There are 52 days until Jan. 20, 2009.
t r u t h o u t | 11.26
Weapons Come Second: Can Obama Take On the Pentagon?
Tuesday 25 November 2008
by: Frida Berrigan, TomDispatch.com
Even saddled with a two-front, budget-busting war and a collapsing economy, President Barack Obama may be able to accomplish a lot. With a friendly Congress and a relieved world, he could make short work of some of the most egregious overreaches of the Bush White House - from
Under President George W. Bush, military spending increased by about 60%, and that's not including spending on the wars in
And remember, that's before the Global War on Terror enters the picture. The Pentagon now estimates that military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost at least $170 billion in 2009, pushing total military spending for Obama's first year to about $711 billion (a number that is mind-bogglingly large and at the same time a relatively conservative estimate that does not, for example, include intelligence funding, veterans' care, or other security costs).
With such numbers, it's no surprise that the
Again, keep in mind that war spending for 2009 comes on top of the estimated $864 billion that lawmakers have, since 2001, appropriated for the Iraq war and occupation, ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, and other activities associated with the Global War on Terror. In fact, according to an October 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service, total war spending, quite apart from the regular military budget, is already at $922 billion and quickly closing in on the trillion dollar mark.
Common Sense Cuts?
Years late, and with budgets everywhere bleeding red, some in Congress and elsewhere are finally raising questions about whether this level of spending makes any sense. Unfortunately, the questions are not coming from the inner circle of the president-elect.
Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) drew the ire and consternation of hard-line Republicans and military hawks when, in October, he suggested that Congress should consider cutting defense spending by a quarter. That would mean shaving $177 billion, leaving $534 billion for the
Even chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense John Murtha (D-PA), a Congressman who never saw a weapons program he didn't want to buy, warned of tough choices on the horizon. While he did not put a number on it, in a recent interview he did say: "The next president is going to be forced to decrease defense spending in order to respond to neglected domestic priorities. Because of this, the Defense Department is going to have to make tough budget decisions involving trade-offs between personnel, procurement and future weapons spending."
And now, President-elect Obama is hearing a similar message from the Defense Business Board, established in 2001 by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to give advice to the Pentagon. A few weeks ago, in briefing papers prepared for President-elect Obama's transition team, the Board, hardly an outfit unfriendly to the Pentagon, argued that some of the Defense Department's big weapons projects needed to be scrapped as the
Meanwhile, defense executives and industry analysts are predicting the worst. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney wrote in a "note" to employees, "No one really yet knows when or to what extent defense spending could be affected, but it's unrealistic to think there won't be some measure of impact."
Kevin G. Kroger, president of a company making oil filters for Army trucks, offered a typical reaction: "There's a lot of uncertainty out there. We're not sure where the budgets are going and what's going to get funded. It leaves us nervous."
It's no surprise that, despite eight years of glut financing via the Global War on Terror, weapons manufacturers, like the automotive Big Three, are now looking for their own bailout. For them, however, it should probably be thought of as a bail-up, an assurance of yet more good times. Even though in recent years their companies have enjoyed strong stock prices, have seen major increases in Pentagon contracts, and are still looking at boom-time foreign weapons sales, expect them to push hard for a bottom-line guarantee via their Holy Grail - a military budget pegged to the gross domestic product.
"We advocate 4 percent of the GDP as a floor for defense spending. No question that has to be front and center for any new president's agenda," says Marion Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group representing companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
Listening to defense industry figures talk, you could get the impression that the Pentagon's larder was empty and that the pinching of pennies and tightening of belts was well underway. While the cuts suggested by the Defense Business Board report got a lot of attention, the Pentagon is already quietly laying the groundwork to lock the future Obama administration into a possibly slightly scaled-down version of the over-the-top military spending of the Bush years.
Business as Usual?
At the beginning of October, the Pentagon's latest five-year projection of budget needs was revealed in the Congressional Quarterly. These preliminary figures - the full request should be released sometime next month - indicate that the Pentagon's starting point in its bargaining with the new administration and Congress comes down to one word: more.
The estimates project $450 billion more in spending over those five years than previously suggested figures. Take fiscal year 2010: the Pentagon is evidently calling for a military budget of $584 billion, an increase of $57 billion over what they informed President Bush and Congress they would need just a few months ago.
Unfortunately, when it comes to military spending and defense, the record is reasonably clear - Obama is not about to go toe-to-toe with the military-industrial-complex.
On the campaign trail, his stump speech included this applause-ready line suggesting that the costs of the war in Iraq are taking away from important domestic priorities: "If we're spending $10 billion a month [in Iraq] over the next four or five years, that's $10 billion a month we're not using to rebuild the U.S., or drawing down our national debt, or making sure that families have health care."
But the "surge" that Obama wants to shift from
The word from Wall Street? In a report entitled "Early Thoughts on Obama and Defense," a Morgan Stanley researcher wrote on November 5th, "As we understand it, Obama has been advised and agrees that there is no peace dividend¬Ö In addition, we believe, based on discussions with industry sources that Obama has agreed not to cut the defense budget at least until the first 18 months of his term as the national security situation becomes better understood."
In other words: Don't worry about it. President Obama is not about to hand the next secretary of defense a box of brownie mix and order him to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.
Smarter, Not More, Military Spending
Sooner rather than later, the new administration will need to think seriously about how to spend smarter - and significantly less - on the military. Our nose-diving economy simply will no longer support ever-climbing defense budgets.
The good news is that the Obama administration won't have to figure it all out alone. The contributors to Foreign Policy In Focus's new Unified Security Budget have done a lot of the heavy lifting to demonstrate that some of the choices that need to be made really aren't so tough. The report makes the case for reductions in military spending on outdated or unproven weapons systems totaling $61 billion. The argument is simple and straightforward: these expensive systems don't keep us safe. Some were designed for a geopolitical moment that is long gone - like the F-22 meant to counter a Soviet plane that was never built. Others, like the ballistic missile defense program, are clearly meant only to perpetuate insecurity and provoke proliferation.
To cut the military budget more deeply, however, means more than canceling useless, high-tech weapons systems. It means taking on something fundamental and far-reaching:
As a candidate, Barack Obama stirred our imagination through his calls for a "new era of international cooperation." The
A new era in Pentagon spending would have to begin with a recognition that enduring security is not attained by threat or fiat, nor is it bought with staggering billions of dollars. It is built with other nations. Weapons come second.
Frida Berrigan is a Senior Program Associate at the New
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