William D. Hartung

Dysfunctional 'defense' spending is making everybody less safe

William Hartung: Going Down the Military Drain

Think of the F-35 jet fighter as the nightmare of the Pentagon budget in miniature. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, it was to be the next F-16, a workhorse for the Air Force, the Marines, and the Navy. It’s now believed that, over the decades to come, the F-35 will cost Americans at least $1.7 trillion to produce, which, by the way, is about $5,000 for every one of us. In 2021, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation reported that the plane had 845 design flaws with more being discovered on what seems like an almost daily basis. In 2021, the previous head of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith (D-WA), urged Congress to stop putting money “down that particular rathole.” Dream on. The plane, which, of course, continues to be funded, also seems to crash regularly, most recently at an Air Force base in Dallas, Texas, caught so dramatically on camera that it made the evening news.

In both its over-pricing and poor performance, the F-35 now stands in — or at least should stand in — for the disaster that is the larger Pentagon budget, which seems to have a staggering set of design flaws all its own. Sadly, most Congressional representatives remain deeply committed to upping that budget. Last year, in fact, Congress added $45 billion dollars to what the Biden administration had requested, more even than the Pentagon had asked for, and members on both sides of the aisle cheered wildly. About the 2023 defense budget, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell proudly said: “This bill will significantly grow the baseline for defense and significantly cut the baseline for non-defense, non-veterans, after inflation. A big real-dollar increase for the defense baseline.”

Consider it ironic then that, in addition to a relatively small number of Democratic progressives, only some members of the insurrectionary wing of the House Republican Party seem in favor of cutting that budget. And though in his do-anything/pay-any-price maneuvers to become the speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy seemed to agree to a freeze on the Pentagon budget (which would mean a $75 billion cut in next year’s version of it), don’t hold your breath, not given what we know about this Congress on both sides of the aisle. If anything, defense hawks are already thinking about adding another 5% to it next time around “to meet threats posed by Russia and China and to mitigate high inflation.”

With all of this in mind, let Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular William Hartung offer you a little look at the madness of funding the Pentagon in these years. Hold your hats! This plane could crash! Tom

"Defense" at What Price? America's Costly, Dysfunctional Approach to Security Is Making Us Ever Less Safe

Late last month, President Biden signed a bill that clears the way for $858 billion in Pentagon spending and nuclear weapons work at the Department of Energy in 2023. That’s far more than Washington anted up for military purposes at the height of the Korean or Vietnam wars or even during the peak years of the Cold War. In fact, the $80 billion increase from the 2022 Pentagon budget is in itself more than the military budgets of any country other than China. Meanwhile, a full accounting of all spending justified in the name of national security, including for homeland security, veterans’ care, and more, will certainly exceed $1.4 trillion. And mind you, those figures don’t even include the more than $50 billion in military aid Washington has already dispatched to Ukraine, as well as to frontline NATO allies, in response to the Russian invasion of that country.

The assumption is that when it comes to spending on the military and related activities, more is always better.

There’s certainly no question that one group will benefit in a major way from the new spending surge: the weapons industry. If recent experience is any guide, more than half of that $858 billion will likely go to private firms. The top five contractors alone — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman — will split between $150 billion and $200 billion in Pentagon contracts. Meanwhile, they’ll pay their CEOs, on average, more than $20 million a year and engage in billions of dollars in stock buybacks designed to boost their share prices.

Such “investments” are perfectly designed to line the pockets of arms-industry executives and their shareholders. However, they do little or nothing to help defend this country or its allies.

Excessive Spending Doesn’t Align with the Pentagon’s Own Strategy

The Pentagon’s long-awaited National Defense Strategy, released late last year, is an object lesson in how not to make choices among competing priorities. It calls for preparing to win wars against Russia or China, engage in military action against Iran or North Korea, and continue to wage a Global War on Terror that involves stationing 200,000 troops overseas, while taking part in counterterror operations in at least 85 countries, according to figures compiled by the Brown University Costs of War project.

