The Pentagon Gets More Money

W.J. Astore

Imagine you’re a parent with a difficult son. You send him to the most expensive schools, you give him prodigious sums of money, but when Johnny comes home from school with his report card, you see he got an “F” in Afghanistan, an “F” in Iraq, and an “F” in Libya, among other “classes.” Projects he’s working on, like the F-35 jet fighter or Ford-class carriers, are also proving to be expensive failures. Even in deportment he’s receiving an “F,” with the teachers telling you he’s prone to bullying his fellow students as he boasts of being the most exceptional student in the world.

How would you handle Johnny? Well, our collective Johnny is the Pentagon and the National Security State, and our government’s way of handling him is to shove more money his way, another $24 billion or so, with more promised in the future.

Is it any wonder why Johnny Pentagon never changes its behavior?

That’s the subject of my latest article at TomDispatch.com. Here’s the first half of the article; please go to TomDispatch.com to read the rest. Many thanks!

William Astore, A Bright Future for Weapons and War

Yoda, the Jedi Master in the Star Wars films, once pointed out that the future is all too difficult to see and it’s hard to deny his insight. Yet I’d argue that, when it comes to the U.S. military and its wars, Yoda was just plain wrong. That part of the future is all too easy to imagine. It involves, you won’t be shocked to know, more budget-busting weaponry for the Pentagon and more military meddling across the globe, perhaps this time against “near-peer” rivals China and Russia, and a global war on terror that will never end. What’s even easier to see is that peace will be given no chance at all. Why? Because it’s just not in the interests of America’s deeply influential military-congressional-industrial complex.

When that vast complex, which President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about six decades ago, comes to my mind, I can’t help thinking of a song from the last years of the then seemingly endless Cold War. (How typical, by the way, that when the Soviet Union finally imploded in 1991, it barely affected Pentagon funding.)

“The future’s so bright (I gotta wear shades)” was that 1986 song’s title. And I always wonder whether that future could indeed be nuclear-war bright, given our military’s affection for such weaponry. I once heard the saying, “The [nuclear] triad is not the Trinity,” which resonated with me given my Catholic upbringing. Still, it’s apparently holy enough at the Pentagon or why would the high command there already be planning to fund the so-called modernization of the American nuclear arsenal to the tune of at least $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years? Given this nation’s actual needs, that figure blows me away (though not literally, I hope).

What is that “triad” the complex treats as a holy trinity? It consists of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs; nuclear-weapons-capable bombers like the B-1, B-2, and the venerable B-52; and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs. Given our present vast nuclear arsenal, there’s no strategic need for building new ICBMs at a price beyond compare. In fact, as the most vulnerable “leg” of the triad, the ones the Air Force currently has should be decommissioned.

Nor is there a strategic need for an ultra-expensive new bomber like the Air Force’s proposed B-21 Raider (basically, an updated version of the B-2 Spirit “stealth” bomber that’s most frequently used these days for flyovers at big college and Super Bowl football games). America’s Ohio-class nuclear submarines that still wander the world’s oceans armed with Trident missiles are more than capable of “deterring” any conceivable opponent into the distant future, even if they also offer humanity a solid shot at wholesale suicide via a future nuclear winter. But reason not the need, as Shakespeare once had King Lear say. Focus instead on the profits to be made (he might have added, had he lived in our time and our land) by building “modernized” nukes.

As my old service, the Air Force, clamors for new nuclear missiles and bombers, there’s also the persistent quest for yet more fighter jets, including overpriced, distinctly underperforming ones like the F-35, the “Ferrari” of fighter planes according to the Air Force chief of staff. If the military gets all the F-35s it wants, add another $1.7 trillion to the cost of national “defense.” At the same time, that service is seeking a new, “lower-cost” (but don’t count on it) multirole fighter — what the F-35 was supposed to be once upon a time — even as it pursues the idea of a “6th-generation” fighter even more advanced (read: pricier) than 5th-generation models like the F-22 and F-35.

