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Underfunded Pentagon? Not If You Look At The Real Budget

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch.

In its latest budget request, the Trump administration is asking for a near-record $750 billion for the Pentagon and related defense activities, an astonishing figure by any measure. If passed by Congress, it will, in fact, be one of the largest military budgets in American history, topping peak levels reached during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. And keep one thing in mind: that $750 billion represents only part of the actual annual cost of our national security state.

There are at least 10 separate pots of money dedicated to fighting wars, preparing for yet more wars, and dealing with the consequences of wars already fought. So the next time a president, a general, a secretary of defense, or a hawkish member of Congress insists that the U.S. military is woefully underfunded, think twice. A careful look at U.S. defense expenditures offers a healthy corrective to such wildly inaccurate claims.

Now, let’s take a brief dollar-by-dollar tour of the U.S. national security state of 2019, tallying the sums up as we go, and see just where we finally land (or perhaps the word should be “soar”), financially speaking.

The Pentagon’s “Base” Budget: The Pentagon’s regular, or “base,” budget is slated to be $544.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2020, a healthy sum but only a modest down payment on total military spending.

As you might imagine, that base budget provides basic operating funds for the Department of Defense, much of which will actually be squandered on preparations for ongoing wars never authorized by Congress, overpriced weapons systems that aren’t actually needed, or outright waste, an expansive category that includes everything from cost overruns to unnecessary bureaucracy. That $544.5 billion is the amount publicly reported by the Pentagon for its essential expenses and includes as well $9.6 billion in mandatory spending that goes toward items like military retirement.

Among those basic expenses, let’s start with waste, a category even the biggest boosters of Pentagon spending can’t defend. The Pentagon’s own Defense Business Board found that cutting unnecessary overhead, including a bloated bureaucracy and a startlingly large shadow workforce of private contractors, would save $125 billion over five years. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that the board’s proposal has done little to quiet calls for more money. Instead, from the highest reaches of the Pentagon (and the president himself) came a proposal to create a Space Force, a sixth military service that’s all but guaranteed to further bloat its bureaucracy and duplicate work already being done by the other services. Even Pentagon planners estimate that the future Space Force will cost $13 billion over the next five years (and that’s undoubtedly a low-ball figure).

In addition, the Defense Department employs an army of private contractors — more than 600,000 of them — many doing jobs that could be done far more cheaply by civilian government employees. Cutting the private contractor work force by 15 percent to a mere half-million people would promptly save more than $20 billion per year. And don’t forget the cost overruns on major weapons programs like the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent — the Pentagon’s unwieldy name for the Air Force’s new intercontinental ballistic missile — and routine overpayments for even minor spare parts (like $8,000  for helicopter gear worth less than $500, a markup of more than 1,500 percent).

Then there are the overpriced weapons systems the military can’t even afford to operate like the $13-billion aircraft carrier, 200 nuclear bombers at $564 million a pop, and the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive weapons system in history, at a price tag of at least $1.4 trillion over the lifetime of the program. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has found — and the Government Accountability Office recently substantiated — that, despite years of work and staggering costs, the F-35 may never perform as advertised.

And don’t forget the Pentagon’s recent push for long-range strike weapons and new reconnaissance systems designed for future wars with a nuclear-armed Russia or China, the kind of conflicts that could easily escalate into World War III, where such weaponry would be beside the point. Imagine if any of that money were devoted to figuring out how to prevent such conflicts, rather than hatching yet more schemes for how to fight them.

Base Budget total: $554.1 billion

The War Budget: As if its regular budget weren’t enough, the Pentagon also maintains its very own slush fund, formally known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO. In theory, the fund is meant to pay for the war on terror — that is, the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere across the Middle East and Africa. In practice, it does that and so much more.

After a fight over shutting down the government led to the formation of a bipartisan commission on deficit reduction — known as Simpson-Bowles after its co-chairs, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson — Congress passed the Budget Control Actof 2011. It officially put caps on both military and domestic spending that were supposed to save a total of $2 trillion over 10 years. Half of that figure was to come from the Pentagon, as well as from nuclear weapons spending at the Department of Energy. As it happened, though, there was a huge loophole: that war budget was exempt from the caps. The Pentagon promptly began to put tens of billions of dollars into it for pet projects that had nothing whatsoever to do with current wars (and the process has never stopped). The level of abuse of this fund remained largely secret for years, with the Pentagon admitting only in 2016 that just half of the money in the OCO went to actual wars, prompting critics and numerous members of Congress — including then-Congressman Mick Mulvaney, now President Trump’s latest chief of staff — to dub it a “slush fund.”