President Biden deserves credit for ending America’s 20-year fiasco in Afghanistan, despite opposition from significant portions of the Washington and media establishments. Unsurprisingly enough, mistakes were made in executing the military withdrawal from that country, but they pale in comparison to the immense economic costs and human consequences of that war and the certainty of ongoing failure, had it been allowed to continue indefinitely.

Still, it’s important to note that its ending by no means marked the end of the era of this country’s forever wars. Biden himself underscored this point in his speech announcing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Today,” he said, “the terrorist threat has metastasized beyond Afghanistan. So, we are repositioning our resources and adapting our counterterrorism posture to meet the threats where they are now significantly higher: in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.”

In keeping with Biden’s pledge, U.S. military involvement in Iraq, Syria, and Somalia remains ongoing. Meanwhile, the administration continues to focus its Africa policy on military aid and training to the detriment of non-military support for nations facing the challenges not just of terrorist attacks, but of corruption, human rights abuses, and the devastation of climate change.

Consider it ironic, then, that a Pentagon budget crafted by this administration and expanded upon by Congress isn’t even faintly aligned with that department’s own strategy. Buying $13 billion aircraft carriers vulnerable to modern high-speed missiles; buying staggeringly expensive F-35 fighter jets unlikely to be usable in a great-power conflict; purchasing excess nuclear weapons more likely to spur than reduce an arms race, while only increasing the risk of a catastrophic nuclear conflict; and maintaining an Army of more than 450,000 active-duty troops that would be essentially irrelevant in a conflict with China are only the most obvious examples of how bureaucratic inertia, parochial politics, and corporate money-making outweigh anything faintly resembling strategic concerns in the budgeting process.

Congress Only Compounds the Problem

Congress has only contributed to the already staggering problems inherent in the Pentagon’s approach by adding $45 billion to that department’s over-the-top funding request. Much of it was, of course, for pork-barrel projects located in the districts of key representatives. That includes funding for extra combat ships and even more F-35s. To add insult to injury, Congress also prevented the Pentagon from shedding older ships and aircraft and so freeing up funds for investments in crucial areas like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Instead of an either/or approach involving some tough (and not-so-tough) choices, the Pentagon and Congress have collaborated on a both/and approach that will only continue to fuel skyrocketing military budgets without providing significantly more in the way of defense.

Ironically, one potential counterweight to Congress’s never-ending urge to spend yet more on the Pentagon may be the Trumpist Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives. Its members recently called for a freeze in government spending, including on the military budget. At the moment, it’s too early to tell whether such a freeze has any prospect of passing or, if it does, whether it will even include Pentagon spending. In 2012, the last time Congress attempted to impose budget caps to reduce the deficit, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that a giant loophole was created for the Pentagon. The war budget, officially known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, was not subjected to limits of any sort and so was used to pay for all sorts of pet projects that had nothing to do with this country’s wars of that moment.

Nor should it surprise you that, in response to the recent chaos in the House of Representatives, the arms industry has already expanded its collaboration with the Republicans who are likely to head the House Armed Services Committee and the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee. And mind you, incoming House Armed Services Committee chief Mike Rogers (R-AL) received over $444,000 from weapons-making companies in the most recent election cycle, while Ken Calvert (R-CA), the new head of the Defense Appropriations Committee, followed close behind at $390,000. Rogers’s home state includes Huntsville, known as “Rocket City” because of its dense concentration of missile producers, and he’ll undoubtedly try to steer additional funds to firms like Boeing and Lockheed Martin that have major facilities there. As for Calvert, his Riverside California district is just an hour from Los Angeles, which received more than $10 billion in Pentagon contracts in fiscal year 2021, the latest year for which full statistics are available.

