As Russia Weakens, Why Is Pentagon Spending Set to Soar?

W.J. Astore

Overall, the Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t going well for Russia. If reports are correct, the Russian military hasn’t distinguished itself. Poor logistics, bad intelligence, lack of effective air support, and an increasing reliance on brute strength appear to be features of this campaign. Meanwhile, Russia is suffering from debilitating economic sanctions imposed by the West. In sum, Russia is weaker today than it was three weeks ago before the invasion. So why is Pentagon spending set to soar in the coming fiscal years?

A friend sent an article along from the New York Times that sums up this insane moment in Washington. He suggested that I re-post it here and make some comments on it. Here goes (my comments in italics):

War in Ukraine rallies support in Congress for more military spending

Catie Edmondson

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — From his perch as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., has long lamented what he sees as a Pentagon budget bloated by inefficient spending. When hawkish lawmakers led a successful charge last year to pour nearly $24 billion more into the military’s coffers, he opposed the move.

But last week, as Russian forces continued their assault on Ukraine and he pondered the size of the coming year’s military budget, Mr. Smith sounded a different tone.

“I haven’t picked a number yet,” he said, “but without question, it’s going to have to be bigger than we thought.”

Yes, the Pentagon budget is “bloated” and “inefficient.” You don’t solve that by giving the Pentagon yet more billions!

He added: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine fundamentally altered what our national security posture and what our defense posture needs to be. It made it more complicated, and it made it more expensive.”

No, the invasion hasn’t “fundamentally altered” America’s “defense posture.” If anything, a weakening Russia means we can spend less money on defense, not more.

His shift signals a stark new reality facing President Joe Biden on Capitol Hill, where Democrats had already shown they had little appetite for controlling the defense budget, even as Mr. Biden declared an end to the era of ground wars and indicated he wanted to reimagine the use of American power abroad.

How interesting. I thought “American power” was about “defense.” Why does this have to be “reimagined”?

Now, facing a military onslaught by President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, and rising fears of a protracted war in Europe and an emboldened China, lawmakers in both parties — including some who had resisted in the past — are pressing for vast increases in military spending to address a changed security landscape.

Why are more weapons and more wars always the answer to a “changed security landscape”? What is the sense of “vast increases”?

As images pour out of Ukrainian cities devastated by a relentless and indiscriminate volley of Russian missiles, Democrats and Republicans who have struggled to coalesce behind meaningful legislation to aid the Ukrainian cause are rallying around one of the few substantive tools available to them: sending money and weapons.

The House this week is poised to approve $10 billion in emergency funds to Ukraine, including $4.8 billion to cover the costs of weapons already sent to Ukraine and eastern flank allies, as well as the deployment of U.S. troops. But already on Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate majority leader, suggested lawmakers could approve a $12 billion package, in a sign of how eager lawmakers were to send more aid to Kyiv. The United States alone has deployed more than 15,000 troops to Europe, while committing an additional 12,000 to NATO’s response force if necessary.

$10 billion in “emergency funds” is now more than $13 billion for Ukraine. How come America’s poor and neediest can’t get that level of aid, and that quickly?

Beyond funding immediate needs, the consensus around more generous Pentagon spending previews a dynamic that is likely to drive negotiations around next year’s defense budget, potentially locking in the kind of large increases that Mr. Biden and many Democrats had hoped to end.

This is false. Biden ran for president promising increases in Pentagon spending over and above what Trump had proposed.

“I think people are sort of waking up out of this haze that we were living somehow in a secure world,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., who sits on the Armed Services Committee.

WTF? We live in an insecure world because of wanton spending by the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Ms. Luria added: “I was not satisfied with the budget that came over last year from the White House, especially in regards to China, especially in regards to the Navy or shipbuilding, and I’ll be very disappointed, in light of the new world situation, if they come up with a budget like that again.”

