Putting War Waste on the Chopping Block

By David Swanson

In the ordinary course of things in Washington, D.C., and on television, there are two separate conversations. In one conversation, everything that the government spends money on (schools, transportation, police, etc.) must be trimmed back to save money. In the other conversation, the expenses of wars and the military must be unquestioned. After what he said this week on ABC, it will be interesting to see whether Congressman Barney Frank is permitted on television anymore. He combined the two conversations.

After a right-winger proposed more tax cuts to “stimulate” the economy and denounced any spending programs as not being “stimulus,” Frank pointed out that the largest spending program we’ve seen is the war on Iraq. Host George Stephanopoulos clearly felt the force of some galactic wind about to suck him into a different dimension in which the two conversations are permitted to overlap. He jumped in and said “That is a whole ‘nother show.” But Frank faced the taboo head-on, saying:

“No it isn’t. That’s the problem. The problem is that we look at spending and say oh don’t spend on highways, don’t spend on healthcare, but let’s build cold war weapons to defeat the Soviet Union when we don’t need them, let’s have hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars going to the military without a check. Unless everything is on the table then you’re going to have a disproportionate hit in some places.”

Late last year, Frank proposed cutting the military by 25 percent. When I spoke with his chief of staff, he told me that he thought 10 percent could come from ending the occupation of Iraq. So, Frank is apparently thinking of the military and war budgets as a whole and proposing to cut a quarter, with 15 percent coming out of the standard military budget. “If we are going to get the deficit under control without slashing every domestic program, this is a necessity,” Frank said. Now, I’ll be the first to point out that 25 percent is grotesquely insufficient, and that there is a perverse sort of unstated public apology here, in that Frank led the charge to throw $700 billion at Wall Street tycoons and has sat by as trillions more has flown out that golden door without any pretense of oversight. But when someone in power gets something right, our focus should be on moving it forward, not analyzing the purity of heart of a politician.

While it is shocking for anyone on television to admit that the military costs money, the public knows it. And when the public sees the military budget in detail, we scream “Slash it!” In a March 2005 report called “The Federal Budget: the Public’s Priorities,” the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) told people the basic distribution of funds in the federal budget and asked how they would rearrange the funding if they could. Americans from across the political spectrum, on average, said they would cut the military budget by 31 percent. That’s more than double Frank’s 15 percent. Congressman Dennis Kucinich has in the past proposed a 15 percent cut and been denounced as a radical. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey has long proposed a shift of resources away from the military but has never named a specific number at all.

We the people are, as usual, out ahead of our leaders. Sixty-five percent of Americans, when they saw how much money the military had, told PIPA they favored taking at least some of it away. Majorities favored reducing spending on the capacity for conducting large-scale nuclear and conventional wars. And second highest on the list of cuts after the “defense” budget was the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Majorities of ordinary people taking this survey were also able to do what Congress members and TV pundits have declared impossible, distinguish between wars and soldiers. They favored slashing money for wars and the military, while increasing funds for veterans and preserving funds for those on active duty.

The biggest increases in the PIPA survey went to education, job training, employment, and medical research. And the largest increase in percentage terms went to conserving and developing renewable energy: 70 percent of Americans favored an increase, which averaged 1,090 percent (yes, over a thousand percent).

But exactly how much money can we cut out of war waste and military misspending?

Well, for fiscal year 2009, we’re looking at $653 billion for the Pentagon, plus $162 billion in supplemental spending for Iraq and Afghanistan. A quarter of $815 billion is $203.75 billion. Anyone who couldn’t figure out where to cut $203.75 billion from the military and wars is probably a danger to themselves and others.

You could get $162 by ending two horribly damaging foreign occupations. You could get $73.7 billion just by ending the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the people who brought you mechanical killer elephants and telepathic warfare and who are now researching exploding frisbees, cyborg wasps, and Captain America no-meals and no-sleep soldiers. That’d be $235.7 billion right there. Imagine if you also shut down just a few of the 1,000 or so bases we’re imposing on other people’s countries building animosity around the globe. (A mammoth new base in Italy is being constructed right now despite fierce opposition from the Italian public: http://www.nodalmolin.it ) An upcoming conference in DC on closing foreign bases might have a chance of being heard if it lets Congress know that some $130 billion could be saved by an action that would improve U.S. foreign relations. Or what if we were to shut down “missile defense” or abandon all space weapons programs until, you know, there was a sane argument for them. President Obama has already backed a ban on space weapons. We could cut a couple of billion dollars by ending the new practice of basing U.S. troops on our own soil for “crowd control” through Northern Command. Ending torture will save money, but how much would ending illegal propaganda save? Let’s face it, Frank’s proposal is disgustingly and immorally conservative, but it’s a good start.