I could go on similarly about the Navy (more Ford-class aircraft carriers and new nuclear-armed submarines) or the Army (modernized Abrams tanks; a new infantry fighting vehicle), but you get the idea. If Congress and the president keep shoveling trillions of dollars down the military’s gullet and those of its camp followers (otherwise known as “defense” contractors), count on one thing: they’ll find ever newer ways of spending that dough on anything from space weaponry to robot “companions.”

Indeed, I asked a friend who’s still intimate with the military-industrial complex what’s up with its dreams and schemes. The military’s latest Joint Warfighting Concept, he told me, “is all about building Systems of Systems based in AI [artificial intelligence] and quantum computing.” Then he added: “All it will do is give us more sophisticated ways to lose wars.” (You can see why he’s my friend.) The point is that AI and quantum computing sound futuristically super-sexy, which is why they’ll doubtless be used to justify super-expensive future budgetary requests by the Pentagon.

In that context, don’t you find it staggering how much the military spent in Afghanistan fighting and losing all too modernistically to small, under-armed units of the Taliban? Two trillion-plus dollars to wage a counterinsurgency campaign that failed dismally. Imagine if, in the next decade or two, the U.S. truly had to fight a near-peer rival like China. Even if the U.S. military somehow won the battles, this nation would undoubtedly collapse into bankruptcy and financial ruin (and it would be a catastrophe for the whole endangered planet of ours). It could get so bad that even Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk might have to pay higher taxes, if, that is, they haven’t already slipped the surly bonds of Earth to mingle with the twinkling stars.

If America’s post-9/11 war-on-terror military spending, including for the Afghan and Iraq wars, has indeed reached the unimaginable sum of $8 trillion, as Brown University’s Costs of War Project estimates, imagine how much a real war, a “conventional” war, featuring the air force, the fleet, big battalions, and major battles, would cost this country. Again, the mind (mine at least) boggles at the prospect. Which is not to say that the U.S. military won’t fight for every penny so that it’s over-prepared to wage just such a war (and worse).

The idea that this country faces a perilous new cold war that could grow hot at any moment, this time with China, crops up in unusual places. Consider this passage by Dexter Filkins, a well-known war reporter, that appeared recently in the New Yorker:

“We’ve spent decades fighting asymmetrical wars, but now there’s a symmetrical one looming. The United States has never faced an adversary of China’s power: China’s G.D.P. is, by some measures, greater than ours, its active-duty military is larger than ours, and its weapon systems are rapidly expanding. China appears determined to challenge the status quo, not just the territorial one but the scaffolding of international laws that govern much of the world’s diplomatic and economic relations. If two forever wars are finally coming to an end, a new Cold War may await.”

A new war is “looming.” Our adversary has more money and more troops than us and is seeking better weaponry. Its leadership wants to challenge a “status quo” (that favors America) and international laws (which this country already routinely breaks when our leaders feel in the mood).

Why are so many otherwise sane people, including Joe Biden’s foreign policy team, already rattling sabers in preparation for a new faceoff with China, one that would be eminently avoidable with judicious diplomacy and an urge to cooperate on this embattled planet of ours?

Why indeed? Please read the rest of my article at TomDispatch.com.

22 thoughts on “The Pentagon Gets More Money

  1. Here is a quote from Axios. Its rather long, but the gist of it is that an overwhelming majority, >80%, of Americans polled support changes in health care to reduce costs such as negotiated drug prices and expansion of Medicare. The fact that we don’t get this shows we do not live in a democracy but in a oligarchy, which is why we have ever more money spent on stupidity marketed as “defense”.

    From Axios
    “Seven in 10 voters — no matter their political, geographic or demographic background — say cost is their biggest concern regarding health care, according to a poll from liberal advocacy group United States of Care.

    “Everyone starts from cost,” said Ryan Sims, a USoC spokesman. “When we talk about home care, people relate to cost. When we talk about insurance premiums, they relate to cost. Drug prices? It’s obviously cost.”

    The details: The poll of 1,500 voters between July 27 and Aug. 2 found several areas of agreement.