That’s not to say that key Democrats have been left out in the cold either. Former House Armed Services Committee chair Adam Smith (D-WA) received more than $276,000 from the industry over the same period. But the move from Smith to Rogers will no doubt be a step forward for the weapons industry’s agenda. In 2022, Smith voted against adding more funding than the Pentagon requested to its budget, while Rogers has been a central advocate of what might be called extreme funding for that institution. Smith also raised questions about the cost and magnitude of the “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and, even more important, suggested that preparing to “win” a war against China was a fool’s errand and should be replaced by a strategy of deterrence. As he put it:

I think building our defense policy around the idea that we have to be able to beat China in an all-out war is wrong. It’s not the way it’s going to play out. If we get into an all-out war with China, we’re all screwed anyway. So we better focus on the steps that are necessary to prevent that. We should get off of this idea that we have to win a war in Asia with China. What we have to do from a national security perspective, from a military perspective, is we have to be strong enough to deter the worst of China’s behavior.

Expect no such nuances from Rogers, one of the loudest and most persistent hawks in Congress.

Beyond campaign contributions, the industry’s strongest tool of influence is the infamous revolving door between government and the weapons sector. A 2021 report by the Government Accountability Office found that, between 2014 and 2019, more than 1,700 Pentagon officials left the government to work for the arms industry. And mind you, that was a conservative estimate, since it only covered personnel going to the top 14 weapons makers.

Former Pentagon and military officials working for such corporations are uniquely placed to manipulate the system in favor of their new employers. They can wield both their connections with former colleagues in government and their knowledge of the procurement process to give their companies a leg (or two) up in the competition for Defense Department funding. As the Project on Government Oversight has noted in Brass Parachutes, a memorable report on that process: “Without transparency and more effective protections of the public interest, the revolving door between senior Pentagon officials and officers and defense contractors may be costing American taxpayers billions.”

Pushing back against such a correlation of political forces would require concerted public pressure of a kind as yet unseen. But outfits like the Poor People’s Campaign and #People Over Pentagon (a network of arms-control, good-government, environmental, and immigration-reform groups) are trying to educate the public on what such runaway military outlays really cost the rest of us. They are also cultivating a Congressional constituency that may someday even be strong enough to begin curbing the worst excesses of such militarized overspending. Unfortunately, time is of the essence as the Pentagon’s main budget soars toward an unprecedented $1 trillion.

A New Approach?

The Pentagon wastes immense sums of money thanks to cost overruns, price gouging by contractors, and spending on unnecessary weapons programs. Any major savings from its wildly bloated budget, however, would undoubtedly also involve a strategy that focused on beginning to reduce the size of the U.S. armed forces. Late last year the Congressional Budget Office outlined three scenarios that could result in cuts of 10%-15% in its size without in any way undermining the country’s security interests. The potential savings from such relatively modest moves: $1 trillion over 10 years. Although that analysis would need to be revised to reflect the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, most of its recommendations would still hold.

Far greater savings would be possible, however, if the staggeringly costly, remarkably counterproductive militarized approach to fighting global terrorism (set so deeply and disastrously in place since September 11, 2001) was reconceived. This country’s calamitous post-9/11 wars, largely justified as counterterror operations, have already cost us more than $8 trillion and counting, according to a detailed analysis by the Costs of War Project. Redefining such counterterror efforts to emphasize diplomacy and economic assistance to embattled countries, as well as the encouragement of good governance and anticorruption efforts to counteract the conditions that allow terror groups to spread in the first place, could lead to a major reduction in the American global military footprint. It could also result in a corresponding reduction in the size of the Army and the Marines.

Similarly, a deterrence-only nuclear strategy like the one outlined by the organization Global Zero would preempt the need for the Pentagon’s three-decades-long plan to build a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers, and submarines at a cost of up to $2 trillion. At a minimum, hundreds of billions of dollars would be saved in the process.

And then there’s Washington’s increasing focus on a possible future war with China over Taiwan. Contrary to the Pentagon’s rhetoric, the main challenges from China are political and economic, not military. The status of Taiwan should be resolved diplomatically rather than via threats of war or, of course, war itself. A major U.S. buildup in the Pacific would be both dangerous and wasteful, draining resources from other urgent priorities and undermining the ability of the U.S. and China to cooperate in addressing the existential threat of climate change.