It’s safe to assume the $162 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan will actually be double that by the end of the year. There’s also about $150 billion in the military portions of departments other than “Defense.” And that’s not counting veterans’ benefits or the interest on debt for past military spending. The total tax dollars we devote to killing each year now is over a trillion and a half, which compares to some $1.2 trillion we devote to living, not counting trust funds like Social Security and not counting Paulson’s Plunder. In fact, what we spend on the military is now more than all other nations combined. We should be thinking in terms of cutting at the very least a quarter of the whole $1.5 trillion, or $375 billion. And that doesn’t include warrantless and other unjustified spying, which is ongoing, or detentions, renditions, prison camps, and torture not done by the military, which may be ending.

To believe Fox News, a senior U.S. “defense” official says that President Obama has asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to cut the military budget request for the Fiscal Year 2010 by 10 percent. That’s a start.

Back in November, the Defense Business Board, an internal management oversight body in the U.S. military stated in briefings that major systemic cuts were absolutely necessary. As the Boston Globe reported:

“The briefings do not specify which programs should be cut, but defense analysts say that prime targets would probably include the new F-35 fighter jet, a series of Navy ship programs, and a massive Army project to build a new generation of ground combat vehicles, all of which have been skyrocketing in cost and suffering long development delays.”

The Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction also pointed out in a report this week that over $50 billion has been spent on reconstruction without reconstructing much, and another $50 billion spent on other contractors in Iraq, with the primary item produced being new innovations in fraud, scams, rip-offs, and profiteering. This is not new to anyone who followed the work of Congressman Henry Waxman who chaired the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform during the last Congress, before he decided for partisan reasons that the upcoming two years would not require any oversight.

Fraud finds new paths during wars, but it is the chief product of Pentagon contracts unrelated to particular wars as well. Often, in fact, it’s devoted to preparation for wars that could never happen. This week Chalmers Johnson published an article called “The Looming Crisis at the Pentagon: How Taxpayers Finance Fantasy Wars,” in which he wrote:

“The Air Force and the Army are still planning as if, in the reasonably near future, they were going to fight an old-fashioned war of attrition against the Soviet Union, which disappeared in 1991; while the Navy, with its eleven large aircraft-carrier battle groups, is, as William S. Lind has written, ‘still structured to fight the Imperial Japanese Navy.'”

Johnson named a few specific items worthy of the chopping block:

“Given the present major recession, whose depths remain unknown, the United States has better things to spend its money on than Nimitz-class aircraft carriers at a price of $6.2 billion each (the cost of the USS George H. W. Bush, launched in January 2009, our tenth such ship) or aircraft that can cruise at a speed of Mach 2 (1,352 miles per hour).

“… Gates is also sympathetic to the desire of a few reformers in the Pentagon to dump the Lockheed-Martin F-22 ‘Raptor’ supersonic stealth fighter, a plane designed to meet the Soviet Union’s last proposed, but never built, interceptor.

“… Gates has not yet found the nerve — or the political backing — to pull the plug on the F-22; nor has he even dared to bring up the subject of canceling its more expensive and technically complicated successor, the F-35 ‘Joint Strike Fighter.'”

Johnson tells the familiar story of how military industrial congressional corruption works, with projects underpriced for initial approval and then costs soaring during development, and with jobs scattered across lots of congressional districts. The important piece of information that, as far as I know, even Barney Frank has not mentioned on TV is that military money is not actually a good way to create jobs.

In “The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities,” Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts – Amherst found that investing public dollars in military jobs at home in the United States produces fewer and lower-paying jobs for the U.S. economy than does public investment in healthcare, education, mass transit, or home construction. Needless to say, the comparison must weigh more strongly against the military when its investment is overseas. (And any benefit to the occupied nations of U.S. bases has to be weighed against those nations’ share of the cost of the bases.) And that’s all before considering the non-financial benefits of investing in living rather than in killing.

There is wide agreement among reformers inside the Pentagon and out about some of the areas that can and should be cut. In its “Report of the Task Force on A Unified Security Budget for the United States, FY 2009“, the Institute for Policy Studies identified $61 billion that it recommends cutting from the military budget, including a $25 billion reduction in the nuclear arsenal combined with keeping “missile defense” in the research stage and stopping the weaponization of space, plus another $24 billion from scaling back or stopping research on unneeded weapons, $5 billion from unneeded conventional forces, and $7 billion in waste and pork. Oddly, IPS recommends “scaling back” ill conceived weapons systems like the F/A-22 Raptor, missile “defense,” the Virginia-class submarine, the V-22 Osprey, the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, and offensive space weapons. Eliminating these programs would save significantly more than scaling them back.