    90% of Democrats, 86% of Republicans and 76% of independents somewhat or strongly support the idea of the government negotiating prices or increasing competition among drugmakers.
    87% of Democrats, 60% of Republicans and 70% of independents somewhat or strongly support expanding eligibility for Medicare, Medicaid or the Child Health Insurance Program.
    The bottom line: “When you put solutions in front of people and it isn’t shown as a solution based on a politic or a party, there really is broad agreement,” said Natalie Davis, CEO and co-founder of USoC.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. I imagine most people are also against the stupid wars we’ve been waging and the high cost of “defense.” But, after all, we are not living in a democracy.

      Like

    2. You’re so right, JPA. It’s not a matter of we as individuals wanting to stop the outrageous military spending, because if the question were neutrally phrased, I have no doubt that most people would rather have single-payer healthcare and sound infrastructure than fifty more F-35 planes and a pile of new nukes. We the people can’t ever get what we want, and that’s the root problem. We non-Beltway residents can protest, petition, vote, write elected officials, and set our hair on fire, but everything that goes on is out of our control. The people in charge know we want the elements of basic survival, plus a little comfort and security, but that means nothing. The Dems and GOP don’t even run anti-war candidates, for instance, for whom we could vote. We don’t see “single-payer healthcare” on our ballots. We’re reduced to voting for lesser-evil candidates, who either don’t espouse the most common values, OR don’t deliver on the promises they make in regard to those values.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. It is sad to think that the bloated military is getting another 24 billion dollars. That amount is about the budget of USAID. The Kajacki Dam in southern Afghanistan that regulates the water of the Helmand River was built by USAID in the 1960s. This gave the US a huge positive influence on the people of that area. We wasted that good will with out invasion of Afghanistan but the dam still stands. Despite the Taliban’s hatred of everything American, they will not blow up that dam. USAID is still active but not as much as before due to low budget. See: https://www.usaid.gov/pakistan/energy

    It is also sad to see a little boy shooting the waves. This shows how lacking his upbringing by society has been. That image shows disrespect for the Earth, and a desire for violence. It is too late to convince adults of the evils of militarism, therefore the children need to be taught life affirming values both at home and in school. The next generation of soldiers, polluters, kleptocrats and apathetic citizens is being raised right now!

    A final thought: until the defeat in Afghanistan, 70% of Americans thought the our military was a good thing and should have all the latest equipment. Congress is doing exactly what their constituents want. Yes, it takes money from other things they want, but over all, it is what they want.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree the American people are generally supportive of the military.

      I could be wrong, but I don’t think that 70% approval rating extends to wasteful wars and wonky weaponry. Nor do I believe most Americans want to spend $1.7 trillion on new nukes.

      People “trust” the military; they need to trust in themselves instead. They must exercise control over the military, or the MIC will control them.

      Like

      1. The thing I do not understand Bill is that even a rank amateur war buff like me can predict that there is no possible future war scenario in which any of these modern weapons will be relevant or used.
        The days of jet fighter dog fights are long gone. And these B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers will never reach their intended targets, being shot shot down by modern radar/missiles.
        The same for these aircraft carriers. These anachronistic white elephants will all be sunk in the first week of a shooting war by our enemies hypersonic missiles. And, as you say, actually using these nuclear submarine missiles will result in suicide for us all via a future nuclear winter.
        As for the use of modernized Abrams tanks and infantry fighting vehicle – where? A major ground war over the US, Chinese and Russian homeland is never going to happen. Future wars will look nothing like wars of the past. There will never be a ground war in Europe or the Middle East again.
        So all this effort, resources and money is a 100% waste. And yes, 70% of Americans know this. And you are right, they must exercise control over the military, or the MIC will control them. Tragically its not going to happen in our lifetimes.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. How true. Consider…

          1)We can’t fight the kind of war that we are endlessly equipping for

          2)We can’t win the kind of war that we can fight as in Afghanistan and Vietnam before it.