In a report for the Project on Government Oversight, Dan Grazier has underscored just who wins and who loses from such a hawkish approach to U.S.-China relations. He summarizes the situation this way:

As U.S. and Chinese leaders attempt to jockey for position in the western Pacific region for influence and military advantage, chances of an accidental escalation increase. Both countries also risk destabilizing their economies with the reckless spending necessary to fund this new arms race, although the timing of just such a race is perfect for the defense industry. The U.S. is increasing military spending just at the moment the end of the War on Terror threatened drastic cuts.

When it comes to Russia, as unconscionable as its invasion of Ukraine has been, it’s also exposed the striking weaknesses of its military, suggesting that it will be in no position to threaten NATO in any easily imaginable future. If, however, such a threat were to grow in the decades to come, European powers should take the lead in addressing it, given that they already cumulatively spend three times what Russia does on their militaries and have economies that, again cumulatively, leave Russia’s in the dust. And such statistics don’t even reflect recent pledges by major European powers to sharply increase their military budgets.

Forging a more sensible American defense strategy will, in the end, require progress on two fronts. First, the myth that the quest for total global military dominance best serves the interests of the American people needs to be punctured. Second, the stranglehold of the Pentagon and its corporate allies on the budget process needs to be loosened in some significant fashion.

Changing the public’s view of what will make America and this planet safer is certainly a long-term undertaking, but well worth the effort, if building a better world for future generations is ever to be possible. On the economic front, jobs in the arms industry have been declining for decades thanks to outsourcing, automation, and the production of ever fewer units of basic weapons systems. Add to that an increasing reliance on highly paid engineers rather than unionized production workers. Such a decline should create an opening for a different kind of economic future in which our tax dollars don’t flow endlessly down the military drain, but instead into environmentally friendly infrastructure projects and the creation and installation of effective alternative energy sources that will slow the heating of this planet and fend off a complete climate catastrophe. Among other things, a new approach to energy production could create 40% more jobs per dollar spent than plowing ever more money into the military-industrial complex.

Whether any of these changes will occur in this America is certainly an open question. Still, consider the effort to implement them essential to sustaining a livable planet for the generations to come. Overspending on the military will only dig humanity deeper into a hole that will be ever more difficult to get out of in the relatively short time available to us.

Corporate weapons heaven is Hell on Earth

William Hartung: A Hall of Shame of U.S. Weapons Sales

As retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian William Astore wrote recently at his Bracing Views blog, while the Republicans didn’t experience their expected “red tide” on November 8th, Donald Trump had a genuinely dismal night, and the Democrats lost (even if barely) control of the House of Representatives, there was still a clear election winner. It just wasn’t any of the crew being covered in the media. It was the military-industrial complex. In fact, you can always count on one thing: whatever congressional Democrats and Republicans won’t agree on in the next two years — and that, by definition, will be more or less everything else — they will agree on upping the Pentagon budget, which, even before this election, was projected to hit a trillion dollars by 2027 or so.

You can certainly ask what such sums — nearing $900 billion annually ($1.4 trillion, if you’re talking about the full national security state budget) — buy us. The answer has been disastrous, unwinnable wars that, in this century, have left parts of the planet in ever greater chaos. And however under the radar such conflicts have gone in 2022, some of them are indeed still underway in Africa and parts of the Middle East, even if ever more by proxy.

In fact, as Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular William Hartung makes clear today, one of the ways this country’s military-industrial complex conducts its proxy conflicts, however indirectly, is by dominating the global arms trade. And there, too, so many of our congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle have put their stamp of approval not just on the arming of much of the planet, but the funding of major weapons-makers. It couldn’t be stranger (to me, anyway) how little such an over-the-top phenomenon is ever explored, except by experts like Hartung at places like TomDispatch. Tom

Corporate Weapons Heaven Is a Hell on Earth: Joe Biden, the National Security State, and Arms Sales

Here’s a seldom commented-upon reality of this century and this moment: the United States remains the number-one arms-exporting nation on the planet. Between 2017 and 2021, it grabbed 39% of the total global weapons market and there’s nothing new about that. It has, in fact, been the top arms dealer in every year but one for the past three decades. And it’s a remarkably lucrative business, earning American weapons makers tens of billions of dollars annually.