This year’s budget proposal supersizes the slush in that fund to a figure that would likely be considered absurd if it weren’t part of the Pentagon budget. Of the nearly $174 billion proposed for the war budget and “emergency” funding, only a little more than $25 billion is meant to directly pay for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The rest will be set aside for what’s termed “enduring” activities that would continue even if those wars ended, or to pay for routine Pentagon activities that couldn’t be funded within the constraints of the budget caps. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is expected to work to alter this arrangement. Even if the House leadership were to have its way, however, most of its reductions in the war budget would be offset by lifting caps on the regular Pentagon budget by corresponding amounts. (It’s worth noting that President Trump’s budget calls for someday eliminating the slush fund.)

The 2020 OCO also includes $9.2 billion in “emergency” spending for building Trump’s beloved wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, among other things. Talk about a slush fund! There is no emergency, of course. The executive branch is just seizing taxpayer dollars that Congress refused to provide. Even supporters of the president’s wall should be troubled by this money grab. As 36 former Republican members of Congress recently argued, “What powers are ceded to a president whose policies you support may also be used by presidents whose policies you abhor.” Of all of Trump’s “security”-related proposals, this is undoubtedly the most likely to be eliminated, or at least scaled back, given the congressional Democrats are against it.

War Budget total: $173.8 billion

Running tally: $727.9 billion

The Department of Energy/Nuclear Budget: It may surprise you to know that work on the deadliest weapons in the U.S. arsenal, nuclear warheads, ishoused in the Department of Energy (DOE), not the Pentagon. The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration runs a nationwide research, development, and production network for nuclear warheads and naval nuclear reactors that stretches from Livermore, California, to Albuquerque and Los Alamos, New Mexico, to Kansas City, Missouri, to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to Savannah River, South Carolina. Its laboratories also have a long history of program mismanagement, with some projects coming in at nearly eight times the initial estimates.

Nuclear Budget total: $24.8 billion

Running tally: $752.7 billion

“Defense Related Activities”: This category covers the $9 billion that annually goes to agencies other than the Pentagon, the bulk of it to the FBI for homeland security-related activities.

Defense Related Activities total: $9 billion

Running tally: $761.7 billion

The five categories outlined above make up the budget of what’s officially known as “national defense.” Under the Budget Control Act, this spending should have been capped at $630 billion. The $761.7 billion proposed for the 2020 budget is, however, only the beginning of the story.

The Veterans Affairs Budget: The wars of this century have created a new generation of veterans. In all, over 2.7 million U.S. military personnel have cycled through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Many of them remain in need of substantial support to deal with the physical and mental wounds of war. As a result, the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs has gone through the roof, more than tripling in this century to a proposed $216 billion. And this massive figure may not even prove enough to provide the necessary services.

More than 6,900 U.S. military personnel have died in Washington’s post-9/11 wars, with more than 30,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. These casualties are, however, just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of thousands of returning troops suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), illnesses created by exposure to toxic burn pits, or traumatic brain injuries. The U.S. government is committed to providing care for these veterans for the rest of their lives. An analysis by the Costs of War Project at Brown University has determined that obligations to veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars alone will total more than $1 trillion in the years to come. This cost of war is rarely considered when leaders in Washington decide to send U.S. troops into combat.

Veterans Affairs total: $216 billion

Running tally: $977.7 billion

The Homeland Security Budget: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a mega-agency created after the 9/11 attacks. At the time, it swallowed 22 then-existing government organizations, creating a massive department that currently has nearly a quarter of a million employees. Agencies that are now part of DHS include the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Secret Service, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

While some of DHS’s activities — such as airport security and defense against the smuggling of a nuclear weapon or “dirty bomb” into our midst — have a clear security rationale, many others do not. ICE — America’s deportation force — has done far more to cause suffering among innocent people than to thwart criminals or terrorists. Other questionable DHS activities include grants to local law enforcement agencies to help them buy military-gradeequipment.

