William D. Hartung – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 22 Oct 2020 05:23:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 Trump’s Art of the Arms Deal: Filling up the Volatile Middle East with High-Tech Weapons https://www.juancole.com/2020/10/filling-volatile-weapons.html Wed, 14 Oct 2020 04:01:56 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193838 ( Tomdispatch.com) – The United States has the dubious distinction of being the world’s leading arms dealer. It dominates the global trade in a historic fashion and nowhere is that domination more complete than in the endlessly war-torn Middle East. There, believe it or not, the U.S. controls nearly half the arms market. From Yemen to Libya to Egypt, sales by this country and its allies are playing a significant role in fueling some of the world’s most devastating conflicts. But Donald Trump, even before he was felled by Covid-19 and sent to Walter Reed Medical Center, could not have cared less, as long as he thought such trafficking in the tools of death and destruction would help his political prospects.

Look, for example, at the recent “normalization” of relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel he helped to broker, which has set the stage for yet another surge in American arms exports. To hear Trump and his supporters tell it, he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for the deal, dubbed “the Abraham Accords.” In fact, using it, he was eager to brand himself as “Donald Trump, peacemaker” in advance of the November election. This, believe me, was absurd on the face of it. Until the pandemic swept everything in the White House away, it was just another day in Trump World and another example of the president’s penchant for exploiting foreign and military policy for his own domestic political gain.

If the narcissist-in-chief had been honest for a change, he would have dubbed those Abraham Accords the “Arms Sales Accords.” The UAE was, in part, induced to participate in hopes of receiving Lockheed Martin’s F-35 combat aircraft and advanced armed drones as a reward. For his part, after some grumbling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to one-up the UAE and seek a new $8 billion arms package from the Trump administration, including an additional squadron of Lockheed Martin’s F-35s (beyond those already on order), a fleet of Boeing attack helicopters, and so much more. Were that deal to go through, it would undoubtedly involve an increase in Israel’s more than ample military aid commitment from the United States, already slated to total $3.8 billion annually for the next decade.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

This wasn’t the first time President Trump tried to capitalize on arms sales to the Middle East to consolidate his political position at home and his posture as this country’s dealmaker par excellence. Such gestures began in May 2017, during his very first official overseas trip to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis greeted him then with ego-boosting fanfare, putting banners featuring his face along roadways leading into their capital, Riyadh; projecting a giant image of that same face on the hotel where he was staying; and presenting him with a medal in a surreal ceremony at one of the kingdom’s many palaces. For his part, Trump came bearing arms in the form of a supposed $110 billion weapons package. Never mind that the size of the deal was vastly exaggerated. It allowed the president to gloat that his sales deal there would mean “jobs, jobs, jobs” in the United States. If he had to work with one of the most repressive regimes in the world to bring those jobs home, who cared? Not he and certainly not his son-in-law Jared Kushner who would develop a special relationship with the cruel Saudi Crown Prince and heir apparent to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman.

Trump doubled down on his jobs argument in a March 2018 White House meeting with bin Salman. The president came armed with a prop for the cameras: a map of the U.S. showing the states that (he swore) would benefit most from Saudi arms sales, including — you won’t be surprised to learn — the crucial election swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Nor will it surprise you that Trump’s jobs claims from those Saudi arms sales are almost entirely fraudulent. In fits of fancy, he’s even insisted that he’s creating as many as half a million jobs linked to weapons exports to that repressive regime. The real number is less than one-tenth that amount — and far less than one-tenth of one percent of U.S. employment. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

American Arms Dominance

Donald Trump is far from the first president to push tens of billions of dollars of arms into the Middle East. The Obama administration, for example, made a record $115 billion in arms offers to Saudi Arabia during its eight years in office, including combat aircraft, attack helicopters, armored vehicles, military ships, missile defense systems, bombs, guns, and ammunition.

Those sales solidified Washington’s position as the Saudis’ primary arms supplier. Two-thirds of its air force consists of Boeing F-15 aircraft, the vast bulk of its tanks are General Dynamics M-1s, and most of its air-to-ground missiles come from Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. And mind you, those weapons aren’t just sitting in warehouses or being displayed in military parades. They’ve been among the principal killers in a brutal Saudi intervention in Yemen that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

A new report from the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy (which I co-authored) underscores just how stunningly the U.S. dominates the Middle Eastern weapons market. According to data from the arms transfer database compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in the period from 2015 to 2019 the United States accounted for 48% of major weapons deliveries to the Middle East and North Africa, or (as that vast region is sometimes known acronymically) MENA. Those figures leave deliveries from the next largest suppliers in the dust. They represent nearly three times the arms Russia supplied to MENA, five times what France contributed, 10 times what the United Kingdom exported, and 16 times China’s contribution.

In other words, we have met the prime weapons proliferator in the Middle East and North Africa and it is us.

The influence of U.S. arms in this conflict-ridden region is further illustrated by a striking fact: Washington is the top supplier to 13 of the 19 countries there, including Morocco (91% of its arms imports), Israel (78%), Saudi Arabia (74%), Jordan (73%), Lebanon (73%), Kuwait (70%), the UAE (68%), and Qatar (50%). If the Trump administration goes ahead with its controversial plan to sell F-35s and armed drones to the UAE and brokers that related $8 billion arms deal with Israel, its share of arms imports to those two countries will be even higher in the years to come.

Devastating Consequences

None of the key players in today’s most devastating wars in the Middle East produce their own weaponry, which means that imports from the U.S. and other suppliers are the true fuel sustaining those conflicts. Advocates of arms transfers to the MENA region often describe them as a force for “stability,” a way to cement alliances, counter Iran, or more generally a tool for creating a balance of power that makes armed engagement less likely.

In a number of key conflicts in the region, this is nothing more than a convenient fantasy for arms suppliers (and the U.S. government), as the flow of ever more advanced weaponry has only exacerbated conflicts, aggravated human rights abuses, and caused countless civilian deaths and injuries, while provoking widespread destruction. And keep in mind that, while not solely responsible, Washington is the chief culprit when it comes to the weaponry that’s fueling a number of the area’s most violent wars.

In Yemen, a Saudi/UAE-led intervention that began in March 2015 has, by now, resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians through air strikes, put millions at risk of famine, and helped create the desperate conditions for the worst cholera outbreak in living memory. That war has already cost more than 100,000 lives and the U.S. and the United Kingdom have been the primary suppliers of the combat aircraft, bombs, attack helicopters, missiles, and armored vehicles used there, transfers valued in the tens of billions of dollars.

There has been a sharp jump in overall arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia since that war was launched. Dramatically enough, total arms sent to the Kingdom more than doubled between the 2010-2014 period and the years from 2015 to 2019. Together, the U.S. (74%) and the U.K. (13%) accounted for 87% of all arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia in that five-year time frame.

In Egypt, U.S.-supplied combat aircraft, tanks, and attack helicopters have been used in what is supposedly a counterterror operation in the Northern Sinai desert, which has, in reality, simply become a war largely against the civilian population of the region. Between 2015 and 2019, Washington’s arms offers to Egypt totaled $2.3 billion, with billions more in deals made earlier but delivered in those years. And in May 2020, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced that it was offering a package of Apache attack helicopters to Egypt worth up to $2.3 billion.

According to research conducted by Human Rights Watch, thousands of people have been arrested in the Sinai region over the past six years, hundreds have been disappeared, and tens of thousands have been forcibly evicted from their homes. Armed to the teeth, the Egyptian military has also carried out “systematic and widespread arbitrary arrests — including of children — enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, collective punishment, and forced eviction.” There is also evidence to suggest that Egyptian forces have engaged in illegal air and ground strikes that have killed substantial numbers of civilians.

In several conflicts — examples of how such weapons transfers can have dramatic and unintended impacts — U.S. arms have ended up in the hands of both sides. When Turkish troops invaded northeastern Syria in October 2019, for instance, they faced Kurdish-led Syrian militias that had received some of the $2.5 billion in arms and training the U.S. had supplied to Syrian opposition forces over the previous five years. Meanwhile, the entire Turkish inventory of combat aircraft consists of U.S.-supplied F-16s and more than half of its armored vehicles are of American origin.

In Iraq, when the forces of the Islamic State, or ISIS, swept through a significant part of that country from the north in 2014, they captured U.S. light weaponry and armored vehicles worth billions of dollars from the Iraqi security forces this country had armed and trained. Similarly, in more recent years, U.S. arms have been transferred from the Iraqi military to Iranian-backed militias operating alongside them in the fight against ISIS.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, while the U.S. has directly armed the Saudi/UAE coalition, its weaponry has, in fact, ended up being used by all sides in the conflict, including their Houthi opponents, extremist militias, and groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This equal-opportunity spread of American weaponry has occurred thanks to arms transfers by former members of the U.S.-supplied Yemeni military and by UAE forces that have worked with an array of groups in the southern part of the country.

Who Benefits?

Just four companies — Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics — were involved in the overwhelming majority of U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia between 2009 and 2019. In fact, at least one or more of those companies played key roles in 27 offers worth more than $125 billion (out of a total of 51 offers worth $138 billion). In other words, in financial terms, more than 90% of the U.S. arms offered to Saudi Arabia involved at least one of those top four weapons makers.

In its brutal bombing campaign in Yemen, the Saudis have killed thousand of civilians with U.S.-supplied weaponry. In the years since the Kingdom launched its war, indiscriminate air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have hit marketplaces, hospitals, civilian neighborhoods, water treatment centers, even a school bus filled with children. American-made bombs have repeatedly been used in such incidents, including an attack on a wedding, where 21 people, children among them, were killed by a GBU-12 Paveway II guided bomb manufactured by Raytheon.

A General Dynamics 2,000-pound bomb with a Boeing JDAM guidance system was used in a March 2016 strike on a marketplace that killed 97 civilians, including 25 children. A Lockheed Martin laser-guided bomb was utilized in an August 2018 attack on a school bus that slaughtered 51 people, including 40 children. A September 2018 report by the Yemeni group Mwatana for Human Rights identified 19 air strikes on civilians in which U.S.-supplied weapons were definitely used, pointing out that the destruction of that bus was “not an isolated incident, but the latest in a series of gruesome [Saudi-led] Coalition attacks involving U.S. weapons.”

It should be noted that the sales of such weaponry have not occurred without resistance. In 2019, both houses of Congress voted down a bomb sale to Saudi Arabia because of its aggression in Yemen, only to have their efforts thwarted bya presidential veto. In some instances, as befits the Trump administration’s modus operandi, those sales have involved questionable political maneuvers. Take, for instance, a May 2019 declaration of an “emergency” that was used to push through an $8.1 billion deal with the Saudis, the UAE, and Jordan for precision-guided bombs and other equipment that simply bypassed normal Congressional oversight procedures completely.

At the behest of Congress, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General then opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding that declaration, in part because it had been pushed by a former Raytheon lobbyist working in State’s Office of Legal Counsel. However, the inspector general in charge of the probe, Stephen Linick, was soon fired by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for fear that his investigation would uncover administration wrongdoing and, after he was gone, the ultimate findings proved largely — surprise! — a whitewash, exonerating the administration. Still, the report did note that the Trump administrationhad failed to take adequate care to avoid civilian harm by U.S. weaponry supplied to the Saudis.

Even some Trump administration officials have had qualms about the Saudi deals. The New York Times has reported that a number of State Department personnel were concerned about whether they could someday be held liable for aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen.

Will America Remain the World’s Greatest Arms Dealer?