It would be one thing if it were simply a matter of money raked in by the industrial half of the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, in these years, U.S.-supplied weaponry has also fueled conflicts, enabled human-rights violations, helped destabilize not just individual countries but whole regions, and made it significantly easier for repressive regimes to commit war crimes.

At first glance, it appeared that Joe Biden, on entering the White House, might take a different approach to arms sales. On the campaign trail in 2020, he had, for instance, labeled Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state and implied that the unbridled flow of U.S. weaponry to that kingdom would be reduced, if not terminated. He also bluntly assured voters that this country wouldn’t “check its values at the door to sell arms.”

Initially, Biden paused arms deals to that country and even suspended one bomb sale. Unfortunately, within eight months of his taking office, sales to the Saudi regime had resumed. In addition, the Biden team has offered arms to a number of other repressive regimes from Egypt and Nigeria to the Philippines. Such sales contrast strikingly with the president’s mantra of supporting “democracies over autocracies,” as well as his reasonable impulse to supply weapons to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s brutal invasion.

The last president who attempted to bring runaway U.S. weapons trafficking under some sort of control was Jimmy Carter. In 1976, he campaigned for the presidency on a platform based, in part, on promoting human rights globally and curbing the arms trade. And for a period as president, he did indeed suspend sales to repressive regimes, while, in that Cold War era, engaging in direct talks with the Soviet Union on reducing global arms sales. He also spoke out eloquently about the need to rein in the trade in death and destruction.

However, Zbigniew Brzezinski, his hardline national security advisor, waged a campaign inside his administration against the president’s efforts, arguing that arms sales were too valuable as a tool of Cold War influence to be sacrificed at the altar of human rights. And once that longtime ally, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown in 1978 and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, all talk of controlling the arms trade went out the window.

The Biden Record: Why Not Restraint?

What accounts for Joe Biden’s transformation from a president intent on controlling arms sales to a business-as-usual promoter of such weaponry globally? The root cause can be found in his administration’s adherence to a series of misguided notions about the value of arms sales. In a recent report I wrote for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft on the U.S. approach to such exports, I lay out those notions fully, including lending a hand in stabilizing key regions, deterring Washington’s adversaries from engaging in aggression, building meaningful military-to-military relationships with current or potential partner nations, increasing this country’s political and diplomatic influence globally, and creating jobs here in the United States. In the Saudi case, Biden’s shift was tied to the dangerous notion that we needed to bolster the Kingdom’s supposedly crucial role in “containing Iran” — a policy that only increases the risk of war in the region — and the false promise that, in return, the Saudis would expand their oil output to help curb soaring gas prices here at home.

Such explanations are part of an all-encompassing belief in Washington that giving away or selling weaponry of every sort to foreign clients is a risk-free way of garnering yet more economic, political, and strategic influence globally. The positive spin advocates of the arms trade give to the government’s role as the world’s largest arms broker ignores the fact that, in too many cases, the risks — from fueling conflict and increasing domestic repression elsewhere to drawing the United States into unnecessary wars — far outweigh any possible benefits.

An Arms Clients Hall of Shame

There are numerous examples, both historically and in the present moment, of how this country’s arms sales have done more harm than good, but for now let’s just highlight four of them — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has spearheaded a horrifying and disastrous seven-and-a-half-year-long intervention in Yemen that has killed thousands of people through indiscriminate air strikes on civilian targets ranging from hospitals, water treatment plants, and factories to marketplaces, weddings, and even a funeral. In all, that conflict has caused an estimated nearly 400,000 deaths, in large part due to a Saudi-run air-and-sea blockade that has impeded importing food, medical supplies, and fuel. The overwhelming presence of U.S.-supplied aircraft, bombs, missiles, and other weaponry in that military campaign has led many Yemenis to view it as an American war on their country, spurring resentment and potentially damaging future relations throughout the region.