The rapid shift in thinking is a setback for progressives who had hoped that unified Democratic control of the House, the Senate and the White House would translate into a smaller Pentagon budget and a reduced footprint of American troops around the world.

Democrats, as a party, never wanted a smaller Pentagon budget.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a brief interview that she believed it was crucial that the United States provide Ukrainians with some defensive weapons, but added: “Do I think that there is a point where it becomes too much? Yes.”

Ms. Omar said she was particularly worried about the prospect of arming an insurgency, especially as civilians from around the world have flocked to Ukraine to help push back against the Russian army.

“We’ve seen what the result of that was in Afghanistan, when we armed so many people to fight against the Russians,” said Ms. Omar, who was born in Somalia. “Many of those people went back to their own countries and caused a lot of havoc, including the one I come from.”

A little bit of sense by Rep. Omar, but she has no support here.

Mr. Biden last weekend authorized a $350 million package of weapons that included Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles as well as small arms and munitions, a shipment that represented the largest single authorized transfer of arms from U.S. military warehouses to another country.

Weapons bought for U.S. troops are being sent for free to Ukraine to be used (in some cases) by neo-Nazi forces. I’m sure nothing bad will come from this.

Many lawmakers want to go further. Several Republican senators have endorsed setting up a separate fund to support the Ukrainian resistance, signaling an appetite to continue arming those in Ukraine willing to fight for an extended period of time, even in the event their government falls.

“I want to see more Javelins,” said Sen. Jim Risch, of Idaho, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “I want to see more Stingers.”

Missiles are the answer! More Russian and Ukrainian dead! Hooah!

An emotional virtual meeting on Saturday in which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of Ukraine, who has been defiant in the face of continuing Russian attacks, pleaded with senators for additional weapons rallied more support for his cause.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called for Congress to pass an additional military aid emergency spending bill. And Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., suggested that Congress quickly approve funding to reimburse Eastern European allies if they provide Ukraine with planes or surface-to-air missiles.

“We should be signaling to the Poles and Romanians and others that this is something we would want to help them do,” Mr. Malinowski said.

Lawmakers are eyeing long-term solutions, too, in Europe and beyond. At an Armed Services Committee hearing last week, both Republicans and Democrats endorsed increasing the U.S. military presence in the Baltics.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., who is a former Pentagon official, called Mr. Putin’s invasion “a sea change” for “how both the Defense Department and the State Department should think about our presence in Europe.”

“I couldn’t agree more with my colleagues who have talked about putting more force in right now,” Ms. Slotkin said, adding later, “We have to completely re-evaluate deterrence and how we re-establish it.”

What we’re witnessing is the U.S. Congress foaming at the mouth to send more weapons to Ukraine to kill more Russians (and doubtless Ukrainians too), while boosting Pentagon spending against a Russian threat that will be considerably lower, assuming this war doesn’t spiral out of control because of ill-judged and incendiary responses by the U.S.

Readers, what do you think of all this?

28 thoughts on “As Russia Weakens, Why Is Pentagon Spending Set to Soar?

  1. Only reliable component of the US economy that wasn’t destabilized by CaptainTrips and the COVIDcheer team would be my nickel.

    Still say Russia is the proxy in a US-China battle, and our [US] team isn’t tossing the coin OR calling the result.

    Like

  2. Russia could collapse, China could turn inwards again, and U.S. security “experts” would argue that the world was more unstable due to the power vacuum, therefore U.S. military spending must soar.

    Of course, if Russia wins quickly and China continues to expand, mainly economically, that also means military spending must soar.

    Even if Russia and China surrendered unconditionally to the U.S. empire, I suppose that would be spun as justifying more military spending to maintain deterrence or something.

    I can’t think of anything that might actually lead to major reductions in military spending, because we are so throughly propagandized that war is peace.

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    1. “Even if Russia and China surrendered unconditionally to the U.S. empire, I suppose that would be spun as justifying more military spending to maintain deterrence or something.”