If Donald Trump is re-elected, don’t expect U.S. sales to the Middle East — or their murderous effects — to diminish any time soon. To his credit, Joe Biden has pledged as president to end U.S. arms and support for the Saudi war in Yemen. For the region as a whole, however, don’t be shocked if, even in a Biden presidency, such weaponry continues to flow in and it remains business as usual for this country’s giant arms merchants to the detriment of the peoples of the Middle East. Unless you’re Raytheon or Lockheed Martin, selling arms is one area where no one should want to keep America “great.”

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy and the co-author of “The Mideast Arms Bazaar: Top Arms Suppliers to the Middle East and North Africa 2015 to 2019.”

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 William Hartung

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Police, Prisons, and the Pentagon: Defunding America’s Wars at Home and Abroad https://www.juancole.com/2020/07/pentagon-defunding-americas.html Thu, 09 Jul 2020 04:01:09 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191952 ( Tomdispatch.com) – Think of it as a war system that’s been coming home for years. The murder of George Floyd has finally shone a spotlight on the need to defund local police departments and find alternatives that provide more genuine safety and security. The same sort of spotlight needs soon to be shone on the American military machine and the wildly well-funded damage it’s been doing for almost 19 years across the Greater Middle East and Africa.

Distorted funding priorities aren’t the only driving force behind police violence against communities of color, but shifting such resources away from policing and to areas like jobs, education, housing, and restorative justice could be an important part of the solution. And any effort to boost spending on social programs should include massive cuts to the Pentagon’s bloated budget. In short, it’s time to defund our wars, both at home and abroad.

The High Cost of Police and Prisons

In most states and localities, spending on police and prisons outweighs what the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., once described as “programs of social uplift.” The numbers are staggering. In some jurisdictions, police alone can account for up to 40% of local budgets, leaving little room for other priorities. In New York City, for instance, funding the police department’s operations and compensation costs more than $10 billion yearly — more, that is, than the federal government spends on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, more than $100 billion annually goes into policing.

Now, add to that another figure: what it costs to hold roughly two million (yes 2,000,000!) Americans in prisons and jails — roughly $120 billion a year. Like policing, in other words, incarceration is big business in this country in 2020. After all, prison populations have grown by nearly 700% since 1972, driven in significant part by the “war on drugs,” a so-called war that has disproportionately targeted people of color.

The Elephant in the Room: Pentagon Spending

In addition to the police and prisons, the other major source of American militarized spending is, of course, the Pentagon. That department, along with related activities like nuclear weapons funding at the Department of Energy, now gobbles up at least $750 billion per year. That’s more than the military budgets of the next 10 countries combined.

Just as prisons and policing consume a startling proportion of state and local budgets, the Pentagon accounts for more than half of the federal government’s discretionary budget and that includes most government functions other than Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. As Ashik Siddique of the National Priorities Project has noted, the Trump administration’s latest budget proposal “prioritizes brute force and militarization over diplomatic and humanitarian solutions to pressing societal crises” in a particularly striking way. “Just about every non-militarized department funded by the discretionary budget,” he adds, “is on the chopping block, including all those that focus on reducing poverty and meeting human needs like education, housing, labor, health, energy, and transportation.”

Spending on the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the deportation of immigrants through agencies like ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and Customs and Border Protection totals another $24 billion annually. That puts U.S. spending on police, prisons, and the Pentagon at nearly $1 trillion per year and that doesn’t even include the soaring budgets of other parts of the American national security state likethe Department of Homeland Security ($92 billion) and the Veterans Administration ($243 billion — a cost of past wars). Back in May 2019, Mandy Smithberger of the Project on Government Oversight and I had already estimated that the full national security budget, including the Pentagon, was approximately $1.25 trillion a year and that estimate, of course, didn’t even include the police and the prison system!

Another way of looking at the problem is to focus on just how much of the federal budget goes to the Pentagon and other militarized activities, including federal prisons, immigration enforcement, and veterans benefits. An analysis by the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies puts this figure at $887 billion, or more than 64% of the federal discretionary budget including public health, education, environmental protection, job training, energy development, housing, transportation, scientific research, and more.

Making the Connection: The 1033 Program

Ever since images of the police deploying armored vehicles against peaceful demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, hit the national airwaves in 2014, the Pentagon’s program for supplying “surplus” military equipment to local police departments has been a news item. It’s also gotten intermittent attention in Congress and the Executive Branch.

Since 1997, the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, as it’s called, has channeled to 8,000 separate law enforcement agencies more than $7.4 billion in surplus equipment, including Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles of the kind used on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with rifles, ammunition, grenade launchers, and night-vision devices. As Brian Barrett has pointed out at Wired, “Local law enforcement responding to even nonviolent protests has often looked more like the U.S. Armed Forces.” Political scientist Ryan Welch co-authored a 2017 study suggesting, when it came to police departments equipped in such a fashion, “that officers with military hardware and mindsets will resort to violence more often and more quickly.”

Under the circumstances and given who’s providing the equipment, you won’t be surprised to learn that the 1033 program also suffers from lax oversight. In 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) created a fake law enforcement agency and was able to acquire $1.2 million worth of equipment through the program, including night-vision goggles and simulated M-16A2 rifles. The request was approved within a week of the GAO’s application.

The Obama administration finally implemented some reforms in the wake of Ferguson, banning the transfer of tracked vehicles, grenade launchers, and weaponized aircraft, among other things, while requiring police departments to supply more detailed rationales describing their need for specific equipment. But such modest efforts — and they proved modest indeed – were promptly chucked out when Donald Trump took office. And the Trump administration changes quickly had a discernible effect. In 2019, the 1033 program had one of its biggest years ever, with about 15,750 military items transferred to law enforcement, a figure exceeded only in 2012, in the Obama years, when 17,000 such items were distributed.

As noted, the mere possession of military equipment has been shown to stoke the ever stronger “warrior culture” that now characterizes so many police departments, as evidenced by the use of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams armed with military weaponry for routine drug enforcement activities. It’s hardly just SWAT teams, though. The weaponry and related items provided under the 1033 program are widely employed by ordinary police forces. NBC News, for instance, reported that armored vehicles were used at least 29 times in response to Black Lives Matter protests organized since the murder of George Floyd, including in major urban areas like Philadelphia and Cincinnati. NBC has also determined that more than 1,100 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles have been distributed to local law enforcement agencies under the MRAP program, going to communities large and small, including Sanford, Maine, population 20,000, and Moundsville, West Virginia, population 8,400.

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has similarly documented the use of Pentagon-supplied equipment in no-knock home invasions, including driving up to people’s houses in just such armored vehicles to launch the raids. The ACLU concluded that “the militarization of American policing is evident in the training that police officers receive, which encourages them to adopt a ‘warrior’ mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies, as well as in the equipment they use, such as battering rams, flashbang grenades, and APCs [Armored Personnel Carriers].”

Who Benefits?

Companies in the military-industrial complex earn billions of dollars selling weapons, as well as building and operating prisons and detention facilities, and supplying the police, while theoretically dealing with problems with deep social and economic roots. Generally speaking, by the time they’re done, those problems have only become deeper and more rooted. Take, for example, giant weapons contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon that profit so splendidly from the sales of weapons systems to Saudi Arabia, weaponry that, in turn, has been used to kill tens of thousands of civilians in Yemen, destroy civilian infrastructure there, and block the provision of desperately needed humanitarian assistance. The result: more than 100,000 deaths in that country and millions more on the brink of famine and disease, including Covid-19.

Such major weapons firms have also been at the front of the line when it comes to benefiting from America’s endless post-9/11 wars. The Costs of War Project at Brown University estimates that the United States has spent over $6.4 trillion on just some of those overseas conflicts since 2001. Hundreds of billions of those dollars ended up in the pockets of defense contractors, while problems in the U.S., left far less well funded, only grew.

And by the way, the Pentagon’s regular budget, combined with direct spending on wars, also manages to provide huge benefits to such weapons makers. Almost half of the department’s $750 billion budget goes to them. According to the Federal Procurement Data System’s latest report on the top recipients of government contracts, the five largest U.S. arms makers alone — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics — split well over $100 billion in Pentagon awards among them in 2019. Meanwhile, those same five firms pay their CEOs a total of approximately $100 million per year, with hundreds of millions more going to other top executives and board members.

Meanwhile, in the Trump years, the militarization of the border has become a particularly lucrative business opportunity, with General Atomics, for instance, supplying ever more surveillance drones and General Dynamics supplying an ever more intricate and expensive remote sensor surveillance system. There are also millions to be made running privatized prisons and immigrant detention centers, filling the coffers of firms like CoreCivic and the GEO Group, which have secured record profits in recent years while garnering about half their revenues from those two sources.

Last but not least is the market for even more police equipment. Local forces benefit from grants from the Department of Homeland Security to purchase a wide range of items to supplement the Pentagon’s 1033 program.

The True Bottom Line

Much has been written about America’s failed post-9/11 wars, which have cost trillions of dollars in taxpayer treasure, hundreds of thousands of lives (American and otherwise), and physical and psychological injuries to hundreds of thousands more. They have also propped up sectarian and corrupt regimes that have actually made it easier for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS to form and spread. Think of it as the ultimate boomerang effect, in which violence begets more violence, while allowing overseas terrorist organizations to thrive. As journalist Nick Turse has noted with respect to the militarization of U.S. Africa policy, the growth in American military operations on that continent has proceeded rather strikingly in conjunction with a proliferation of new terrorist groups. Put the best light on them and U.S. counterterror operations there have been ineffective. More likely, they have simply helped spawn further increases in terrorist activities in the region.

All of this has, in turn, been an ongoing disaster for underfunded domestic programs that would actually help ordinary Americans rather than squander their tax dollars on what passes for, but obviously isn’t, “national defense.” In the era of Covid-19, climate change, and an increased focus on longstanding structural racism and anti-black violence, a new approach to “security” is desperately needed, one that privileges not yet more bombs, guns, militarized police forces, and aircraft carriers but public health, environmental protection, and much-needed programs for quality jobs and education in underserved communities.

On the domestic front, particularly in communities of color, police are more often seen as an occupying force than a source of protection (and ever since the 1033 program was initiated, they’ve looked ever more like such a force as well). This has led to calls for defunding the police and seeking other means of providing public safety, including, minimally, not sending police to deal with petty drug offenses, domestic disputes, and problems caused by individuals with mental-health issues. Organizations like the Minneapolis-based Reclaim the Block have put forward proposals for crisis response by institutions other than the police and for community-based programs for resolving disputes and promoting restorative justice.

Shifting Priorities

Sharp reductions in spending on police, prisons, and the Pentagon could free up hundreds of billions of dollars for programs that might begin to fill the gap in spending on public investments in communities of color and elsewhere.

Organizations like the Movement for Black Lives and the Poor People’s Campaign are already demanding these kinds of changes. In its moral budget, a comprehensive proposal for redirecting America’s resources toward addressing poverty and away from war, racism, and ecological destruction, the Poor People’s Campaign calls for a $350 billion annual cut in Pentagon spending — almost half of current levels. Likewise, the platform of the Movement for Black Lives suggested a 50% reduction in Pentagon outlays. And a new youth anti-militarist movement, Dissenters, has called for defunding the armed forces as well as the police.

Ultimately, safety for all Americans will depend on more than just a shift of funding or a reduction in police armaments. After all, George Floyd and Eric Garner — just two of the long list of black Americans to die at the hands of the police — were killed not with high-tech weapons, but with a knee to the throat and a fatal chokehold. Shifting funds from the police to social services, dismantling police forces as they now exist, and creating new institutions to protect communities should be an essential part of any solution in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidency. Similarly, investments in diplomacy, economic assistance, and cultural exchange would be needed in order to help rein in the American war machine which, of course, has been attended to in ways nothing else, from health care to schooling to infrastructure, has been in this century. When it comes to both the police and the Pentagon, the sooner change arrives the better off we’ll all be. It’s long past time to defund America’s wars, both abroad and at home.