Unlike in Ukraine, where the Biden administration has helped a country defend itself against a foreign invasion through the provision of arms and intelligence, in Yemen it could help stop the killing tomorrow simply by cutting off arms, spare parts, and help in the maintenance of weapons systems. Such pressure would push the Saudi regime to definitively end its destructive air strikes and its devastating blockade of that country, while potentially encouraging the launching of good-faith negotiations to end the war there.


When it comes to Egypt, the Biden administration has offered more than $6 billion in weaponry so far, including missiles, helicopters, and transport planes. All of that is going to the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is widely regarded as the most repressive leader in that country’s history. The el-Sisi government has gunned down demonstrators in the street, locked up thousands of political prisoners, and run a scorched earth counterinsurgency campaign in the northern Sinai desert that has killed innocent civilians and driven thousands of people from their homes.

Nor are such systematic human rights abuses counterbalanced by “strategic” benefits of any obvious sort. Quite the opposite. The el-Sisi regime has taken numerous positions contrary to Washington’s interests. These have included supporting the Assad regime in Syria, aiding rebel forces fighting the internationally recognized government in Libya, backing antidemocratic military leaders in Sudan, and building military ties with Russia through arms sales, military exercises, and a security agreement. Congressional representative Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) hammered home this point several years ago, saying, “In exchange for the favors that Egypt gets from the White House, they don’t actually do anything for us. This is not a situation where we are trading off human rights for something that advances the U.S. national interest. Egypt… contributes nothing to the goals of peace and security… [U.S. arms transfers] do absolutely nothing to benefit Egyptian security or ours.”


Last April, the United States offered attack helicopters worth $997 million to Nigeria, marking the latest stage in the warming of relations between the two countries that began early in the Trump years.

The Nigerian military, however, has committed torture on a massive scale while targeting thousands of civilians in an ongoing campaign against the terrorist group Boko Haram and its local offshoots. As Human Rights Watch has reported, there is a “reasonable basis to believe” that Nigerian security forces have committed crimes against humanity. Amnesty International reported that 10,000 civilians died between 2011 and 2020 from extreme neglect in prisons run by Nigeria’s military. And far from reducing terrorism, such conduct has further destabilized significant parts of the country, stoking opposition to the government and making it easier for terrorist groups to recruit and operate. Earlier this month the security situation in Nigeria had deteriorated so badly that the Biden administration ordered the family members of U.S. diplomats to leave Abuja, the capital, due to a “heightened risk of terrorist attack.”

The Philippines

U.S. arms transfers to the Philippines are of particular concern. The United States supplied or offered billions of dollars’ worth of small arms, attack helicopters, and other weapons systems to the regime of former president Rodrigo Duterte, a government notorious for murdering and imprisoning thousands of civilians, as well as key human rights and democracy activists, under the guise of fighting a “war on drugs.” The sales were made as part of Washington’s anti-China containment strategy, even though the Philippines offers little value on that front.

It remains to be seen whether the new president, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., an ally of Duterte who took office in May 2022, will pursue different policies. But as Center for International Policy analyst John Edward Mariano pointed out recently, Amnesty International and other impartial analysts “predict continued human rights abuses and democratic backsliding.” In response to the situation in the Philippines, congressional representative Susan Wild (D-PA) has introduced the “Philippine Human Rights Act,” which would cut off military aid to the regime until it has taken concrete steps to prevent future human-rights abuses.

Companies Cash In

While the humanitarian consequences of U.S. arms sales may be devastating, if you happen to be a major weapons maker like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, or General Dynamics, the economic benefits are enormous. Weapons systems built by those four companies alone have figured in more than half of the $100 billion-plus in major arms offers made since President Biden took office.

While those firms prefer to pose as passive beneficiaries of carefully considered government policies, they continue to work overtime to loosen restrictions on weapons exports and expand the number of countries eligible for such equipment and training. To that end, those four giant firms alone routinely donate millions of dollars to key members of Congress, while employing 300 lobbyists, many of them drawn from the ranks of the Pentagon, Congress, and the National Security Council. Once on board, those retired generals, admirals, and other officials use their government contacts and inside knowledge of the arm-sales process to influence government policies and practices.