          3) All can agree that ICBM’s, whether launched from land or sea can, because of their numbers, speed and trajectory, result in at least one nuclear detonation in the territories of opponents in an exchange.

          4) Even one nuclear detonation would be enough to assure Armageddon to follow immediately, and there are thousands of nuclear warheads, enough to place more than one on every “valuable” target. No launch is acceptable.

          Put all the above together and it produces what I call steady state insanity, confirmed as insanity by the belief held by so many at the top that this situation can go on indefinitely.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Eisenhower explained why that happens in his retirement speech warning about the growing Military-Industrial Complex.

    “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”

    All Congressional and State Politicians care about is money and jobs in every State and City.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ike’s emphasis on the “spiritual” dimensions of the MIC is not stressed enough. He recognized the MIC is ultimately about death. A deadness inside as well.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Here’s some science and spiritual wisdom… Trust me on this, it’s worth a look.
    The prayer identifies how the elements of thought, emotion and feeling, can be merged into what might be described as the technology of prayer… the links will show how science can explain the how…

    An Essene Prayer

    First shall the Son of Man seek peace within his own body; for his body is as a mountain pond that reflects the sun when it is still and clear. When it is full of mud and stones it reflects nothing.

    Then shall the Son of Man seek peace within his own thoughts….There is no greater power in heaven and earth than the thought of the Son of Man. Though unseen by the eyes of the body, yet each thought has mighty strength, even such strength can shake the heavens.

    Then shall the Son of Man seek peace with his own feelings. We call on the Angel of love to enter our feelings, that they may be purified. And all that was before impatience and discord will turn into harmony and peace.

    http://www.thehealersjournal.com/2012/12/24/how-to-alter-your-dna-with-positive-emotion-and-heart-centered-intention/ https://

    nexusnewsfeed.com/article/science-futures/quantum-experiment-sheds-light-on-the-metaphysical-properties-of-human-dna/.

    So….Here’s some ancient wisdom and some modern quantum physics that will bring some clarity about the true nature of prayers power and effectiveness when there is proper intention and a purity of heartfelt feeling behind our prayers for peace.
    These are what I hope our leaders , political and military, will at some point direct their full undivided attention and awareness toward. The Essenes were living these realities during the Roman Empire and separated themselves from the Roman society to create their own reality “on the outskirts of town”, away from the gears of the machine. They seemed to understand intuitively about the revelations that our quantum sciences are beginning to reveal. It seems that the heartfelt prayers or intentions of righteous people can avail much. Understanding these principles will have deep effects upon outcomes if we can get a serious effort mounted. Imagine if our Armed Forces were nothing more than Militant Meditators.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I don’t care if China has more men/women “in arms” than Carter’s has pills and burgers McDonald’s has served up combined: where would a “conventional” land war with the Yellow Peril take place? In what manner could those troops be transported that wouldn’t leave them vulnerable to air strikes?
    I haven’t looked at a map recently, but as I recall, China is really sort of “land-locked”: barring “Peter Principle”-level incompetence, there is no scenario in which a few well-placed attack submarines couldn’t keep any naval vessels from reaching open water.
    And jet fighters – no matter how many or how advanced – are not the Rebel Alliance’s beloved X-wing fighters: they don’t have unlimited range or interplanetary capabilities. So, advance bases are needed. Where could those possibly be located that they wouldn’t be vulnerable to missile strikes?
    I’m certainly not an expert on military strategy or tactics. But these are questions worth asking and getting real answers to – not abstractions, possible scenarios, computer simulations or sand table reenactments – before pulling out the checkbook.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There is no plausible scenario whereby the US could execute an attack on either the Russian or Chinese mainland. And neither are they going to attack the American homeland. That would be suicide.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. ” The military’s latest Joint Warfighting Concept, he told me, “is all about building Systems of Systems based in AI [artificial intelligence] and quantum computing.” Then he added: “All it will do is give us more sophisticated ways to lose wars.” ‘

    I know it’s been mentioned here before, but Arthur C Clarke’s short story “Superiority” applies perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

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