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.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 William D. Hartung

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Quincy Institute: “America’s endless wars come home: the militarization of the police”

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Will Trump Ride Pentagon Spending to Reelection? The President Bets on Arms Sales Big Time https://www.juancole.com/2020/02/pentagon-reelection-president.html Wed, 12 Feb 2020 05:01:19 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189070 (Tomdispatch.com) – Donald Trump likes to posture as a tough guy and part of that tough-guy persona involves bragging about how much he’s spent on the U.S. military. This tendency was on full display in a tweet he posted three days after an American drone killed Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad:

“The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way… and without hesitation!”

That tweet was as much a message to the American public as to Iran’s rulers. Its subtext: that Donald J. Trump (and he alone) has restored the U.S. military to greatness after two terms of neglect under the less-than-watchful eye of Barack Obama, that he’s not afraid to use it, and that he deserves credit for everything he’s done, which means, of course, widespread political support. Never mind that Washington has “only” spent about one-third of his claimed $2 trillion on military equipment since he took office and that Pentagon spending reached a post-World War II record high in the Obama years. No surprise there: Trump has never let the facts get in the way of a good story he’s dying to tell.

He has, by the way, made similar claims to his most important audience of all: his donors. At a January 17th get-together with key supporters at Mar-a-Lago, his lavish Florida resort, he bragged that Pentagon spending had increased by $2.5 trillion on his watch. In fact, that figure is closer to total Pentagon spending in the Trump years. For his claim to be accurate, the Pentagon budget would have had to be $0 in January 2017 when he entered the Oval Office. Still, however outlandish what he says about the military may be, the underlying theme remains remarkably consistent: I’m the guy who’s funding our military like never before, so you should keep supporting me big time.

Don’t get me wrong. In collaboration with Congress, Donald Trump has indeed boosted the Pentagon budget to near-record levels. At $738 billion this year alone, it’s already substantially higher than U.S. spending at the peaks of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or during the Reagan military buildup of the 1980s. It’s more than the total amount spent by the next seven nations in the world combined (five of which are U.S. allies). Only Donald Trump could manage to distort, misstate, and exaggerate sums that are already beyond belief in the service of an inflated self-image and ambitious political objectives.

Political Manipulation and “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”

President Trump’s recent antics should come as no surprise. His use of Pentagon spending and military assistance for political gain has been hiding in plain sight since he entered the Oval Office. After all, that’s what the impeachment charges against him were all about. He was manipulating U.S. military aid to Ukraine to strong-arm its government into generating dirt on Joe Biden whom Trump, obsessed by poll numbers, saw at the time as his most threatening rival.

And don’t forget the president’s penchant for dipping into the Pentagon budget to pay for his cherished wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a vanity project that plays extremely well with his political base. So far, he’s proposed taking $13.3 billion from the Defense Department’s budget to fund that “big, fat, beautiful wall,” $6.1 billion of which has already been granted to him. For good measure, Trump pushed the Pentagon to award a $400 million contract for building part of the wall to Fisher Sand and Gravel, a North Dakota firm owned by one of his donors.

For Trump, the Ukraine scandal and the wall aside, the real politics of Pentagon spending — that is, of translating military dollars into potential votes in 2020 — will come, he hopes, from his relentless touting of the alleged jobs being generated by weapons production. His initial major foray into portraying the buying and selling of arms as a jobs program for the American people occurred during a May 2017 trip to Saudi Arabia, his first foreign visit as president. He promptly announced a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi regime that would, he swore, mean “jobs, jobs, jobs” in the United States.

In reality, the agreement itself — and the jobs to come from it — were both far less than advertised, but the message was clear enough: this country’s deal-maker extraordinaire was selling weapons over there and bringing jobs back in a major way to the good old U.S. of A. Even though many of the vaunted arms deals he boasted about had been reached during the Obama years, he had, he insisted, gotten the Saudis to pay through the nose for weaponry that would put staggering numbers of Americans to work.

The Saudi gambit was planned well in advance. In the middle of a meeting with a Saudi delegation in a reception room next door to the White House, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner suddenly called Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson. He asked her about a missile-defense system the administration wanted to include in the mega-arms package the president was planning to announce during his upcoming visit to the Kingdom. According to a New York Times account of the meeting, the Saudis’ jaws dropped when Kushner dialed up Hewson in front of them. They were amazed that things actually worked that way in Trump’s America. That call apparently did the trick, as the Lockheed missile-defense system was indeed incorporated into the arms deal to come.

The arms-sales-equals-jobs drumbeat continued when Trump returned home from his foreign travels, most notably in a March 2018 White House meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. There, in front of TV cameras, the president brandished a map showing where tens of thousands of U.S. jobs linked to those Saudi arms deals would supposedly be created. Many of them were concentrated in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan that had provided his margin of victory in the 2016 election.

His trumpeting of employment linked to Saudi arms sales went further over the top when he claimed that more than half a million American jobs were tied to the sales his administration had negotiated. The real number is expected to be less than a tenth of that total and well under .03% of the U.S. labor force of more than 164 million people.

Much as Trump would like Americans to believe that U.S. weapons transfers to the brutal Saudi dictatorship are a boon to the economy, they are, in reality, barely a blip on the radar screen of total national employment. The question, of course, is whether enough voters will believe the president’s Saudi arms fairy tale to give him a bump in support.

Even after the Saudi regime’s murder of journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi, the president continued to argue that the revenues from those arms deals were a reason to avoid a political rupture with that nation. Unlike on so many other issues, Trump’s claims on arms sales and jobs are maddeningly consistent, if also maddeningly off the mark.

Trump to Ohio: “You Better Love Me”

Perhaps the president’s most blatant linkage of Pentagon spending-related jobs to his political future came in a March 2019 speech at an Army tank plant in Lima, Ohio. After a round of “U.S.A! U.S.A.!” chants from the assembled crowd, Trump got right down to it:

“Well, you better love me; I kept this place open, that I can tell you. [Applause.] They said, ‘We’re closing it.’ And I said, ‘No we’re not.’ And now you’re doing record business… And I’m thrilled to be here in Ohio with the hardworking men and women of Lima.”

Of course, the president wasn’t actually responsible for keeping the plant open. In the early 2010s, the Army had a plan to put that plant on “mothball” status for a few years because it already had 6,000 tanks — far more than it needed. But that plan had been ditched before Trump ever took office in no small part due to bipartisan pressure from the Ohio congressional delegation.

Misleading statements aside, the Lima plant is doing just fine at a time when the Pentagon budget is running at nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars per year, and Trump is capitalizing on it. He repeatedly returned to the jobs argument in his Lima speech, and even reeled off a list of other parts of the country involved in tank production:

“Our investment will also support thousands of additional jobs across our nation to assemble these incredible Abrams tanks. The engines are from Alabama, transmissions are from Indiana, special armor from Idaho, and the 120-millimeter gun — and the gun parts from upstate New York and from Pennsylvania. All great places. In Ohio alone, almost 200 suppliers churn out parts and materials that go into every tank that rolls off this factory’s floor. Incredible.”

Trump may not be able to find all the places in which the U.S. is at war on a map, but he’s made a point of getting well briefed on where the money that fuels the U.S. war machine goes, because he views that information as essential to his political fortunes in 2020.

The Domestic Economics of Weapons Spending

What Trump failed to mention in his Lima speech is that much of America is not heavily dependent on Pentagon weapons outlays. The F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive weapons system in history and widely touted as a major job creator, is a case in point. The plane’s producer, Lockheed Martin, claims that the project has created 125,000 jobs spread over 45 states. The reality is far less impressive. My own analysis suggests that the F-35 program produces less than half as many jobs as Lockheed claims and that more than half of them are located in just two states — California and Texas. In fact, many of them are located overseas.

Most states are not heavily dependent on Pentagon spending. According to that institution’s own figures, in 39 of the 50 states less than 3% of the economy is tied to it. In other words, 97% or more of the economic activity in most of the country has nothing to do with such spending.

In reality, despite the dreams and claims of the president, the national economy as a whole, as well as the economies of the vast majority of states, would be far better off if Pentagon spending were reduced and the funds freed up were invested elsewhere. That’s because it’s actually a particularly poor job creator. Spending on infrastructure or green-energy projects, for example, would create one and one-half times as many jobs as Pentagon spending does. Putting the same money into the public education system would create roughly twice as many jobs. In 2019, in a paper for Brown University’s Costs of War Project, Heidi Peltier showed that shifting $125 billion per year from the Pentagon to green manufacturing would result in a net increase of 250,000 jobs nationwide.

As for places that do depend on Pentagon dollars in a significant way, recent polling shows that even residents of those areas are willing to support cuts in the Department of Defense’s bloated budget. Writing in the Nation, Guy Saperstein of the New Ideas Fund and Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione note: “Our polling suggests that the majority of voters will still call for cuts in Pentagon spending even if it affects their local communities, both because they believe their communities will recover and the money could be spent in more productive ways in the long run.”

That sentiment was remarkably strong in such communities, with 77% of poll participants agreeing with the statement that “members of Congress who use the Pentagon budget to send more jobs to their districts should find ways to support their local economies by building things that actually improve people’s lives.”

The best option for creating alternative jobs for workers displaced by a reduction in Pentagon spending is large-scale investment in green energy and sustainable infrastructure. Not only could a comprehensive Green New Deal create millions of new jobs, but it would provide employment across a broad range of occupations, potentially absorbing workers from defense, coal, and other industries. The only issue is political will, no small problem in Washington in the Trump years. Even a progressive president would undoubtedly encounter serious difficulty enacting such changes if the Senate remains in Republican hands after the 2020 elections.

Will Trump’s Gamble Work?

Donald Trump isn’t the first president to try to parlay Pentagon funding into political support, but he’s been more aggressive and systematic in his efforts than any president in memory. That doesn’t necessarily mean the ploy will work. Admittedly, there are high profile weapons projects in key swing states like Ohio (tanks), Pennsylvania (artillery), and Wisconsin (combat ships and armored vehicles). Still, in 2020, many voters are visibly looking for more than just business as usual, as evidenced by significant support for initiatives like the Green New Deal.

Running as the candidate of the military-industrial complex while ignoring urgent problems like climate change may not prove to be the magic formula for political success Trump expects it to be. That could be especially true if his opponents put forward concrete plans to create new non-military jobs in areas particularly dependent on the Pentagon budget.

Ten months from now we’ll know whether Trump’s attempt to ride the Pentagon to reelection was a wise gamble or ultimate foolishness. In the meantime, tax dollars going into the U.S. military continue to rise.

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.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 William D. Hartung

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Trump’s New Budget Funds Endless War & Nuclear Weapons While Slashing Aid to Poor & Hungry Americans”

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The Military-Industrial State Just Keeps Getting More Expensive for the Rest of US https://www.juancole.com/2019/12/military-industrial-expensive.html Mon, 16 Dec 2019 05:02:52 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=187909 By William D. Hartung | –

(Tomdispatch.com) – I’ve been writing critiques of the Pentagon, the national security state, and America’s never-ending military overreach since at least 1979 — in other words, virtually my entire working life. In those decades, there were moments when positive changes did occur. They ranged from ending the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1994 and halting U.S. military support for the murderous regimes, death squads, and outlaws who ruled Central America in the 1970s and 1980s to sharp reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals as the Cold War wound down. Each of those victories, however complex, seemed like a signal that sustained resistance and global solidarity mattered and could make a difference when it came to peace and security.