A particularly egregious and visible example of this was Raytheon’s effort to pressure Congress and the Trump administration to approve a sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudis. A former Raytheon lobbyist, Charles Faulkner, worked inside the State Department to keep the Saudi arms pipeline open despite that country’s bombing of civilian targets in Yemen, and then Raytheon’s former CEO, Thomas Kennedy, even went so far as to directly lobby Senate Foreign Relations chairman Senator Robert Menendez over Saudi arms sales. (He was rebuffed.) But the most spectacular lobbyist for the Saudis was, of course, President Trump, who justified continuing arms sales to Riyadh after the regime’s 2018 murder of U.S. resident, Saudi journalist, and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi this way:

$110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries — and very happy to acquire all this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!

In fact, neither Russia nor China would be able to replace the U.S. as Saudi Arabia’s primary arms supplier any time soon. The Kingdom is so reliant on American equipment that it might take a decade or more for it to rebuild its military around weapons supplied by another nation.

In reality, expansive as American arms sales to the Saudis are, that $110 billion figure was a typical case of Trumpian exaggeration. Actual sales during his term were less than one-third of that, and jobs tied to those sales in the U.S. were similarly far less than President Trump claimed. The figure he liked to throw around — 500,000 — was at least 12 times the actual one. Still, the damage done by the weaponry his administration rammed through Congress for the Saudis has been incalculable and can’t be measured by the dollar value of any particular sale.

The Raytheon lobbying campaign was extraordinary primarily because its details became public knowledge. But count on one thing: similar efforts by other military-industrial corporations surely take place behind closed doors on a regular basis. One precondition for reducing dangerous arms deals would have to be reducing the political power of the major weapons-producing companies.

Pushing Back Against America’s Arms Sales Addiction

In 2019, spurred by Saudi actions ranging from the war in Yemen to the Khashoggi murder, both houses of Congress voted down a specific deal for the first time — $1.5 billion in precision-guided bombs for Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern clients — only to have their actions vetoed by President Trump. Successful votes to end military support for Saudi Arabia under the War Powers Resolution met a similar fate.

The recent Saudi decision to side with Russia on reducing global oil output has reinvigorated such Congressional efforts. A new Yemen War Powers Resolution co-sponsored by Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has more than 100 backers in the House, while a parallel measure co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has been proposed in the Senate. Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has called for a hold on most arms transfers to the Saudi regime, while Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) are seeking a one-year suspension of Saudi sales as leverage to force that country to reverse its decision to warm relations with Russia and end its intervention in Yemen. Such efforts will face a far tougher road in a Republican-controlled Congress, so time is of the essence.

Success in reining in Washington’s arms-sales addiction will, at the very least, require a major campaign of public education. Too few Americans even know about their nation’s role as the world’s largest weapons trader, much less the devastating impact of the arms it transfers. But when asked, a majority of Americans are against arming repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and consider arms sales to be “a hazard to U.S. security.”

Still, until there is greater public understanding of the humanitarian and security consequences of what the government is doing in our name, coupled with concerted pressure on the Biden administration, the national security state, and the weapons makers, the arms trade is likely to continue full speed ahead. If so, those companies will remain in weapons heaven, while so many people on this planet will find themselves in a hell on earth.

'National insecurity': Military budget tops $1.4 trillion

William Hartung, Call It the National (In)security Budget

Yes, Afghanistan went down the drain and Washington’s global war on terror ended (more or less) in disaster 20 years after it began. But the urge to militarize the planet? Not a chance in an American world where, as TomDispatch regular William Hartung lays out in striking detail today, the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex plan to continue ruling the roost in Washington for time eternal.