      Yeah, exactly WJA! You don’t even have to go out on a limb predicting that — just open a recent history book to the 1990’s when the USSR ‘went away’ and, tellingly, there was NO significant decrease in ‘defense’ (read: ‘military’) spending, NO ‘peace dividend’, with some pundits (George Will comes to mind) talking foolish that the USSR was just ‘faking it’ and was going to resurrect themselves, so we needed to continue to increase that spending! And we couldn’t stop producing submarines, aircraft carriers, etc because we ‘might lose the production capability’ and other such flimsy excuses that were just obvious cover for additional expenditures for the arms suppliers and right-wing militarists. So a golden opportunity for the major powers to ‘re-set’ was sacrificed to some corporate bottom-lines and chicken hawk warriors…

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  3. Ukraine is well on its way to becoming a vast wasteland, perfect conditions for a buffer between Europe and Russia.
    That US weapons may be being used by neo-nazi factions is not a problem for the US, but it could be for whoever is left standing whenever this war is declared “over.”
    Sabre-rattling by our “leaders” in D.C. while continually adding to the Pentagon’s coffers merely highlights their incompetence in dealing with anything beyond local party politics: like an inexperienced poker player, they’re talking loud, drawing a crowd, and shoving more and more chips into the pot in hopes of buying the hand before someone calls. It’s a sucker’s idea of being bold and adventurous.
    A last thought: I recently read an article which asked, “What happens if Russia can’t fulfill its obligations to foreign lenders?”
    Again, that’s not the US’s problem. But what happens if, when Congress & the Pentagon finally turn their attention to China, China decides to cash in on the markers it holds on the US’s debt? The trade deficit alone is over $300 billion this year.
    It’s long been held that the Chinese plan and think in terms of decades down the road, while the US & other Western nations think in terms of election cycles. You can’t bluff someone like that.

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    1. Some very good observations and questions. But just choosing one at random: “What happens if Russia can’t fulfill its obligations to foreign lenders? That’s not the US’s problem.”

      As legal analyst Alexander Mercouris (based in London) has reported: Russia has responded that by illegally seizing Russia’s (and Venezuela’s and Iran’s) foreign reserves (especially gold) those banks participating in the brazen theft have failed to fulfill their obligations to depositors: a very big legal and economic problem for US and European banks whose burgeoning reputation for theft of assets increasingly results in potential depositors conducting their business by other means that do not involve criminal US and European “banks.”

      The virtue-signalling binge feels oh-so-exhilarating at the party the night before. But come the morning after, waking up in a strange city, with a splitting hangover, in bed with some unknown person of rather disreputable appearance …

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  4. Welcome, young ladies and gentle persons (of whatever persuasion) to your introductory course in Semantics/Semiotics 101 where your thesis project for the coming semester will require you to deconstruct for analysis the following paragraph consisting of six sentences taken from an article in The New York Times, a publication famed for its meticulous and scrupulous search for, and dissemination of, “All the news that’s fit to print.” Now, you may proceed with your assignment. Good luck.”

    Overall,
    the Russian
    invasion
    of Ukraine
    isn’t going well
    for Russia.

    If reports are correct,
    the Russian military
    hasn’t distinguished itself.

    Poor logistics,
    bad intelligence,
    lack of effective air support,
    and an increasing reliance
    on brute strength
    appear to be
    features of this campaign.

    Meanwhile,
    Russia
    is suffering
    from debilitating economic sanctions
    imposed by the West.

    In sum,
    Russia is weaker
    today
    than it was three weeks ago
    before
    the invasion.

    So why is Pentagon spending set to soar in the coming fiscal years?

    Like

    1. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. Those opening sentences are mine. The NYT article begins after the headline, “War in Ukraine …”

      So, please have it and tell me why my opening is totally wrong.