Here’s a striking exception, though, one thing that decidedly hasn’t changed for the better in all these years: the staggering number of tax dollars that persistently go into what passes for national security in this country. In our case, of course, the definition of “national security” is subsidizing the U.S. military-industrial complex, year in, year out, at levels that should be (but aren’t) beyond belief. In 2019, Pentagon spending is actually higher than it was at the peak of either the Korean or Vietnam conflicts and may soon be — adjusted for inflation — twice the Cold War average.

Yes, in those four decades, there were dips at key inflection points, including the ends of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, but the underlying trend has been ever onward and upward. Just why that’s been the case is a subject that almost never comes up here. So let me try to explain it in the most personal terms by tracing my own history of working on Pentagon spending and what I’ve learned from it.

From the Anti-Apartheid Movement to Battling the Military-Industrial Complex

I first began analyzing this country’s weapons-making corporations in the mid-1970s while still a student at Columbia University and deeply involved in the anti-apartheid movement of that moment. As one of my topics of research, I spent a fair amount of time tracing how some of those outfits were circumventing the then-existing arms embargo on (white) South Africa by using shadow companies, shipping weapons through third countries, and similar deceptions.

One of the outlets I wrote for then was Southern Africa magazine, a collectively produced, independent journal that supported the liberation movements in that part of the world. The anti-apartheid struggle was ultimately successful, thanks to the efforts of the global solidarity movement of which I was a small part, but primarily to the courageous acts of South African individuals and organizations like the African National Congress and the Black Consciousness Movement.

As it happens, there has been no such luck when it comes to reining in the Pentagon.

I started working on Pentagon spending in earnest in 1979 when I landed a job at the New York-based Council on Economic Priorities (CEP), an organization founded on the notion that corporations could be shamed into being more socially responsible. Armed with a BA in Philosophy — much to the chagrin of my father who was convinced I would be unemployable as a result — I was lucky to get the position.

Even then I had my doubts about whether encouraging social responsibility would ever be adequate to tame profit-hungry multinational corporations, but the areas of research pursued by CEP were too important to pass up. One of their most significant studies at the time was a report identifying the manufacturers of anti-personnel weaponry used to grim effect in the war in Vietnam. And Gordon Adams, who went on to be the top defense budget official in the Clinton White House in the 1990s, wrote a seminal study, The Iron Triangle, while I was at CEP. That book laid out in a memorable fashion the symbiotic relationships among congressional representatives, the arms industry, and the Pentagon that elevated special interests above the national interest and kept weapons budgets artificially high.

My initial assignment was as a researcher for CEP’s Conversion Information Center — not religious conversion, mind you, but the conversion of the U.S. economy from its deep dependence on Pentagon spending to something better. The concept of conversion dated back at least to the Vietnam War era when it was championed by figures like Walter Reuther, the influential head of the United Auto Workers union, and Seymour Melman, an industrial engineering professor at Columbia University who wrote a classic book on the subject, The Permanent War Economy of the United States. (I took an undergraduate course with Melman which sparked what would become my own abiding interest in documenting the costs and consequences of the military-industrial complex.)

My work at CEP mostly involved researching subjects like how dependent local and state economies were — and, of course, still are — on Pentagon spending. But I also got to write newsletters and reports on the top 100 U.S. defense contractors, the top 25 U.S. arms-exporting corporations, and the companies advocating for and, of course, benefiting from President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense initiative. (That vast program was meant to turn space into a new “frontier” of war, a subject that has recently lit the mind of one Donald Trump.) In each case, CEP’s goal was to push public interest and indignation to levels that might someday bring an end to the most costly and destructive aspects of the military-industrial complex. So many years later, the results have at best been mixed and, at worst, well… you already know, given the sky-high 2020 Pentagon budget.

During my years at CEP and after, work on economic conversion was pursued at the national level by groups like the National Commission on Economic Conversion and Disarmament and, when it came to projects in defense-dependent states, by local outfits from Connecticut to California. Yet all of that work has been stymied for decades by a seemingly never-ending pattern of rising Pentagon budgets. The post-Vietnam dip in such spending briefly made the notion of conversion planning more appealing to politicians, unions, and even some corporations, but the military build-up in the early 1980s under President Ronald Reagan promptly reduced interest again. With that gravy train back on track, why even plan for a downturn?

From the Nuclear Freeze to the 1991 Gulf War

There was, however, one anti-militarist surge that did make progress during the Reagan years: the Nuclear Freeze Campaign. I worked closely with that movement, authoring a report, for instance, on the potentially positive economic impacts of an initiative to reduce U.S. and Soviet nuclear forces. Although President Reagan never agreed to a freeze of any sort, that national grassroots movement helped transform him from the president who labeled the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire” and joked that “the bombing will start in five minutes” to the one who negotiated the elimination of medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe and declared that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” As Frances Fitzgerald documented in Way Out There in the Blue, her history of Reagan’s missile defense initiative, by 1984 key presidential advisers were concerned that the increasingly mainstream anti-nuclear movement could damage him politically if he didn’t make some kind of arms-control gesture.

Still, the resulting progress in reducing those nuclear arsenals brought only a temporary lull in the relentless growth of the Pentagon budget. It peaked in 1987, in fact, before dipping significantly at the end of the Cold War when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell famously claimed to be “running out of demons.” Unfortunately, the Pentagon soon fixed that, constructing a costly new strategy aimed at fighting “major regional contingencies” against regimes like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and North Korea (as Michael Klare so vividly explained in his 1996 book Rogue States and Nuclear Outlaws).

President George H.W. Bush’s 1991 intervention in Kuwait to drive out Iraqi forces would provide the template for that new strategy, while seeming to presage a veritable new way of war. After all, that conflict lasted almost no time at all, seemed like a techno-wonder, and succeeded in its primary objective. As an added bonus, most of it was funded by Washington’s allies, not American taxpayers.

But those successes couldn’t have proved more illusory. After all, the 1991 Gulf War set the stage for nearly four decades of never-ending war (and operations just short of it) by U.S. forces across the greater Middle East and parts of Africa. That short-term victory against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in fact, prompted a resurgence of imperial hubris that would have disastrous consequences for the greater Middle East and global security more broadly. Militarists cheered the end of what they had called the “Vietnam Syndrome” — a perfectly sensible public aversion to bloody, ill-advised wars in distant lands. Had that “syndrome” persisted, the world would undoubtedly be a safer, more prosperous place today.

The Merger Boom, Iraq War II, and the Global War on Terror

The end of the Cold War resulted, however, in that rarest of all things: real cuts in the Pentagon budget. They were, however, not faintly as deep as might have been expected, given the implosion of the other superpower on the planet, the Soviet Union. Still, those reductions hit hard enough that the weapons industry was forced to reorganize via a series of mega-mergers encouraged by the administration of President Bill Clinton. Lockheed and Martin Marietta formed Lockheed Martin; Northrop and Grumman became Northrop Grumman; Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas; and dozens of other firms, large and small, were scooped up by the giant defense contractors until only five major firms were left standing: Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. Where dozens of firms had once stood, only the big five now split roughly $100 billion in Pentagon contracts annually.

The theory behind this surge in mergers was that the new firms would eliminate excess capacity and pass on the savings in lower prices for weapons systems sold to the U.S. government. That, of course, would prove a fantasy of the first order, as Lawrence Korb, then at the Brookings Institution, made clear. As I’ve also pointed out, the Clinton administration ended up essentially subsidizing those mergers, providing billions of taxpayer dollars to cover the costs of closing factories and moving equipment, while actually picking up part of the tab forthe golden parachutes given to executives and board members displaced by them.

Meanwhile, the companies laid off tens of thousands of workers. Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) dubbed this process of subsidizing mergers while abandoning workers to their fate “payoffs for layoffs” and pushed through legislation that prevented some, but not all, of the merger subsidies from being paid out.

Meanwhile, those defense mega-firms began looking to foreign arms sales to bolster their bottom lines. An obliging Clinton administration promptly stepped up arms sales to the Middle East, making deals at a rate of roughly $1 billion a month in 1993 and 1994. Meanwhile, despite promises made at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Washington oversaw the expansion of NATO to the Russian border, including the addition of Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic to the alliance. As Tom Collina of the Ploughshares Fund has written, that helped scuttle the prospects for the kind of U.S.-Russian rapprochement that could have delivered a true “peace dividend” (the phrase of that moment) and accelerated reductions in global nuclear arsenals.

For companies like Lockheed Martin, however, such new NATO memberships looked like manna from heaven in the form of more markets for U.S. arms. Norman Augustine, that company’s CEO at the time, even took a marketing tour of nascent NATO members, while company Vice President Bruce Jackson found time in his busy schedule to head up an advocacy group with a self-explanatory name: the U.S. Committee to Expand NATO.

The 1990s also saw the beginnings of movement towards a second war with Iraq, pushed in those years by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an advocacy group whose luminaries, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, would all too soon become part of the administration of President George W. Bush and the architects of his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

You won’t be surprised to learn that they were joined at PNAC by Lockheed Martin’s ubiquitous Bruce Jackson. Nor, at this late date, will you be shocked that those merger subsidies, NATO expansion, and the return to a more interventionist policy helped get military spending back on a steady growth path until the 9/11 attacks opened the spigots, launched the Global War on Terror, and sent a flood of new money pouring into the Pentagon and the national security state. The budget of the Department of Defense would only increase for the first 10 years of this century, a record not previously matched in U.S. history.

New World Challenges: Prospects for Shrinking the Pentagon Budget

Why has it been so hard to reduce the Pentagon budget, regardless of the global security environment? The power of the arms lobby, strengthened by the merger boom of the 1990s, was certainly one factor. Fear of terrorism generated by the 9/11 attacks, which set the stage for 18 years of ill-advised military adventures, including the never-ending (and disastrous) war in Afghanistan, is certainly another. The political fear of losing elections by being seen as either “soft” on defense or unconcerned about the fate of military-industrial jobs in one’s home state or district made many Democrats view taking on the Pentagon as the true “third rail” of American politics. And the military itself has blindly adhered to a strategy of global dominance that’s essentially been on autopilot, no matter the damaging consequences of near-endless war and preparations for more of it.

Still, even decades later, hope is not entirely lost. It remains possible that all of this might change in the years to come as a war-weary public — from progressives to large parts of Donald Trump’s base — has tired of the country’s forever wars, which have minimally cost something like $6.4 trillion, while resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, according to the latest analyses by Brown University’s Costs of War project.

As even Donald Trump has acknowledged, those trillions could have gone far in repairing America’s infrastructure and doing so much else in this country. In truth, as Lindsay Koshgarian of the National Priorities Project has pointed out, that sort of money could have underwritten significant parts of major initiatives like the Green New Deal or Medicare for All that would change the nature of this society rather than destroying other ones.

But that money’s gone. The question is: What will the nation’s budget priorities be going forward? Both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have called for reductions in Pentagon spending, with Warren singling out the Pentagon’s war budget, the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO, in particular for elimination. OCO has been used as a slush fund not only to pay for those wars, but also to fund tens of billions of dollars in Pentagon pet projects that have nothing to do with our current conflicts. Eliminating it alone could save up to $800 billion over the next decade for other uses.

There has recently been a surge of proposals aimed at cutting the soaring Pentagon budget in significant ways. My own organization, the Center for International Policy, for example, has created a Sustainable Defense Task Force made up of ex-White House and congressional budget experts, former Pentagon officials and military officers, and analysts from think tanks across the political spectrum. Our group has already outlined a plan that would save $1.25 trillion from current Pentagon projections over the next decade.

Meanwhile, a group of more than 20 progressive organizations called #PeopleOverPentagon has proposed $2 trillion in cuts over that decade and the Poor People’s Campaign, working from an analysis done by the Institute for Policy Studies, would up that to $3.5 trillion, while investing the savings in urgent domestic needs.

