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Are We Going Down Like the Soviets?

The Soviets made a devastating miscalculation: they mistook military power for power on this planet. Sound familiar?

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Even when, after years of astronomical growth, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates began to talk about cost-cutting at the Pentagon, it was in the service of the reallocation of ever more money to war-fighting.  Here was how the New York Times summed up what reduction actually meant for our ultimate super-sized institution in tough times: “Current budget plans project growth of only 1 percent in the Pentagon budget, after inflation, over the next five years.”  Only 1% growth -- at a time when state budgets, for instance, are being slashed to the bone.  Like the Soviet military, the Pentagon, in other words, is planning to remain obese whatever else goes down.

Meanwhile, the “anti-war” president has been overseeing the expansion of the new normal on many fronts, including the expanding size of the Armyitself.  In fact, when it comes to the Global War on Terror -- even with the name now in disuse -- the profligacy can still take your breath away.

Consider, for instance, the $2.2 billion Host Nation Trucking contract the Pentagon uses to pay protection money to Afghan security companies which, in turn, slip some part of those payments to the Taliban to let American supplies travel safely on Afghan roads.  Or if you don’t want to think about how your tax dollar supports the Taliban, consider the $683,000 the Pentagon spent, according to the Washington Post, to “renovate a cafe that sells ice cream and Starbucks coffee” at its base/prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Or the $773,000 used there “to remodel a cinder-block building to house a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant,” or the $7.3 million spent on baseball and football fields, or the $60,000 batting cage, or a promised $20,000 soccer cage, all part of the approximately two billion dollars that have gone into the American base and prison complex that Barack Obama promised to, but can’t, close.

Or what about the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, that 104-acre, almost three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar, 21-building homage to the American-mall-as-fortified-citadel?  It costs more than $1.5 billion a year to run, and bears about as much relationship to an “embassy” as McDonald’s does to a neighborhood hamburger joint.  According to a recent audit, millions of dollars in “federal property” assigned to what is essentially a vast command center for the region, including 159 of the embassy's 1,168 vehicles, are missing or unaccounted for.

And as long as we’re talking about expansion in distant lands, how about the Pentagon’s most recent construction plans in Central Asia, part of a prospective “mini-building boom” there.  They are to include an anti-terrorism training center to be constructed for a bargain basement $5.5 million in... no, not Toledo or Akron or El Paso, but the combustible city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan.  And that’s just one of several projects there and in neighboring Tajikistan that are reportedly to be funded out of the U.S. Central Command’s “counter-narcotics fund” (and ultimately, of course, your pocket).     

Or consider a particularly striking example of military expansion under President Obama, superbly reported by the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe in a piece headlined, “U.S. 'secret war' expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role.” As a story, it sank without a trace in a country evidently unfazed by the idea of having its forces garrisoned and potentially readying to fight everywhere on the planet. 

Here’s how the piece began:

“Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.  Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year.”

 
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