Homeland Security total: $69.2 billion

Running tally: $1.0469 trillion

The International Affairs Budget: This includes the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Diplomacy is one of the most effective ways to make the United States and the world more secure, but it has been under assault in the Trump years. The Fiscal Year 2020 budget calls for a one-third cut in international affairs spending, leaving it at about one-fifteenth of the amount allocated for the Pentagon and related agencies grouped under the category of “national defense.” And that doesn’t even account for the fact that more than 10% of the international affairs budget supports military aid efforts, most notably the $5.4 billion Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. The bulk of FMF goes to Israel and Egypt, but in all over a dozen countries receive funding under it, including Jordan, Lebanon, Djibouti, Tunisia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

International Affairs total: $51 billion

Running tally: $1.0979 trillion     

The Intelligence Budget: The United States has 17 separate intelligence agencies. In addition to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the FBI, mentioned above, they are the CIA; the National Security Agency; the Defense Intelligence Agency; the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of National Security Intelligence; the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis; the Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; the National Reconnaissance Office; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command; the Office of Naval Intelligence; Marine Corps Intelligence; and Coast Guard Intelligence. And then there’s that 17th one, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, set up to coordinate the activities of the other 16.

We know remarkably little about the nature of the nation’s intelligence spending, other than its supposed total, released in a report every year. By now, it’s more than $80 billion. The bulk of this funding, including for the CIA and NSA, is believed to be hidden under obscure line items in the Pentagon budget. Since intelligence spending is not a separate funding stream, it’s not counted in our tally below (though, for all we know, some of it should be).

Intelligence Budget total: $80 billion

Running tally (still): $1.0979 trillion

Defense Share of Interest on the National Debt: The interest on the national debt is well on its way to becoming one of the most expensive items in the federal budget. Within a decade, it is projected to exceed the Pentagon’s regular budget in size. For now, of the more than $500 billion in interest taxpayers fork over to service the government’s debt each year, about $156 billion can be attributed to Pentagon spending.

Defense Share of National Debt total: $156.3 billion

Final tally: $1.2542 trillion

So, our final annual tally for war, preparations for war, and the impact of war comes to more than $1.25 trillion — more than double the Pentagon’s base budget. If the average taxpayer were aware that this amount was being spent in the name of national defense — with much of it wasted, misguided, or simply counterproductive — it might be far harder for the national security state to consume ever-growing sums with minimal public pushback. For now, however, the gravy train is running full speed ahead and its main beneficiaries — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and their cohorts — are laughing all the way to the bank.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Mandy Smithberger, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight.

Copyright 2019 William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger

IMAGE: Aerial view of the United States military headquarters, the Pentagon, September 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

 

 

Trump’s Obscene War Machine

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

A month into his presidency, Donald Trump announced that he would increase U.S. military spending by $54 billion. To do this, Trump said that he would cut the exact amount from the non-military, namely social, programs. The announcement came at the National Governor’s Association, which is made up of state leaders who have to bear the brunt of the federal cuts.

Money for homelessness, poverty, starvation, and drug addiction will dry up, leaving state authorities with the paralytic duty of watching more and more of their residents wake up to the American nightmare. This is the old ‘guns vs. butter’ scenario taught to young students in elementary economics classes. If economics is a matter of choices over scare resources, and if budgets are a way to project your values, then Trump has made his views clear – guns matter more than butter.

The ‘guns vs. butter’ problem is not idle. The National Priorities Project looked at the $54 billion budgetary increase to the military and concluded that this increase itself is more than the discretionary budgets of the following U.S. federal government agencies:

  • Department of Homeland Security ($48 billion)
  • Housing and Urban Development ($38 billion)
  • Department of Energy ($30 billion)
  • Department of Justice ($29 billion)
  • Department of State ($29 billion)
  • Environmental Protection Agency ($8 billion)

It is truly stunning to see the amount of public resources spent on the U.S. armed forces as compared to what it spends on diplomacy and even on homeland security. Trump has said he would cut programs such as the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to fund the increase. The total outlay for these three agencies is $781 million. It is the cost of ten MV-22 Ospreys, one of which – at the cost of $75 million – had to be destroyed during Trump’s ill-fated Yemen raid this January.

The United States already leads the world in military spending. At around $600 billion per year, which is half the U.S. discretionary budget, the United States spends more than the combined military budgets of the next seven countries. That means if you add the total military spending for China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan, then you are still a few billion dollars short of the U.S. military budget. It is appropriate to mention that Trump’s increase in the military budget – by $54 billion – is itself eighty per cent of the total Russian military budget.