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      1. OK, Bill. Happy to oblige. And I apologize for not including for analysis the title of your essay, before we even get to your opening paragraph, much less the typically bogus New York Times piece. So, let us begin at the top:

        As Russia Weakens,
        Why Is Pentagon Spending Set to Soar?

        This reminds me of graduate school where my thesis advisor required me to purchase, read, and digest a little book by Professor T. Edward Damer entitled “Attacking Faulty Reasoning: a Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments” (Wadsworth (U.S./U.K.: Wadsworth, 2001). I keep it handy for frequent reference.

        So, as concerns your title, we have (1) the fallacy of Improper Accent and (2) the fallacy of Causal Oversimplification. I could list others, but to keep things brief, I’ll stick with these:

        (1) This fallacy consists in directing an opponent [or reader] toward an unwarranted conclusion by placing improper or unusual emphasis on a word, phrase, or particular aspect of an issue or claim.

        (2) This fallacy consists in oversimplifying the relevant causal antecedents of an event by specifying causal factors that are insufficient to account for the event in question or by overemphasizing the role of one or more of those factors.

        The title of your essay first alleges “Russian weakening” — a separately disputed argument in itself — and then implies that Pentagon Spending somehow results from this “weakening” (i.e., militarily securing an area the size of the United Kingdom in less than two weeks). But you know as well as anybody that the vast money laundering scam deceptively advertised as “national defense” results solely from America’s own political/bureaucratic inertia, specifically, (a) Parkinson’s Law and (b) The Peter Principle. As you know, (a) states that “The work will expand to consume the time allotted for its completion,” and (b) states that “in any hierarchy, people tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” Russia has its own bureaucracy to deal with, but nothing about Russia — other than its scary propaganda value as Count Dracula And His Legion of Vampires — has any relevance to Pentagon Spending.

        So, why bring Russia into any of this? That introduces a whole raft of “irrelevance” fallacies which I do not want to get into right now. But I think I have established the rational basis for my dissertation on dialectics. So, please allow me to suggest a less fallacious alternative title for your essay:

        Ruinous Pentagon Spending has Nothing to do with Russia.
        Why not examine its truly American political/bureaucratic causes?

        I’ll return to an analysis of your opening paragraph, if you insist, but I think you can see where that would lead.

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        1. Go for it, Mike. I appreciate sound critique. Your alternative title is OK with me; indeed it’s what I’m arguing.

          The premise of my article is straightforward: As the war drags on in Ukraine, Russia will weaken, especially as “sanctions” bite deeper. If you accept my point that this war is making, or will make, Russia weaker, then a related question begs to be asked: How can a weaker Russia pose more of a military threat, as America’s Congress and related “leaders” suggest in the NYT article? The conclusion I want the reader to draw is that “Ruinous Pentagon Spending has nothing to do with Russia.” That it is indeed driven by greed-war, by political/economic/corporate/imperial agendas, as critiqued by Ike in 1961.

          I’m not the one linking the Russia/Ukraine war to higher U.S. military spending: it’s Congress and the NYT which is doing it. I’m attempting to critique that view; not just critique it, but to point out its absurdity, its total lack of logic.

          There is no reason Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should drive higher Pentagon spending. None. Indeed, as I’ve implied here, it should lead to lower spending, if Congress was being honest with us.

          Now, I realize your view of Russia’s success in this war, the cleverness of Putin’s moves, their necessity and morality, is different from mine, and I look forward to hearing more from you on these issues.

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  5. That, Colonel, qualifies as the DFQ [Damn Fine Question] of The Day.

    As i noted in my earlier piece linking Orwell’s 1984 to this whole situation: “The short, bottom-line, bullet-hits-the bone answer is that it [war in Ukraine] is a very convenient distraction for Putin, Xi, and Biden [ie, his owners, operators, and script writers, America’s Ruling Elite] as they each attempt to deal with very serious economic, social, and infrastructural problems within their own kingdoms.”