Whether any of this succeeds in breaking the pattern of ever-rising budgets remains an open question. The most urgent threats to the safety of the planet today are climate change, nuclear weapons, epidemics, the rise of extreme right-wing nationalism, poverty, and grotesque levels of inequality. As a recent report from the organization Win Without War noted, none of these challenges can be addressed through military means. The rationale for spending more than $700 billion a year on the Pentagon — and well over $1.2 trillion for national security writ large — simply does not exist.

There are, of course, no guarantees that the Pentagon budget will finally be downsized, but 40 years after beginning my own work on this issue, I’m not giving up and neither is the growing network of organizations and individuals working to demilitarize foreign policy and impose budget discipline on the Pentagon. Unfortunately, neither are the giant defense contractors and those who run the national security state.

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.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 William D. Hartung

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Thom Hartmann: “High Price of The Billion Dollar Military Budget”

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America’s Arms Sales Addiction: The 50-Year History of U.S. Dominance of the Middle Eastern Arms Trade https://www.juancole.com/2019/11/americas-addiction-dominance.html Mon, 18 Nov 2019 05:01:40 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=187434 (Tomdispatch.com) – It’s no secret that Donald Trump is one of the most aggressive arms salesmen in history. How do we know? Because he tells us so at every conceivable opportunity. It started with his much exaggerated “$110 billion arms deal” with Saudi Arabia, announced on his first foreign trip as president. It continued with his White House photo op with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in which he brandished a map with a state-by-state rundown of American jobs supposedly tied to arms sales to the kingdom. And it’s never ended. In these years in office, in fact, the president has been a staunch advocate for his good friends at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics — the main corporate beneficiaries of the U.S.-Saudi arms trade (unlike the thousands of American soldiers the president recently sent into that country’s desert landscapes to defend its oil facilities).

All the American arms sales to the Middle East have had a severe and lasting set of consequences in the region in, as a start, the brutal Saudi/United Arab Emirates war in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians via air strikes using U.S. weaponry and pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine. And don’t forget the recent Turkish invasion of Syria in which both the Turkish forces and the Kurdish-led militias they attacked relied heavily on U.S.-supplied weaponry.

Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that he cares far more about making deals for that weaponry than who uses any of it against whom. It’s important to note, however, that, historically speaking, he’s been anything but unique in his obsession with promoting such weapons exports (though he is uniquely loud about doing so).

Despite its supposedly strained relationship with the Saudi regime, the Obama administration, for example, still managed to offer the royals of that kingdom a record $136 billion in U.S. weapons between 2009 and 2017. Not all of those offers resulted in final sales, but striking numbers did. Items sold included Boeing F-15 combat aircraft and Apache attack helicopters, General Dynamics M-1 tanks, Raytheon precision-guided bombs, and Lockheed Martin bombs, combat ships, and missile defense systems. Many of those weapons have since been put to use in the war in Yemen.

To its credit, the Obama administration did at least have an internal debate on the wisdom of continuing such a trade. In December 2016, late in his second term, the president finally did suspend the sale of precision-guided bombs to the Royal Saudi Air Force due to a mounting toll of Yemeni civilian deaths in U.S.-supplied Saudi air strikes. This was, however, truly late in the game, given that the Saudi regime first intervened in Yemen in March 2015 and the slaughter of civilians began soon after that.

By then, of course, Washington’s dominance of the Mideast arms trade was taken for granted, despite an occasional large British or French deal like the scandal-plagued Al Yamamah sale of fighter planes and other equipment to the Saudis, the largest arms deal in the history of the United Kingdom. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, from 2014 to 2018 the United States accounted for more than 54% of known arms deliveries to the Middle East. Russia lagged far behind with a 9.5% share of the trade, followed by France (8.6%), England (7.2%), and Germany (4.6%). China, often cited as a possible substitute supplier, should the U.S. ever decide to stop arming repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, came in at less than 1%.

The U.S. government’s stated rationales for pouring arms into that ever-more-embattled region include: building partnerships with countries theoretically willing to fight alongside U.S. forces in a crisis; swapping arms for access to military bases in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other Persian Gulf states; creating “stability” by building up allied militaries to be stronger than those of potential adversaries like Iran; and generating revenue for U.S. weapons contractors, as well as jobs for American workers. Of course, such sales have indeed benefited those contractors and secured access to bases in the region, but when it comes to promoting stability and security, historically it’s been another story entirely.

The Nixon Doctrine and the Initial Surge in Mideast Arms Sales

Washington’s role as the Middle East’s top arms supplier has its roots in remarks made by Richard Nixon half a century ago on the island of Guam. It was the Vietnam War era and the president was on his way to South Vietnam. Casualties there were mounting rapidly with no clear end to the conflict in sight. During that stopover in Guam, Nixon assured reporters accompanying him that it was high time to end the practice of sending large numbers of U.S troops to overseas battlefields. To “avoid another war like Vietnam anywhere in the world,” he was instead putting a new policy in place, later described by a Pentagon official as “sending arms instead of sending troops.”

The core of what came to be known as the Nixon Doctrine was the arming of regional surrogates, countries with sympathetic rulers or governments that could promote U.S. interests without major contingents of the American military being on hand. Of such potential surrogates at that moment, the most important was the Shah of Iran, with whom a CIA-British intelligence coup replaced a civilian government back in 1953 and who proved to have an insatiable appetite for top-of-the-line U.S. weaponry.

The Shah’s idea of a good time was curling up with the latest copy of Aviation Week and Space Technology and perusing glossy photos of combat planes. Egged on by the Nixon administration, his was the first and only country to buy the costly Grumman F-14 combat aircraft at a time when that company desperately needed foreign sales to bolster the program. And the Shah put his U.S.-supplied weapons to use, too, helping, for instance, to put down an anti-government uprising in nearby Oman (a short skip across the Persian Gulf), while repressing his own population at the same time.

In the Nixon years, Saudi Arabia, too, became a major weapons client of Washington, not so much because it feared its regional neighbors then, but because it had seemingly limitless oil funds to subsidize U.S. weapons makers at a time when the Pentagon budget was beginning to be reduced. In addition, Saudi sales helped recoup some of the revenue streaming out of the U.S. to pay for higher energy prices exacted by the newly formed OPEC oil cartel. It was a process then quaintly known as “recycling petrodollars.”

The Carter Years and the Quest for Restraint

The freewheeling arms trade of the Nixon years eventually prompted a backlash. In 1976, for the first (and last) time, a presidential candidate — Jimmy Carter — made reining in the arms trade a central theme of his 1976 campaign for the White House. He called for imposing greater human-rights scrutiny on arms exports, reducing the total volume of arms transfers, and initiating talks with the Soviet Union on curbing sales to regions of tension like the Middle East.

Meanwhile, members of Congress, led by Democratic Senators Gaylord Nelson and Hubert Humphrey, felt that it was long past time for Capitol Hill to have a role in decision-making when it came to weapons sales. Too often Congressional representatives found out about major deals only by reading news reports in the papers long after such matters had been settled. Among the major concerns driving their actions: the Nixon-era surge of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, then still an avowed adversary of Israel; the use of U.S.-supplied weapons by both sides in the Greek-Turkish conflict over the island of Cyprus; and covert sales to extremist right-wing forces in southern Africa, notably the South African-backed Union for the Total Independence of Angola. The answer was the passage of the Arms Export Control Act of 1978, which required that Congress be notified of any major sales in advance and asserted that it had the power to veto any of them viewed as dangerous or unnecessary.

As it happened, though, neither President Carter’s initiative nor the new legislation put a significant dent in such arms trafficking. In the end, for instance, Carter decided to exempt the Shah’s Iran from serious human-rights strictures and his hardline national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, undercut those talks with the Soviet Union on reducing arms sales.

Carter also wanted to get the new Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) he established — which eventually morphed into the U.S. Central Command — access to military bases in the Persian Gulf region and was willing to use arms deals to do so. The RDF was to be the centerpiece of the Carter Doctrine, a response to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Shah of Iran. As the president made clear in his 1980 State of the Union address: “An attempt by any outside forces to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States. It will be repelled by use of any means necessary, including the use of force.” Selling arms in the region would prove a central pillar of his new doctrine.

Meanwhile, most major sales continued to sail through Congress with barely a discouraging word.

Who Armed Saddam Hussein?

While the volume of those arms sales didn’t spike dramatically under President Ronald Reagan, his determination to weaponize anti-communist “freedom fighters” from Afghanistan to Nicaragua sparked the Iran-Contra scandal. At its heart lay a bizarre and elaborate covert effort led by National Security Council staff member Oliver North and a band of shadowy middlemen to supply U.S. weapons to the hostile regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. The hope was to gain Tehran’s help in freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon. North and company then used the proceeds from those sales to arm anti-government Contra rebels in Nicaragua in violation of an explicit Congressional ban on such aid.

Worse yet, the Reagan administration transferred arms and provided training to extremist mujahedeen factions in Afghanistan, acts which would, in the end, help arm groups and individuals that later formed al-Qaeda (and similar groups). That would, of course, prove a colossal example of the kind of blowback that unrestricted arms trading too often generates.

Even as the exposure of North’s operation highlighted U.S. arms transfers to Iran, the Reagan administration and the following one of President George H.W. Bush would directly and indirectly supply nearly half a billion dollars worth of arms and arms-making technology to Iran’s sworn enemy, Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein. Those arms would bolster Saddam’sregime both in its war with Iran in the 1980s and in its 1991 invasion of Kuwait that led to Washington’s first Gulf War. The U.S. was admittedly hardly alone in fueling the buildup of the Iraqi military. All five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the U.S., the Soviet Union, France, the United Kingdom, and China) provided weapons or weapons technology to that country in the run-up to its intervention in Kuwait.

The embarrassment and public criticism generated by the revelation that the U.S. and other major suppliers had helped arm the Iraqi military created a new opening for restraint. Leaders in the U.S., Great Britain, and other arms-trading nations pledged to do better in the future by increasing information about and scrutiny of their sales to the region. This resulted in two main initiatives: the United Nations arms trade register, where member states were urged to voluntarily report their arms imports and exports, and talks among those five Security Council members (the largest suppliers of weapons to the Middle East) on limiting arms sales to the region.

However, the P-5 talks, as they were called, quickly fell apart when China decided to sell a medium-range missile system to Saudi Arabia and President Bill Clinton’s administration began making new regional weapons deals at a pace of more than $1 billion per month while negotiations were underway. The other suppliers concluded that the Clinton arms surge violated the spirit of the talks, which soon collapsed, leading in the presidency of George W. Bush to a whole new Iraqi debacle.

The most important series of arms deals during the George W. Bush years involved the training and equipping of the Iraqi military in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But $25 billion in U.S. arms and training was not enough to create a force capable of defeating the modestly armed militants of ISIS, when they swept into northern Iraq in 2014 and captured large swaths of territory and major cities, including Mosul. Iraqi security forces, short on food and equipment due to corruption and incompetence, were also short on morale, and in some cases virtually abandoned their posts (and U.S. weaponry) in the face of those ISIS attacks.

The Addiction Continues

Donald Trump has carried on the practice of offering weaponry in quantity to allies in the Middle East, especially the Saudis, though his major rationale for the deals is to generate domestic jobs and revenues for the major weapons contractors. In fact, investing money and effort in almost anything else, from infrastructure to renewable energy technologies, would produce more jobs in the U.S. No matter though, the beat just goes on.