The scale of military spending is beyond obscene. Each Tomahawk Cruise Missile that the U.S. sends into Syria or Iraq costs $1.41 million. The cost of the U.S. bombing in Syria from August 2014 to January 2017 has been $11.4 billion – with an average daily cost of $12.7 million. More money has been spent bombing Iraq and Syria than is spent for environmental protection. No other country comes close in terms of expenditure on the military, in terms of the hardware available to the military and in terms of the global reach of the military as a result of aircraft carriers and overseas bases. There is no question that the United States military is the most destructive force on the earth.

We Never Win a War

But of course having the most deadly military does not mean that you can win wars. Wistfully Trump told the governors that in his youth the United States used to win wars.

“When I was young, in high school and in college, everybody used to say we never lost a war. America never lost,” whispered Trump. “Now,” he said mournfully, “we never win a war.”

Trump’s sense of history is very poor. But it is of a piece with his general ideology – to Make America Great Again. It was once great. It is no longer great. But was America really able to once win wars?

Born in 1946, Trump was in high school when the war on the Korean peninsula went into a stalemate. The United States did not win that war. The armistice of 1953 merely divided the country. There is still no final peace settlement. In fact, the war is technically ongoing. There are 83 American bases in South Korea, and the bill for these installations is over $1 billion per year (South Korea pays an additional $867 million, about forty per cent of the cost).

When Trump was in college, the United States entered Vietnam, where it would leave in ignominy in 1975. No real wars have been won by the United States in Trump’s lifetime. Even World War II was not won solely by the United States. The Soviet Union’s immense sacrifices on the eastern front and the colonial troops valiant battle across North Africa, South-East Asia, and Europe should not be underestimated. The ‘Greatest Generation’ is not only American. That is a grotesquely narrow view of World War II. Trump is right, however, that the United States does not win wars – neither in Afghanistan nor in Iraq.

Trump believes that the United States has not won the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq because of a lack of funding for the military and because of too many human rights restrictions on the nature of combat. But perhaps the American problem in combat has got nothing to do with money or rules – for, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. far outspent its opposition and it did not follow international norms of war or its own Army Code of Conduct. Massive aerial superiority combined with regimes of torture and night-raids did not win any of these wars.

What Trump does not acknowledge is that wars are not won by firepower and brutality alone, but they are won by being able to make a moral claim against an adversary. Thus far, the United States has fought wars of conquest and occupation – where the moral superiority of the occupier is impossible to establish. It was so hard that in 2002 even a U.S. marine told me that he sympathized with the Afghans – “if someone invades my city,” he said, “I’d take up arms and fight a guerrilla war.” The illegitimacy of the wars is not something that occurs to people like Trump. You will win battles with better weaponry, but you won’t win wars that way. Wars are won on the moral plane, not on the battlefield.

As the U.N. resolution on decolonization noted in 1960, “The process of liberation is irresistible and irreversible.” You can have the best guns, but you can’t destroy the human longing for freedom.

Strikingly, it does not occur to the liberals either. During his speech to Congress, Trump singled out Carryn Owens, the widow of U.S. Navy Special Operator Ryan Owens, who died in Trump’s Yemen raid in the village of Yakla. After the speech, Van Jones, CNN analyst and a former Special Advisor to Barack Obama, said, “That was one of the most extraordinary moments in American politics. Period.” There was no room for Jones to mention the illegitimacy of the US role in Yemen. The U.S. provides arms to the Saudis who are bombing one side of the conflict in Yemen. The Saudis are also effectively using al-Qaeda fighters in parts of Yemen as their ground forces. At the same time as the US is indirectly supporting al-Qaeda via Saudi Arabia, it conducts a raid into a village in late January and massacres dozens of civilians (for more context, see my column from February 8).

Yemen’s foreign minister – Abdul Malik al-Mekhlafi – of the Saudi (and U.S.) backed Yemeni government condemned the U.S. attack on Yakla as “extrajudicial killings.” There was no mention by establishment liberals such as Van Jones of the illegal nature of the raid. Nor did he demand a “Benghazi-scale” investigation of the Yakla raid. Nor did he condemn the way Trump used the death of Ryan Owen to bolster his desire to increase military spending. None of that was on offer. Establishment liberals are as complicit as the Trump administration in such atrocities as the killing of civilians and the inhumane expenditure on military hardware rather than social goods.