    But beyond that, it is important to remember that the only way the United States got out of The Great Depression was by getting into World War II. The New Deal was an all-but total failure, and it was only first Lend-Lease, and then Pearl Harbor that enabled America’s economy to return to some semblance of normal functionality.

    As the economic, financial, and information war against Russia escalates, it is already having negative effects throughout the world ~ including in the US ~ that promise only to get worse. So maybe the folks up on The Hill [or rather, their owners and operators] are anticipating a Greater [even The Greatest] Depression, and are marshaling assets for when the time comes to have another Rescue War. Looking at the current Inflation Rate, do the words “Wiemar” and “hyperinflation” ring a bell? And we all remember who and what that all led to.

    But i have to ask You a couple of questions based on Your annotations to the NYT piece:

    1. You wrote: “How interesting. I thought ‘American power’ was about ‘defense.’ Why does this have to be ‘reimagined”?

    When and where, in Your lifetime Colonel, has American power EVER been about “defense”?

    2. “No, the invasion hasn’t ‘fundamentally altered’ America’s ‘defense posture.’ If anything, a weakening Russia means we can spend less money on defense, not more.”

    Wouldn’t a weakening Russia mean only one thing in our Orwellian tri-polar world: a strengthening China?

    3. “Why are more weapons and more wars always the answer to a ‘changed security landscape’? What is the sense of ‘vast increases’?”

    Haven’t vast increases in money for more weapons and more wars always been the answer to that, and to a number of other situations? And not just here and in the 20th and 21st centuries, but since the beginning of recorded history?

    4. “$10 billion in ’emergency funds’ is now more than $13 billion for Ukraine. How come America’s poor and neediest can’t get that level of aid, and that quickly?

    Heh. Sorry Colonel; but doesn’t that qualify as another sort of DFQ: a Dumb F**k Question? How much money do the poor and needy contribute to the folks in Swampland?

    5.”…assuming this war doesn’t spiral out of control because of ill-judged and incendiary responses by the U.S.”

    Is the problem just the US’s responses to the invasion? What about what the U.S. did and has done in Ukraine leading up to and since our produced and directed coup in 2014? What about the promise made back after the demise of the USSR that NATO would not extend eastward into the former Warsaw Pact nations? This whole Charley Foxtrot didn’t start last year when Putin started rattling his swords, but has been in the makings for quite some time.

    And coming as it does just as the Pandemic is starting to run down as a total existential threat, it couldn’t have happened at a better time for America’s and Europe’s ruling political elite.

    It’s almost like somebody planned on giving Russia their very own Vietnam again, along with the one we gave them in Afghanistan back in the 80s. Of course, we ended up getting our very own 20-year version of Russia’s Afghanistan. But what the hell? It is important to remember that at least 90% of the $2.7 trillion spent on America’s “Forever War” went into the pockets of workers, managers, executives, and shareholders of our M-I-C.

    All those folks are looking for is a continuation of the same gravy train. Which they got.

    Thanks for a Great article, Colonel. It needs to be scotch-taped to the door of every Senator and Representative in DC. Have a good one. ~ jeff

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As an LTC, and Air Force at that, DFQs are truly my MOS (or, AFSC, since the AF must be different from the Army).

      If Russia invades Georgia (i.e., not in the U.S.), maybe next year’s Pentagon budget can top $900 billion, because, you know, Putin.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If we throw in the budget for our Surveillance-Secrecy-Security-Safety Panopticon and our Fatherland ~ correction, Homeland ~ Security forces, we are already well past $1 trillion a year for “national defense and security.”

        And that does not include the militarization of America’s local, state, and federal law and regulatory enforcement agencies; transforming them into our very own Praetorian Guard,

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Critics have never managed to shake the unspoken public belief that large‐scale, profligate military spending is a cornerstone of American prosperity.

      “The Permanent War Economy. American Capitalism in Decline” By Seymour Melman. 384 pp. New York: Simon and Schuster. Was published in 1975 – nearly 50-years ago! Nobody listened.