George C. Wilson this week proposed this list of programs to send first to the chopping block:

• Army Future Combat Systems. The Pentagon estimates in its latest SAR that 15 systems in the Army program will cost $159.3 billion, or $10.6 billion for each system. The FCS has all kinds of problems.
• Air Force F-22 fighter. In another example of a mismatch, the F-22 has not been deployed to fight terrorists. The Pentagon’s own price tag for this plane, designed to take on the now-defunct Warsaw Pact air forces, stands at $351 million a copy, according to the Pentagon’s SAR figures, which include research and development costs.
• Navy Littoral Combat Ship. Can you believe, Mr. President, the cost of this supposedly simple ship for brown-water operations is now priced at $1.4 billion each?
• Marine V-22 Osprey. Several Defense secretaries tried to cancel this $118 million aerial taxi cab but got rolled by Congress. Why keep buying such an expensive limo?

Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, and former employee of Raytheon, told RealNews.com a couple of weeks ago that we should stop paying for weapons suited to outdated conflicts. He named the F-22 and the DD(G-1000) Navy destroyer (which is intended for open-ocean warfare), two weapons which IPS recommended scaling back and eliminating, respectively. Asked about nuclear weapons, Korb praised President Obama’s comments in support of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. Cutting the U.S. arsenal back to 1,000 nuclear weapons would save $20 billion per year, he said. Korb also expressed optimism that “missile defense” bases in Poland and the Czech Republic might not happen.

Back in 2007, the Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy In Focus put out a report called “Just Security,” which proposed $213 billion in cuts, including $99.1 billion from the war on Iraq, $45.9 billion in cuts to overseas bases, $10.8 billion in overseas military “aid,” $7 billion in waste and fraud, $5 billion in force structure, $2 billion in recruitment, and $43.9 billion in unnecessary weapons, including the usual lineup: the F/A 22 Raptor, missile “defense”, Virginia class submarine, DD(G-1000) destroyer, V-22 Osprey, C-130J transport plane, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, offensive space weapons, Future Combat System, R&D, and nuclear weapons.

As someone disgusted and repulsed by all military weapons, my initial inclination has never been to distinguish among them, but doing so makes it much easier to eliminate the craziest of the bunch. The Center for Defense Information’s Military Almanac 2007 provides a very useful guide. The same group has also just published America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress. This is a guide to corruption and reform from military insiders.

There are cultural barriers between the so-called military reform movement and the peace movement. One group wants to eliminate waste but build weapons that kill faster. The other group wants to eliminate waste primarily because the waste is on weapons, no matter how well those weapons work. Clearly these barriers need to be broken down, something the Backbone Campaign has been helping with (this activist group has made military reformer Chuck Spinney a nominee for Secretary of Defense in the Progressive Cabinet). While only those who study the military closely know the best pieces to cut, only peace and justice advocates have a vision of a society and an economy that has moved beyond militarism. We bring to the discussion the works of authors like Seymour Melman, whose expertise was in conversion from a military to a civilian economy.

If the Chalmers Johnson article above interests you, you’ll probably also enjoy reading “The American Way of War” by Eugene Jarecki, who earlier produced a film of the same title. This book also helps with the cultural divide. The early chapters address the rise of imperial presidential war powers and the military industrial congressional complex. Jarecki covers topics much loathed by war supporters, including the provocation of Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor, the unnecessity of dropping atomic bombs on Japan to end the war, and the damage wrought by the 1947 National Security Act, the CIA, the National Security Advisor, and the Air Force.

But then the book slides into a discussion of how the war on Iraq could have been better run, which is — of course — not what opponents of war would have wanted. From there, Jarecki moves to an account of the military reform movement and the corruption of military contracting. But the final chapter pulls it back together with an account of the leap forward in abusive imperial power seized by Bush-Cheney. And in the conclusion, Jarecki proposes smart progressive solutions to the political disaster that is our nation’s capital, even throwing in a pair of sentences for those who would like to see the rule of law brought back in substance as well as form:

“To institute such fundamental changes as reducing the influence of money in politics and rebalancing power between the branches by way of a new national security act, one must overcome inevitable resistance among those who benefit from how things presently work. To this end, particularly given the extreme abuses of the Bush years, any effort at meaningful reform must begin with serious efforts to hold those who committed such abuses accountable. Without accountability, there is insufficient motivation for reform.”

The lesson that I hope will be drawn from all of this is that if we want to fund healthcare and schools and green energy we will have to cut war waste and military money, and to do that we will have to wound the military industrial congressional complex, and to do that we will have to start enforcing penalties against those in power who break laws, including commanders in chief.

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