Scholarly work by Chris Preble and the team at the Cato Institute has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Pentagon spending can be cut dramatically. Cato scholars have shown how American military dominance has made America “Less safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free.”
Notwithstanding the solid evidence in support of deep Pentagon cuts, the Defense Department’s financial waistline continues to expand, no matter the administration in Washington. When are Americans going to rebel? What will it take for a full-scale nationwide blowback?
William D. Hartung, writing at The American Conservative, outlines in considerable depth the grasp the politicians and the military/industrial complex have the country in. What’s to do?
Through good times and bad, regardless of what’s actually happening in the world, one thing is certain: in the long run, the Pentagon budget won’t go down.
What accounts for the Department of Defense’s ability to keep a stranglehold on your tax dollars year after endless year?
Pillar one supporting that edifice: ideology. As long as most Americans accept the notion that it is the God-given mission and right of the United States to go anywhere on the planet and do more or less anything it cares to do with its military, you won’t see Pentagon spending brought under real control. Think of this as the military corollary to American exceptionalism—or just call it the doctrine of armed exceptionalism, if you will.
The second pillar supporting lavish military budgets (and this will hardly surprise you): the entrenched power of the arms lobby and its allies in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. The strategic placement of arms production facilities and military bases in key states and Congressional districts has created an economic dependency that has saved many a flawed weapons system from being unceremoniously dumped in the trash bin of history.
The overwhelming consensus in favor of a “cover the globe” military strategy has been broken from time to time by popular resistance to the idea of using war as a central tool of foreign policy. In such periods, getting Americans behind a program of feeding the military machine massive sums of money has generally required a heavy dose of fear.
For example, the last thing most Americans wanted after the devastation and hardship unleashed by World War II was to immediately put the country back on a war footing. The demobilization of millions of soldiers and a sharp cutback in weapons spending in the immediate postwar years rocked what President Dwight Eisenhower would later dub the “military-industrial complex.”
After the 9/11 attacks, the rogue state doctrine morphed into the Global War on Terror (GWOT), which neoconservative pundits soon labeled “World War IV.” The heightened fear campaign that went with it, in turn, helped sow the seeds for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was promoted by visions of mushroom clouds rising over American cities and a drumbeat of Bush administration claims (all false) that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda. Some administration officials including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld even suggested that Saddam was like Hitler, as if a modest-sized Middle Eastern state could somehow muster the resources to conquer the globe.
The administration’s propaganda campaign would be supplemented by the work of right-wing corporate-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.
The Afghan and Iraq wars would prove an absolute bonanza for contractors as the Pentagon budget soared.
Recent terror attacks against Western targets from Brussels, Paris, and Nice to San Bernardino and Orlando have offered the national security state and the Obama administration the necessary fear factor that makes the case for higher Pentagon spending so palatable. This has been true despite the fact that more tanks, bombers, aircraft carriers, and nuclear weapons will be useless in preventing such attacks.
The “war budget”—money meant for the Pentagon but not included in its regular budget—has been used to add on tens of billions of dollars more.
The abuse of the war budget leaves ample room in the Pentagon’s main budget for items like the overpriced, underperforming F-35 combat aircraft, a plane which, at a price tag of $1.4 trillion over its lifetime, is on track to be the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken.
As long as fear, greed, and hubris are the dominant factors driving Pentagon spending, no matter who is in the White House, substantial and enduring budget reductions are essentially inconceivable.
Unfortunately, the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned Americans about more than 50 years ago is alive and well, and gobbling up your tax dollars at an alarming rate.