      The great virtue of Seymour Melman’s book is that it addressed this belief directly and attempted to prove the contrary: that military expenditures are destroying the very economy they were supposed to prop up. It all fell on deaf ears.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True, that.

        Instead, we Americans congratulate ourselves on having the world’s most powerful military even as we celebrate our commitment to democracy and freedom. Not only do we see no contradiction here; we don’t even feel even a hint of tension.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. We “Americans” — meaning, our Oligarchic rulers meeting yearly in Davos, Switzerland — have the worlds most expensive military, which in no way translates to “best,” as in capable of successfully defending the nation and its constitution through organized violence. My fellow Vietnam veteran and expatriate curmudgeon, Fred Reed, calls this inept and bloated military monstrosity our ours “costume jewelry.” Certainly “powerful” when it comes to wanton destruction of foreign lives and property, but still a cheap imitation of the genuine thing, as unfolding events since 1945 clearly demonstrate for those who wish to see.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Yes, precisely my point. Having “global reach and global power” and spending a trillion dollars or more each year to achieve it is not my definition of “best.” It’s my definition of vainglory and folly, of ego and immaturity, of corruption and decay.

          The U.S. should have a military to support and defend the Constitution. Full stop. But we’ve allowed war to become a racket and the military to become the gangsters of capitalism, as General Smedley Butler wrote in the 1930s.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Has the US ever had a military who mission was to support and defend the Constitution? Is that what the Mexican-American War of 1848 was all about? How about the First American Civil War in the 1860s?

            And General Butler’s WAR IS A RACKET should be required reading before anybody is allowed to:

            1. Run for any federal office.
            2. Vote in any federal election.
            3. Join the American military.

            i know that if i had read it before going off to Vietnam, i would not have gone off. How about You Colonel?

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to go to Vietnam.

            To be honest, I was interested in the military and the AF and wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. I got an AFROTC scholarship, which enabled me to afford college and graduate without debt. I figured I’d serve for four years and leave. But somehow four years became twenty, which is a story for another day.

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        3. And what’s really interesting is that this same military ~ which has a bigger budget than the next nine nations combined ~ has a 77-year losing streak when it comes to waging war. Unless one counts Grenada, Panama, and Kuwait as “wars.”

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  6. That he does, indeed. Thank You for sharing.

    The newscaster’s comments on the Failure Of Trust in the government and its media because of all the Lies nails it, as well.

    They lied to us about the Maine. They lied to us about the Lusitania. They lied to us about Pearl Harbor. They lied to us about Tonkin Gulf. They lied to us about “Incubator babies” in Kuwait. They lied to us about Saddam’s WMDs.

    Two questions come immediately to mind:

    1. What lies did they tell us about 9/11?
    2. What lies are they telling us now about Ukraine, Russia, and China?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “,,,,Already, there are signs policymakers are pushing greater reliance on nuclear weapons. On Tuesday, Adm. Chas Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the military side of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about Russian and Chinese nuclear forces.

    “We do not know the endpoints of where either of those other two are going, either in capability or capacity,” he said. But he took the opportunity to endorse a controversial update of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cost $82 billion.

    Immediately following Richard’s testimony, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., an outspoken supporter of the W76-2, tweeted: “The time has come to look at what additional nuclear capabilities we need before China and Russia leave us behind.”….”

    https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/what-russias-nuclear-escalation-means-for-washington-state-home-to-the-globes-third-largest-atomic-arsenal/

    Like

  8. THE NATIONS ARE ANGRY……
    Russia is angry. The US is angry. Ukraine is angry. The 30 NATO Nations are angry. China is angry, The People are angry, and hatred is on the increase.

    Banning Russian dogs and cat from pet shows, and cancelling a scheduled pre-war recital of Tchaikovsky is reaching absurd levels

    THE NATIONS ARE ANGRY……

    Like

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