One notable development of the Trump years has been a revived Congressional interest in curbing weapons sales, with a particular focus on ending support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. (Watching Turkish and Kurdish forces face off, each armed in a major way by the U.S., should certainly add to that desire.) Under the leadership of Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA), Congress has voted to block bomb sales and other forms of military support for Saudi Arabia, only to have their efforts vetoed by President Trump, that country’s main protector in Washington. Still, congressional action on Saudi sales has been unprecedented in its persistence and scope. It may yet prevail, if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020. After all, every one of the major presidential contenders has pledged to end arms sales that support the Saudi war effort in Yemen.

Such deals with Saudi Arabia and other Mideast states may be hugely popular with the companies that profit from the trade, but the vast majority of Americans oppose runaway arms trading on the sensible grounds that it makes the world less safe. The question now is: Will Congress play a greater role in attempting to block such weapons deals with the Saudis and human-rights abusers or will America’s weapons-sales addiction and its monopoly position in the Middle Eastern arms trade simply continue, setting the stage for future disasters of every sort?

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.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 William Hartung

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Vox: “How the Saudis ended up with so many American weapons”

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Bestselling Pentagon Fiction: Beware of Defense Secretaries Pledging Reform https://www.juancole.com/2019/09/bestselling-pentagon-secretaries.html Fri, 27 Sep 2019 04:03:52 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=186542 Co-author: Mandy Smithberger | –

(Tomdispatch.com) – For the Pentagon, happy days are here again (if they ever left). With a budget totaling more than $1.4 trillion for the next two years, the department is riding high, even as it attempts to set the stage for yet more spending increases in the years to come.

With such enormous sums now locked in, Secretary of Defense (and former Raytheon lobbyist) Mark Esper is already going through a ritual that couldn’t be more familiar to Pentagon watchers. He’s pledged to “reform” the bureaucracy and the spending priorities of the Department of Defense to better address the latest proposed threats du jour, Russia and China. His main focus: paring back the Pentagon’s “Fourth Estate” — an alphabet soup of bureaucracies not under the control of any of the military services that sucks up about 20% of the $700 billion-plus annual budget.

Esper’s promises to streamline the spending machine should be taken with more than the usual grain of salt. Virtually every secretary of defense in living memory has made similar commitments, with little or nothing to show for them in terms of documented savings. Far from eliminating wasteful programs, efforts pursued by those past secretaries and by Congress under similar banners have been effective in only one obvious way: further reducing oversight and civilian control of the Pentagon rather than waste and inefficiency in it.

Examples of gutting oversight under the guise of reform abound, including attempting to eliminate offices focused on closing excess military bases and sidelining officials responsible for testing the safety and effectiveness of weapon systems before their deployment. During the administration of President Bill Clinton, for instance, the slogan of the day — “reinventing government” — ended up, in Pentagon terms, meaning the gutting of contract oversight. In fact, just to repair the damage from that so-called reform and rebuild that workforce took another $3.5 billion. Gordon Adams, former associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, noted accurately that such efforts often prove little more than a “phony management savings waltz.”

Secretary of Defense Esper has also pledged to eliminate older weapons programs to make way for systems more suited to great power conflict. Past efforts along these lines have meant attempts to retire proven, less expensive systems like the A-10 “Warthog” — the close-air-support aircraft that protects troops in combat — to make way for the over-priced, underperforming F-35 jet fighter and similar projects.

Never mind that a war with either Russia or China — both nuclear-armed states — would be catastrophic. Never mind that more effort should be spent figuring out how to avoid conflict with both of them, rather than spinning out scenarios for fighting them more effectively (or at least more expensively). Prioritizing unlikely scenarios makes for a great payday for contractors, but often sacrifices the ability of the military to actually address current challenges. It takes the focus away from effectively fighting the real asymmetric wars the U.S. has been fighting since World War II. It leaves taxpayers with massive bills for systems that almost invariably turn out to be over cost and behind schedule. Just as an infamous (and nonexistent) “bomber gap” with the Soviet Union was used by the Pentagon and its boosters to increase military spending in the 1950s, the current hype around ultra-high-speed, hypersonic weapons will only lead to sky’s-the-limit expenditures and a new global arms race.

Esper’s efforts may end up failing even on their own narrow terms. Reforming the Pentagon is hard work, not only because it’s one of the world’s largest bureaucracies, but because there are far too many parochial interests that profit from the status quo. Under the circumstances, it matters little if current spending patterns aren’t aligned with any rational notion of what it would take to defend the United States and its allies.

A Revolving-Door World

The Department of Defense regularly claims that it has implemented “efficiencies” to ensure that every penny of your tax dollars is being wisely spent. Such efforts, however, are little more than marketing ploys designed to fend off future calls for cuts in the Pentagon’s still-ballooning budget. Here are just two recent examples of this sadly familiar story.

In September 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report stating that the Department of Defense had provided insufficient evidence that $154 billion in alleged “efficiency savings” from fiscal years 2012 to 2016 had been realized; the department claimed credit for them anyway.

Just this month, the GAO came to a similar conclusion regarding a proposed Pentagon reform plan that was to save $18.4 billion between fiscal years 2017 and 2020. Its report stated that the Pentagon had “provided limited documentation of… progress,” which meant the GAO “could not independently assess and verify” it. Consider that a charitable way of suggesting that the Department of Defense was once again projecting a false image of fiscal discipline, even as it was drowning in hundreds of billions of your tax dollars. The GAO, however, failed to mention one crucial thing: even if those alleged savings had been realized, they would simply have been plowed into other Pentagon programs, not used to reduce the department’s bloated budget.

Esper and his colleagues have argued that it will be different this time. In an August 2nd memo, his principal deputy, David Norquist, stated that “we will begin immediately and move forward aggressively… The review will consider all ideas — no reform is too small, too bold, or too controversial to be considered.”

Even if Esper and Norquist were, however, to propose real changes, they would undoubtedly run into serious interference within the Pentagon, not to mention from their commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump, a man determined to plough ever more taxpayer dollars into the military, and from members of Congress in states counting on jobs generated by the military-industrial complex. Inside the Pentagon, on the other hand, resistance to change will be spearheaded by officials who previously held jobs in the defense industry or hope to do so in the future. We’re talking, of course, about those who have made use of, or will make use of, the infamous “revolving door” between weapons companies and the government. Consider that the essence of the military-industrial complex in action.

Such ties start at the top. During the Trump administration, the post of secretary of defense has been passed from one former defense industry figure to another, as if it were literally reserved only for key officials from major weapons makers. Trump’s first secretary of defense, retired General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis, came to the Pentagon straight from the board of General Dynamics, a position he returned to shortly after leaving the department. Interim Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who followed him, had been an executive at Boeing, while current Secretary Esper was Raytheon’s former chief in-house lobbyist. The Pentagon’s number three official, John Rood, similarly comes courtesy of Lockheed Martin. And the list only goes on from there.

This has been a systemic problem in Democratic and Republican administrations, but there has been a marked increase in such appointments under Donald Trump. A Bloomberg Government analysis found that roughly half of the Obama administration’s top Pentagon officials had defense contractor experience. In the Trump administration, that number has reached a startling 80%-plus.

That revolving door, of course, swings both ways. Defense executives come into government, where they make decisions that benefit their former colleagues and companies. Then, as retiring government officials, they go to work for defense firms where they can use their carefully developed government contacts to benefit their new (or old) employers. This practice is endemic. A study by the Project On Government Oversight found 645 cases in which the top 20 defense contractors hired former senior government officials, military officers, members of Congress, or senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives in 2018 alone.

There is, of course, nothing new about any of this. The late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) pinpointed the problem with the revolving door back in 1969:

“The easy movement of high-ranking military officers into jobs with major defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse… How hard a bargain will officers involved in procurement planning or specifications drive when they are one or two years from retirement and have the example to look at over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement?”

Such revolving-door hires and former defense executives in government remain a powerful force for the status quo in Pentagon spending. They exert influence as needed to keep big-ticket weapons programs like the F-35 combat aircraft up and running, whether they are needed or not, whether they work as promised or not.

For his part, President Trump has repeatedly bragged about his role in promoting defense-related employment in key states, both from Pentagon budget increases and the sale of arms to repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. In March, he held a one-hour campaign-style rally for workers at a tank plant in Lima, Ohio, at which he typically suggested that his budget increases had saved their jobs.

As for Congress, when the Army, in a rare move, actually sought to save a modest amount of money by canceling an upgrade of its CH-47 transport helicopter, the Senate struck back, calling for funding that the Pentagon hadn’t even requested in order to proceed with the program. The reason? Protecting jobs at Boeing’s Philadelphia-area factory that was scheduled to carry out the upgrades. Unsurprisingly, Trump seems fine with this congressional initiative (affecting the key battleground state of Pennsylvania), which still needs to survive a House-Senate conference on the defense bill.

The bottom line: Donald Trump is likely to oppose any changes that might have even the smallest impact on employment in states where he needs support in election campaign 2020. Defense industry consultant Loren Thompson summed up the case as follows: “We’re too close to the presidential election and nobody [at the White House] wants to lose votes by killing a program.” And keep in mind that this president is far from alone in taking such a stance. Similar reelection pressures led former President Jimmy Carter to increase Pentagon spending at the end of his term andcaused the George H. W. Bush administration to reverse a decision to cancel the troubled V-22 Osprey, a novel part-helicopter, part-airplane that would later be implicated in crashes killing dozens of Marines.

“We Won’t Get Fooled Again”

What would a genuine Pentagon reform plan look like? There are areas that could easily yield major savings with sufficient political will and persistence. The most obvious of these might be the Pentagon’s employment of more than 600,000 private contractors, many of whom do jobs that could be done by government civilians for less. Cutting that work force to “only” about half a million, for example, could save more than a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next decade, as noted in a recent report by the Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force (of which both authors of this article were members).

Billions more could be saved by eliminating unnecessary military bases. Even the Pentagon claims that it has 20% more facilities than it needs. A more reasonable, restrained defense strategy, including ending America’s twenty-first-century forever wars, would make far more bases redundant, both at home and among the 800 or so now scattered around the planet in an historically unprecedented fashion. Similarly, the president’s obsession with creating an expensive Space Force should be blocked, given that it’s likely only to increase bureaucracy and duplication, while ensuring an arms race above the planet as well as on it.

Real reform would also mean changing how the Pentagon does business (not to speak of the way it makes war). Such savings would naturally start by simply curbing the corruption that comes from personnel in high positions who are guaranteed to put the interests of defense contractors ahead of those of taxpayers and the real needs of American security. (There are also few restrictions on formerofficials working for foreign governments and almost no public disclosure on the subject.) The Project On Government Oversight found hundreds of Pentagon officials leaving for defense industry jobs, raising obvious questions about whether decisions they made were in the public interest or meant to advance their own future paydays.

Real reform would close the many loopholes in current ethics laws, extend cooling-off periods between when an official leaves government and when he or she can work for an arms contractor, and make far more prominent information about when retired national security officials switch teams from government to industry (or vice versa). Unfortunately, since Esper himself has refused to pledge not to return to the world of the corporate weapons makers after his stint as secretary of defense, this sort of reform will undoubtedly never be part of his “reform” agenda.

One outcome of his initiative, however, will definitely not be money-saving in any way. It will be to boost spending on high-tech systems like missile defense and artificial intelligence on the almost laughable grounds (given the past history of weapons development) that they can provide more military capability for less money. Whether you look at the Navy’s Ford aircraft carriers — the first two costing $13.1 billion and $11.3 billion — or the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker (which has taken nearly two decades to procure), it’s not hard to see how often vaunted technological revolutions prove staggeringly costly — far, far beyond initial estimates — yet result in smaller, less effective forces. As longtime Pentagon reformer Tom Christie has pointed out, to really change the acquisition system would require building in significantly more discipline. That would mean demonstrating the effective and reliable use of new technology through rigorous field-testing before advancing fragile weapons systems to the production stage, ensuring future maintenance and other headaches for troops in combat.