The “military industrial complex” has metastasized into each section of the U.S. government, into each Congressional district. It is like Stage 4 cancer – rigid to the bones of American institutions. The obscenity of it cannot be questioned because of the fog of patriotism. To be a patriot is measured not based on your commitment to end hunger and illiteracy amongst your people. Rather it is measured based on your commitment to give your people a gun in their hands and to make sure your military is funded beyond imagination. Countries are hollowed out by such poor distribution of their resources and by imperial wars that can never be won.

Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

IMAGE: Georgian servicemen attend an opening ceremony of U.S. led joint military exercise “Noble Partner 2016” in Vaziani, Georgia, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Billions And Counting: Mounting Cost Of U.S. War On IS Militants

Washington (AFP) – The widening U.S. air war against Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq will cost more than the 2011 Libya conflict and the price could rise to a billion dollars a month, experts said Thursday.

The Pentagon estimated in August the operation in Iraq could cost an average of about $7.5 million a day, but even U.S. defense officials acknowledge that estimate is low and came before President Barack Obama ordered a broader campaign extending into Syria.

Taking into account the larger-scale air operations over Syria, the wear and tear on hi-tech hardware and the cost of even a small troop contingent in Iraq and the region, some budget analysts and former officials say the war’s annual cost could rise to more than $10 billion.

“I think you’re talking double-digit billions, not single-digit billions,” Jim Haslik, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told AFP.

On the first night of air strikes against the IS group in Syria this week, the United States launched 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles from ships at sea and deployed sophisticated F-22 Raptor fighter jets.

Each missile costs about $1.5 million and the F-22 jets cost roughly $68,000 an hour to fly.

The rising costs, however, pale in comparison to the massive funding required to cover the drawn-out counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.

“It’s still small relative to Afghanistan,” said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The bill for the war in Afghanistan comes to a billion dollars a week. The 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent occupation through 2011 cost more than a trillion dollars, according to some estimates.

Even with Obama’s vow not to send ground troops into combat, 1,600 soldiers are now in Iraq guarding U.S. diplomats, coordinating air raids and advising Iraqi forces.

Most analysts and former commanders expect that number to creep up as the war continues, adding more costs.

And the White House has stressed that the mission to smash the Islamic State group will likely take months, if not longer.

“It’s too soon to say what we will be able to accomplish, and how quickly we might be able to accomplish it,” said Harrison.

In the NATO air campaign in Libya in 2011, the U.S. share of the roughly seven-month operation came to about $1 billion.

But after the first few days, the United States pulled back from conducting air strikes and instead provided support to NATO allies with refueling tankers and surveillance aircraft.

Unlike in Libya, the United States appears poised to play a dominant role this time, even with Arab coalition partners taking part in the bombing raids.

“The back of my envelope says this will cost between $15 and $20 billion on an annual basis or between $1.25 and $1.75 billion a month,” said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University and former budget official during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Adams cites the Libya operation as a yardstick, and the billions of dollars that were spent on U.S. air patrols to enforce no-fly zones in Iraq in the 1990s.

Although fighter jets are expensive to operate and precision-guided munitions are not cheap to replace, the biggest drain on the budget comes from the large number of surveillance flights required to support the bombing runs, according to Harrison.

“You’re talking a pretty large area that we’re trying to keep watch over. That could require a lot of ISR missions on a continuing basis,” he said, referring to intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance.

The Pentagon says it is running 60 surveillance flights a day in Iraq, for an operation that the White House has warned could last three years.

Funds for the air campaign are expected to come out of the Pentagon’s catchall war budget, the Overseas Contingency Operations fund.

Separate from the regular defense “base” budget, the OCO fund is often portrayed as a “credit card” to cover the costs of wars.

Congress increased the fund to about $85 billion for the current fiscal year ending this month. But the Pentagon — anticipating the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan — is planning a big drop in the OCO budget for fiscal year 2015, to about $54 billion.

As long as troop numbers remain low though, some experts say the cost of the war may not make a significant dent in the Pentagon’s budget plans.

“Until there are major ground forces involved, at least 10,000, I don’t think this is going to be pricey,” said a former Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

©afp.com / Senior Airman Matthew Bruch