President Obama’s decision to increase military spending this year and in the future will result in the greatest administrative military spending since World War II. This decision is being made in spite of continued evidence of extreme waste, fraud, abuse, and corporate welfare in the military budget. At the same time, spending on “non-security” domestic programs such as education, nutrition, energy, and transportation will be frozen, resulting in inflationary cuts to essential services for the US public over the upcoming years.
While these domestic programs constitute only 17 percent of the total federal spending, they will sustain all of the proposed cuts. Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project, states, “[Obama’s] proposal caps non-security spending at $447 billion for each of the next three fiscal years. During that time, inflation will erode the purchasing power of that total; requiring cuts in services in each successive year.” The consequences of cutting domestic spending will result in a further increase in the gap between the rich and the poor.
In contrast, military spending is roughly 55 percent of the discretionary spending in the current fiscal year, and will increase even more next year. According to the Office of Management and Budget’s projections, the military budget will increase an additional $522 billion over the next decade. Tom Engelhardt points out, “Here’s an American reality: the Pentagon is our true welfare state, the weapons makers are our real ‘welfare queens,’ and we never stop shoveling money their way.”
There is widespread and continuous waste, fraud, and abuse by the Pentagon and by military contractors resulting in welfare for the rich. William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel with the US Air Force, concludes, “When it comes to our nation’s military affairs, ignorance is not bliss. What’s remarkable then, given the permanent state of war in which we find ourselves, is how many Americans seem content not to know.”
The public never hears about war spending in the corporate media and how much everything actually costs. Several examples highlight the extent of abuse.
A single future weapons system is now estimated to cost the American taxpayer almost one-third of what the Obama administration’s health care plan is expected to cost over a decade. Originally expected to cost $50 million, the estimated cost today just for one F-35 plane is $113 million. The marines, the air force, and the navy are planning to buy a combined 2,450 of F-35s, which would cost more than $323 billion.
A recent hearing of the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan addressed a 111-page report on its “initial investigations of the nation’s heavy reliance on contractors.” According to a release on the hearing, “More than 240,000 contractor employees, about 80 percent of them foreign nationals, are working in Iraq and Afghanistan to support operations and projects of the US military, the Department of State, and the US Agency for International Development. Contractor employees outnumber US troops in the region. While contractors provide vital services, the Commission believes their use has also entailed billions of dollars lost to waste, fraud, and abuse due to inadequate planning, poor contract drafting, limited competition, understaffed oversight functions, and other problems.” Jeremy Scahill notes that while the wartime commission is charged with revealing the scope of corruption, it includes members who are either pro-war or have worked for major war contractors.
According to Kathy Kelly, author of Tough Minds, Tender Hearts, “The US government devotes massive resources and much sophistication to killing in Afghanistan. Would that it would spend a little to realize that its policies are creating anger. . . . It costs about $1 million a year for a US soldier—boots on the ground—in Afghanistan. Imagine what good that money could do if spent to help the Afghan people. A governor in Afghanistan makes about $1,000 a year.”
President Obama is continuing the process of reinflating the Pentagon that began in late 1998—fully three years before the 9/11 attacks. The rise in national defense spending since 1998 is as large as the Kennedy-Johnson surge (43 percent) and the Reagan increases (57 percent) put together. The Department of Defense has been given about $7.2 trillion since 1998, which is when the post–cold war decline in defense spending ended. Current spending is above the peak years of the Vietnam War era and the Reagan years, and the Pentagon plans to remain there at this point. The radical increase in military spending now, compared to the cold war and World War II, is justified by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, even if today’s wars are taken out of the picture, there has still been a 54 percent increase since 1998.
Last year innumerable public hearings were held on health care reform. Constant news and debate by the public, corporations, the media, and Congress continued for months. The health care program, in ten years, will cost the American people as much as defense and homeland security cost in a single year. Yet runaway defense budgets get passed each year without a single “town hall” meeting, next to no media coverage, and virtually no debate in Congress.
The taxpayer, forced to pay about one trillion dollars yearly to fund the military, national security infrastructure, and wars, remains ignorant of the real costs. Reasons for the lack of public knowledge about military spending include: lack of corporate media coverage altogether; media employing retired military officers as “experts,” thus presenting only one side; inculcated civilian deference toward military leaders (leave it to the experts in uniform); and secrecy and “black budgets” obscuring military spending. Among the questions William J. Astore poses about the US military, a key one is: why is the military immune from the painful budgetary belt tightening faced by the rest of America?
Astore concludes, “It’s true that the world is a dangerous place. The problem is that the Pentagon is part of that danger. Our military has grown so strong and so dominates our government, including its foreign policy and even aspects of our culture, that there’s no effective counterweight to its closeted, conflict-centered style of thinking.” This dominance is costing the US public enormous sums of money, is a major contributor to the economic crisis, and will continue to erode desperately needed public support programs now and in the future.
Tom Engelhardt, “Weapons Makers as ‘Welfare Queens,’” TomDispatch, March 18, 2010, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/03/19.
William J. Astore, “The Pentagon Church Militant and Us: The Top Five Questions We Should Ask the Pentagon,” TomDispatch, March 18, 2010, http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175219/tomgram%3A_william_astore,_you_have_no_say_about_your_military.
Sam Husseini and David Zupan, “Obama: Cut Domestic, Increase Military,” Institute of Public Accuracy, January 26, 2010, http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2010/01/26-14.
Carl Conetta, “The Pentagon’s Runaway Budget,” Antiwar.com, March 3, 2010, http://original.antiwar.com/carl-conetta/2010/03/03/the-pentagons-runaway-budget.
Jeremy Scahill, “US War Privatization Results in Billions Lost in Fraud, Waste and Abuse,” RebelReports, June 10, 2009, http://rebelreports.com/post/121172812/u-s-war-privatization-results-in-billions-lost-in.