalized, sui-generis, moral compass is for the US to bankrupt itself and collapse into the sewers of senectitude…. just as every greedy, over-reaching empire has done throughout our species’ historical record.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Country Joe McDonald – I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag is IMHO the most direct song ever written about the Vietnam War. There were no hidden meanings to the lyrics. Fortunate Son told the story of the Class War.

    After 9/11 the Clear Channel the largest owner of radio stations in the United States, circulated an internal memo containing a list of songs that program directors felt were “lyrically questionable” to play in the aftermath of the attack. Among the Songs was War by Edwin Starr. You can view the complete list here:
    The Dixie Chicks were blackballed when they had the courage to speak out against Bush the Younger’s Gulf War 2.

    The government does not have to intervene
    In a perverse sense this is the beauty of our Fascist System, Corporations carry on self-censorship up front. Other Corporations like Professional Sports create showboating of ever bigger displays of crass commercialism of Nationalism. The McMega-Media will also tell us what a marvelous statesman Bush the Elder was – We have to propagate the Myth of America the good.

    “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
    The evil that men do lives after them,
    The good is oft interred with their bones,
    So let it be with Caesar
    William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar


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