There is, in addition, a larger issue underlying all this talk of spending reform at the Pentagon. After all, Esper’s “reforms” are visibly designed to align Pentagon spending with the department’s new priority: combatting the security challenges posed by Russia and China. Start with one crucial thing: these challenges have been greatly exaggerated, both in the Trump administration’s national defense strategy and in the report of the industry-led National Defense Strategy Commission. That document, when you analyze its future math, even had the nerve to claim that the Pentagon budget would need to be boosted to nearly $1 trillion annually within the next five years, reports Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Russia has much to answer for — from its assistance to the Syrian army’s ongoing slaughter of civilians to its military meddling in the affairs of Ukraine — but the response to such challenges should not be to spend more on ships, planes, and advanced nuclear weapons, as current Pentagon plans would do. In reality, the economy and military of Russia, a shaky petro-state only passing for a great power, are already overshadowed by those of the U.S. and its NATO allies. Throwing more money at the Pentagon will do nothing to change Russian behavior in a positive fashion. Taking measures that are in the interests of both countries like renewing the New START nuclear reduction treaty and beginning new talks on curbing their massive nuclear arsenals would be extremely valuable in their own right and might also open the door to negotiations on other issues of mutual concern.

China’s challenge to the U.S is significantly more economic than military and, if those two nations wanted to make the planet a safer place, they would cooperate in addressing the threat of climate change, not launch a new arms race. Genuine reform of the Pentagon’s massive budget is urgently needed, but rest assured that Secretary of Defense Esper’s claims about implementing real changes to save taxpayer dollars while making the U.S. military more effective are the equivalent of bestseller-list Pentagon fiction. The motto of Congress, not to speak of the White House and the public, with respect to the Pentagon’s latest claims of fiscal probity should be “we won’t get fooled again.”

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 (POGO).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 William Hartung and Mandy Smithberger

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democrats To Probe Pentagon Cash Spent At And Around Trump Properties | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

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How the Military-Industrial Complex Ate America https://www.juancole.com/2019/07/military-industrial-complex.html Wed, 17 Jul 2019 04:04:13 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=185312 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – When, in his farewell address in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the “unwarranted influence” wielded by the “military-industrial complex,” he could never have dreamed of an arms-making corporation of the size and political clout of Lockheed Martin. In a good year, it now receives up to $50 billion in government contracts, a sum larger than the operating budget of the State Department. And now it’s about to have company.

Raytheon, already one of the top five U.S. defense contractors, is planning to merge with United Technologies. That company is a major contractor in its own right, producing, among other things, the engine for the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive Pentagon weapons program ever. The new firm will be second only to Lockheed Martin when it comes to consuming your tax dollars — and it may end up even more powerful politically, thanks to President Trump’s fondness for hiring arms industry executives to run the national security state.

Just as Boeing benefited from its former Senior Vice President Patrick Shanahan’s stint as acting secretary of defense, so Raytheon is likely to cash in on the nomination of its former top lobbyist, Mike Esper, as his successor. Esper’s elevation comes shortly after another former Raytheon lobbyist, Charles Faulkner, left the State Department amid charges that he had improperly influenced decisions to sell Raytheon-produced guided bombs to Saudi Arabia for its brutal air war in Yemen. John Rood, third-in-charge at the Pentagon, has worked for bothLockheed Martin and Raytheon, while Ryan McCarthy, Mike Esper’s replacement as secretary of the Army, worked for Lockheed on the F-35, which the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has determined may never be ready for combat.

And so it goes. There was a time when Donald Trump was enamored of “his” generals — Secretary of Defense James Mattis (a former board member of the weapons-maker General Dynamics), National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Now, he seems to have a crush on personnel from the industrial side of the military-industrial complex.

As POGO’s research has demonstrated, the infamous “revolving door” that deposits defense executives like Esper in top national security posts swings both ways. The group estimates that, in 2018 alone, 645 senior government officials — mostly from the Pentagon, the uniformed military, and Capitol Hill — went to work as executives, consultants, or board members of one of the top 20 defense contractors.

Fifty years ago, Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire identified the problem when he noted that:

“the movement of high ranking military officers into jobs with defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse… How hard a bargain will officers involved in procurement planning or specifications drive when they are one or two years away from retirement and have the example to look at of over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement?”

In other words, that revolving door and the problems that go with it are anything but new. Right now, however, it seems to be spinning faster than ever — and mergers like the Raytheon-United Technologies one are only likely to feed the phenomenon.

The Last Supper

The merger of Raytheon and United Technologies should bring back memories of the merger boom of the 1990s, when Lockheed combined with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin, Northrop and Grumman formed Northrop Grumman, and Boeing absorbed rival military aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas. And it wasn’t just a matter of big firms pairing up either. Lockheed Martin itself was the product of mergers and acquisitions involving nearly two dozen companies — distinctly a tale of big fish chowing down on little fish. The consolidation of the arms industry in those years was strongly encouraged by Clinton administration Secretary of Defense William Perry, who held a dinner with defense executives that was later dubbed “the last supper.” There, he reportedly told the assembled corporate officials that a third of them would be out of business in five years if they didn’t merge with one of their cohorts.

The Clinton administration’s encouragement of defense industry mergers would prove anything but rhetorical. It would, for instance, provide tens of millions of dollars in merger subsidies to pay for the closing of plants, the moving of equipment, and other necessities. It even picked up part of the tab for the golden parachutes given defense executives and corporate board members ousted in those deals.

The most egregious case was surely that of Norman Augustine. The CEO of Martin Marietta, he would actually take over at the helm of the even more powerful newly created Lockheed Martin. In the process, he received $8.2 million in payments, technically for leaving his post as head of Martin Marietta. U.S. taxpayers would cover more than a third of his windfall. Then, a congressman who has only gained stature in recent years, RepresentativeBernie Sanders (I-VT), began to fight back against those merger subsidies. He dubbed them “payoffs for layoffs” because executives got government-funded bailouts, while an estimated 19,000 workers were laid off in the Lockheed Martin merger alone with no particular taxpayer support. Sanders was actually able to shepherd through legislation that clawed back some, but not all, of those merger subsidies.

According to one argument in favor of the merger binge then, by closing half-empty factories, the new firms could charge less overhead and taxpayers would benefit. Well, dream on. This never came near happening, because the newly merged industrial behemoths turned out to have even greater bargaining power over the Pentagon and Congress than the unmerged companies that preceded them.

Draw your own conclusions about what’s likely to happen in this next round of mergers, since cost overruns and lucrative contracts continue apace. Despite this dismal record, Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy claims that the new corporate pairing will — you guessed it! — save the taxpayers money. Don’t hold your breath.

Influence on Steroids

While Donald Trump briefly expressed reservations about the Raytheon-United Technologies merger and a few members of Congress struck notes of caution, it has been welcomed eagerly on Wall Street. Among the reasons given: the fact that the two companies generally make different products, so their union shouldn’t reduce competition in any specific sector of defense production. It has also been claimed that the new combo, to be known as Raytheon Technologies, will have more funds available for research and development on the weapons of the future.

But focusing on such concerns misses the big picture. Raytheon Technologies will have more money to make campaign contributions, more money to hire lobbyists, and more production sites that can be used as leverage over members of Congress loathe to oppose spending on weapons produced in their states or districts. The classic example of this phenomenon: the F-35 program, which Lockheed Martin claims produces 125,000 jobs spread over 46 states.

When I took a careful look at the company’s estimates, I found that they were claiming approximately twice as many jobs as that weapons system was actually creating. In fact, more than half of F-35-related employment was in just two states, California and Texas (though many other states did have modest numbers of F-35 jobs). Even if Lockheed Martin’s figures are exaggerated, however, there’s no question that spreading defense jobs around the country gives weapons manufacturers unparalleled influence over key members of Congress, much to their benefit when Pentagon budget time rolls around. In fact, it’s a commonplace for Congress to fund more F-35s, F-18s, and similar weapons systems than the Pentagon even asks for. So much for Congressional oversight.

Theoretically, incoming defense secretary Mike Esper will have to recuse himself from major decisions involving his former company. Among them, whether to continue selling Raytheon-produced precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for their devastating air war in Yemen that has killed remarkable numbers of civilians.

No worries. President Trump himself is the biggest booster in living memory of corporate arms sales and Saudi Arabia is far and away his favorite customer. The Senate recently voted down a package of “emergency” arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE that included thousands of Raytheon Paveway munitions, the weapon of choice in that Yemeni air campaign. A similar vote must now take place in the House, but even if it, too, passes, Congress will need to override a virtually guaranteed Trump veto of the bill.

The Raytheon-United Technologies merger will further implicate the new firm in Yemeni developments because the Pratt and Whitney division of United Technologies makes the engine for Saudi Arabia’s key F-15S combat aircraft, a mainstay of the air war there. Not only will Raytheon Technologies profit from such engine sales, but that company’s technicians are likely to help maintain the Saudi air force, thereby enabling it to fly yet more bombing missions more often.

When pressed, Raytheon officials argue that, in enabling mass slaughter, they are simply following U.S. government policy. This ignores the fact that Raytheon and other weapons contractors spend tens of millions of dollars a year on lobbyists, political contributions, and other forms of influence peddlingtrying to shapeU.S. policies on arms exports and weapons procurement. They are, in other words, anything but passive recipients of edicts handed down from Washington.

As Raytheon chief financial officer Toby O’Brien put it in a call to investors that came after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, “We continue to be aligned with the administration’s policies, and we intend to honor our commitments.” Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson made a similar point, asserting that “most of these agreements that we have are government-to-government purchases, so anything that we do has to follow strictly the regulations of the U.S. government… Beyond that, we’ll just work with the U.S. government as they are continuing their relationship with [the Saudis].”

How Powerful Are the Military-Industrial Combines?

When it comes to lobbying the Pentagon and Congress, size matters. Major firms like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon can point to the jobs they and their subcontractors provide in dozens of states and scores of Congressional districts to keep members of Congress in line who might otherwise question or even oppose the tens of billions of dollars in government funding the companies receive annually.

Raytheon — its motto: “Customer Success Is Our Mission” — has primary operations in 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. That translates into a lot of leverage over key members of Congress and it doesn’t even count states where the company has major subcontractors. The addition of United Technologies will reinforce the new company’s presence in a number of those states, while adding Connecticut, Iowa, New York, and North Carolina (in other words, at least 20 states in all).

Meanwhile, if the merger is approved, the future Raytheon Technologies will be greasing the wheels of its next arms contracts by relying on nearly four dozen former government officials the two separate companies hired as lobbyists, executives, and board members in 2018 alone. Add to that the $6.4 million in campaign contributions and $20 million in lobbying expenses Raytheon clocked during the last two election cycles and the outlines of its growing influence begin to become clearer. Then, add as well the $2.9 million in campaign contributions and $40 million in lobbying expenses racked up by its merger partner United Technologies and you have a lobbying powerhouse rivaled only by Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense conglomerate.

President Eisenhower’s proposed counterweight to the power of the military-industrial complex was to be “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.” And there are signs that significant numbers of individuals and organizations are beginning to pay more attention to the machinations of the arms lobby. My own outfit, the Center for International Policy, has launched a Sustainable Defense Task Force composed of former military officers and Pentagon officials, White House and Congressional budget experts, and research staffers from progressive and good-government groups. It has already crafted a plan that would cut $1.2 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade, while improving U.S. security by avoiding unnecessary wars, eliminating waste, and scaling back a Pentagon nuclear-weapons buildup slated to cost $1.5 trillion or more over the next three decades.

The Poor People’s Campaign, backed by research conducted by the National Priorities Project of the Institute for Policy Studies, is calling for a one-year $350 billion cut in Pentagon expenditures. And a new network called “Put People Over the Pentagon” has brought together more than20progressive organizations to press presidential candidates to cut $200 billion annually from the Department of Defense’s bloated budget. Participants in the network include Public Citizen, Moveon.org, Indivisible, Win Without War, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, and United We Dream, many of them organizations that had not, in past years, made reducing the Pentagon budget a priority.

Raytheon and its arms industry allies won’t sit still in the face of such proposals, but at least the days of unquestioned and unchallenged corporate greed in the ever-merging (but also ever-expanding) arms industry may be coming to an end. The United States has paid an exorbitantly high price in blood and treasure (as have countries like Afghanistan and Iraq) for letting the military-industrial complex steer the American ship of state through this century so far. It’s long past time for a reckoning.

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.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 William D. Hartung

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Thom Hartmann: “Will Any 2020 Candidates Take on Military Industrial Complex?”

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Boondoggle, Inc.: Making Sense of the $1.25 Trillion National Security State Budget https://www.juancole.com/2019/05/boondoggle-trillion-national.html Wed, 08 May 2019 04:03:48 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=183895 By William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger | –

( Tomdispatch.com ) – 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% 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 a helicopter gear worth less than $500, a markup of more than 1,500%).

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 Act of 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 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, is housed 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-grade equipment.

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.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger

via Tomdispatch.com
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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now!: “Katrina vanden Heuvel on NATO Military Spending & Avoiding Cold War Nuclear Catastrophe with Russia”

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Pentagon Socialism: Militarizing the Economy in the Name of Defense https://www.juancole.com/2018/11/pentagon-socialism-militarizing.html Fri, 02 Nov 2018 05:59:27 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=179788 ( Tomdispatch.com) – Given his erratic behavior, from daily Twitter eruptions to upping his tally of lies by the hour, it’s hard to think of Donald Trump as a man with a plan. But in at least one area — reshaping the economy to serve the needs of the military-industrial complex — he’s (gasp!) a socialist in the making.

His plan is now visibly taking shape — one we can see and assess thanks to a Pentagon-led study with a distinctly tongue-twisting title: “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States.” The analysis is the brainchild of Trump’s adviser for trade and manufacturing policy, Peter Navarro, who happens to also be the key architect of the president’s trade wars.

Navarro, however, can hardly take sole credit for the administration’s latest economic plan, since the lead agency for developing it was also the most interested of all in the project, the Pentagon itself, in particular its Office of Defense Industrial Policy. In addition, those producing the report did so in coordination with an alphabet soup of other agencies from the Department of Commerce to the Director of National Intelligence. And even that’s not all. It’s also the product of an “interagency task force” made up of 16 working groups and 300 “subject matter” experts, supplemented by over a dozen industry “listening sessions” with outfits like the National Defense Industrial Association, an advocacy organization that represents 1,600 companies in the defense sector.

Before jumping into its substance and implications for the American economy and national defense, let me pause a moment to mention two other small matters.

First, were you aware that the Pentagon even had an Office of Defense Industrial Policy? It sounds suspiciously like the kind of government organization that engages in economic planning, a practice anathema not just to Republicans but to many Democrats as well. The only reason it’s not a national scandal — complete with Fox News banner headlines about the end of the American way of life as we know it and the coming of creeping socialism — is because it’s part of the one institution that has always been exempt from the dictates of the “free market”: the Department of Defense.

Second, how about those 300 subject matter experts? Since when does Donald Trump consult subject matter experts? Certainly not on climate change, the most urgent issue facing humanity and one where expert opinion is remarkably unified. The Pentagon and its contractors should, however, be thought of as the ultimate special interest group and with that status comes special treatment. And if that means consulting 300 such experts to make sure their “needs” are met, so be it.

A Slogan for the Ages?

Now for the big stuff.

According to Peter Navarro’s summary of the new industrial base report, which appeared as an op-ed in the New York Times, the key to the Trump plan is the president’s belief that “economic security equals national security.” When it comes to weapons manufacturing, the administration’s approach involves building a Fortress America economy that will depend as little as possible on foreign suppliers. Consider it just the latest variation on Trump’s “America First” economic strategy, grounded in its unapologetic embrace of nationalism. As a slogan, “economic security equals national security” doesn’t have quite the populist ring of “Make America Great Again,” but it’s part of the same worldview.

In a flight of grandiosity (and flattery) that must have made his boss swell with pride, Navarro suggested in his op-ed that the slogan might go down in the annals of history alongside other famed pearls of presidential wisdom. As he put it:

“McKinley’s… ‘Patriotism, protection and prosperity’… catalyzed strong economic growth. Roosevelt’s ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ helped transform the Navy into a military force capable of projecting power around the world. And Reagan’s ‘Peace through strength’ inspired an unprecedented rebuilding of the military that brought the Soviet Union to its knees… History will judge whether Donald Trump’s ‘economic security is national security’ joins the ranks of great presidential maxims.”

The essence of the Pentagon’s scheme for making America safe for a never-ending policy of war preparations (and war) is to organize as much of the economy as possible around the needs of military production. This would involve eliminating what Navarro describes as the “300 vulnerabilities” of the defense economy — from reliance on single suppliers for key components in weapons systems and the like, to dependence on foreign inputs like rare earth minerals from China, to a shortage of younger workers with the skills and motivation needed to keep America’s massive weapons manufacturing machine up and running. China figures prominently in the report’s narrative, with its trade and investment policies repeatedly described as “economic aggression.”

And needless to say, this being the Pentagon, one of the biggest desires expressed in the report is a need for — yes, you guessed it! — more money. Never mind that the United States already spends more on its military than the next seven nations in the world combined (five of whom are U.S. allies). Never mind that the increasein Pentagon spending over the past two years is larger than the entire military budget of Russia. Never mind that, despite pulling tens of thousands of troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, this country’s spending on the Pentagon and related programs (like nuclear warhead work at the Department of Energy) will hit $716 billion in fiscal year 2019, one of the highest levels ever. Face it, say the Pentagon and its allies on Capitol Hill, the U.S. won’t be able to build a reliable, all-weapons-all-the-time economic-industrial base without spending yet more taxpayer dollars. Think of this as a “Pentagon First” strategy.

As it happens, the Pentagon chose the wrong 300 experts. The new plan, reflecting their collective wisdom, is an economic and security disaster in the making.

Consider it beyond ironic that some of the same experts and organizations now suggesting that we bet America’s future on pumping up the most inefficient sector of our economy — no, no, I didn’t mean the coal industry, I meant the military-industrial complex — are conservative experts who criticized the Soviet Union for the very same thing. They still claim that it imploded largely because Washington cleverly lured its leaders into devoting ever more of their resources to the military sector. That, they insist, reinforced a rigidity in the Soviet system which made it virtually impossible for them to adapt to a rapidly changing global economic landscape.

Our military buildup, they still fervently believe, bankrupted the Soviet Union. Other analysts, like the historian Lawrence Wittner, have questioned such a view. But for the sake of consistency, shouldn’t conservatives who claimed that excessive military spending did in the Soviets be worried that President Trump’s policy of massive tax cuts for the rich, increased Pentagon spending, and trade wars with adversaries and allies alike might do something similar to the United States?

What Would a Real Industrial Policy Look Like?

Industrial policy should not be a dirty word. The problem is: the Pentagon shouldn’t be in charge of it. The goal of an effective industrial policy should be to create well-paying jobs, especially in sectors that meet pressing national needs like rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure and developing alternative energy technologies that can help address the urgent dangers posed by climate change.

The biggest economic challenge facing the United States today is how to organize an economic transition that would replace jobs and income generated by dysfunctional activities like overspending on the Pentagon and subsidizing polluting industries. The argument that the Pentagon is crucial to jobs production in America has been instrumental in blocking constructive changes that would benefit both the environment and true American security. Members of Congress are, for example, afraid to jettison questionable weapons programs like the F-35 combat aircraft — an immensely costly, underperforming fighter plane that may never be ready for combat — for fear of reducing jobs in their states or districts. (The same is true of the coal and petroleum industries, which endlessly play up the supposed job-creating benefits of their activities.)

Where could alternatives to Pentagon job-creation programs come from? The short answer is: invest in virtually anything but buying more weapons and waging more wars and Americans will be better off. For instance, Pentagon spending creates startlingly fewer jobs per dollar than putting the same taxpayer dollars into infrastructure repair and rebuilding, alternative energy creation, education, or health care. A study conducted by University of Massachusetts economist Heidi Garrett-Peltier for the Costs of War Project at Brown University found that, had the government invested in civilian activities the $230 billion per year wasted on America’s post-9/11 wars, that sum would have created 1.3 million additional jobs. A more equitable tax policy that required wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share could similarly fund a $2 trillion infrastructure program that would support 2.5 million newjobs in its first year, according to a proposal put forward by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

As for the president’s much touted, dramatically overblown claims about the jobs to be had from arms exports, the global arms market represents only a tiny fraction of the growing market for renewable energy technologies. If the goal is to produce jobs via exports, developing technologies to tap the huge future market in renewables, which one study suggests could hit $2.1 trillion by 2025, would leave weapons systems in the dust. After all, that’s about 20 times the current size of the totalglobal arms trade, which clocks in at about $100 billion annually. But an analysis by Miriam Pemberton and her colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies indicates that the United States spends 28 times as much on its military as it does on genuinely job-creating programs designed to address the threat of climate change.

Such actions would be a good start — but just a start — when it comes to reducing the dependency of the United States economy on guns and pollution. Of course, the Trump administration doesn’t have the faintest interest in any of this. (It would apparently rather cede the lucrative future market in renewable energy to China, with barely a fight.)

Still, the question remains: What would such a shift in priorities mean for the defense industrial base? If you accept the premise that the U.S. government needs to run a permanent war economy (and also fight never-ending wars across a significant swath of the planet), some of the Pentagon’s recommendations might almost make sense. But a foreign policy that put more emphasis on diplomacy — one that also thought it important to address non-military dangers like climate change — wouldn’t require such a large military production network in the first place. Under this scenario, the alarmist argument that the U.S. won’t be able to defend itself without stepping up the militarization of our already exceedingly militarized economy suddenly becomes unpersuasive.

But let’s give the weapons sector some credit. Its CEOs are working assiduously to build up local economies — overseas. Saudi Arabia’s long-term economic plan, for instance, calls for 50% of the value of its weapons purchases to be spent building up its own military industry. U.S. weapons giants like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have been quick to pledge allegiance to that plan, setting up subsidiaries there and agreeing to have systems like helicopters assembled in Saudi Arabia, not the United States. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is helping the United Arab Emirates develop the capability to produce robot-controlled machine tools that are in great demand in the defense and aerospace industries. And the F-35 program is creating production jobs in more than a dozen countries, including assembly plants in Italy and Japan.

Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy summed up this approach when he discussed his company’s growing partnership with Saudi Arabia: “By working together, we can help build world-class defense and cyber capabilities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” And keep in mind that these are the jobs from so many of those Saudi weapons sales that President Trump keeps bragging about. Of course, while this may be bad news for American jobs, it works just fine as a strategy for keeping the profits of U.S. arms makers stratospheric.

Making the transition from Peter Navarro’s “economic security equals national security” to an economy far less dependent on over-the-top military spending would mean a major shift in budget priorities in Washington, a prospect that is, at the moment, hard to imagine. But if the Pentagon can plan ahead, why shouldn’t the rest of us?

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.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 William D. Hartung

Via Tomdispatch.com

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