Special forces United States soldiers or private military contractors holding rifle. Image on a black background. war, army, weapon, technology and people concept

So, war, what is it good for? Absolutely something! In that sense, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a horror of the first order, has been anything but bad for the Pentagon. Just in case you hadn’t noticed, three decades after the old Cold War ended, with a distinct helping hand from Russian president Vladimir Putin, the Biden administration has been playing its part admirably in ramping up this country’s newest version of the old Cold War into an ever more militarized set of confrontations.

It’s not just the CIA operatives in Ukraine or the sending of U.S. troops to neighboring Poland early in the Ukraine war. Only last week, at a NATO summit, President Biden announced that this country would ramp up its military presence in Europe yet again on land, sea, and in the air. (Keep in mind that, since the war in Ukraine began, Washington had already dispatched an extra 20,000 troops to Europe, raising its forces there above 100,000.) At least 3,000 more combat troops are now heading for Romania, two F-35 squadrons for Great Britain, U.S. naval ships for Spain, and the U.S. 5th Army Corps will establish a sizeable permanent base and headquarters in Poland, while there will be unspecified “enhanced” deployments in the Baltics and American forces will be upped in Germany and Italy, too.

And this isn’t just happening in Europe to face down an outrageous Russian invasion of Ukraine. An increasingly militarized commitment to Asia, especially Taiwan, and a new Cold War with China has been in the cards for a while now. I’m sure you remember our president upping the ante there by responding to a reporter’s question about whether the U.S. would ever get militarily involved in defending Taiwan this way: “Yes, that’s the commitment we made.” True, his aides walked him back on the subject, but from sending American naval vessels through the Taiwan Strait and into the South China Sea to ramping up naval war exercises with allies in the Pacific, everything seems to be getting colder and colder in ways that seem hotter and hotter.

The world may look more ominous to some of us, but not, it seems, to the Pentagon. In terms of what matters to our military leaders, things — think: funding — are only (and eternally) on the upswing. Keep all of this in mind as you read Hartung’s latest yearly look at our national (in)security budget and how, in a world with so many other problems, it continues to go through the roof. Tom

Fueling the Warfare State: America's $1.4 Trillion "National Security" Budget Makes Us Ever Less Safe

This March, when the Biden administration presented a staggering $813 billion proposal for “national defense,” it was hard to imagine a budget that could go significantly higher or be more generous to the denizens of the military-industrial complex. After all, that request represented far more than peak spending in the Korean or Vietnam War years, and well over $100 billion more than at the height of the Cold War.

It was, in fact, an astonishing figure by any measure — more than two-and-a-half times what China spends; more, in fact, than (and hold your hats for this one!) the national security budgets of the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined. And yet the weapons industry and hawks in Congress are now demanding that even more be spent.

In recent National Defense Authorization Act proposals, which always set a marker for what Congress is willing to fork over to the Pentagon, the Senate and House Armed Services Committees both voted to increase the 2023 budget yet again — by $45 billion in the case of the Senate and $37 billion for the House. The final figure won’t be determined until later this year, but Congress is likely to add tens of billions of dollars more than even the Biden administration wanted to what will most likely be a record for the Pentagon’s already bloated budget.

This lust for yet more weapons spending is especially misguided at a time when a never-ending pandemic, growing heat waves and other depredations of climate change, and racial and economic injustice are devastating the lives of millions of Americans. Make no mistake about it: the greatest risks to our safety and our future are non-military in nature, with the exception, of course, of the threat of nuclear war, which could increase if the current budget goes through as planned.

But as TomDispatch readers know, the Pentagon is just one element in an ever more costly American national security state. Adding other military, intelligence, and internal-security expenditures to the Pentagon’s budget brings the total upcoming “national security” budget to a mind-boggling $1.4 trillion. And note that, in June 2021, the last time my colleague Mandy Smithberger and I added up such costs to the taxpayer, that figure was almost $1.3 trillion, so the trend is obvious.

To understand how these vast sums are spent year after year, let’s take a quick tour of America’s national security budget, top to bottom.

The Pentagon’s “Base” Budget

The Pentagon’s proposed “base” budget, which includes all of its routine expenses from personnel to weapons to the costs of operating and maintaining a 1.3 million-member military force, came in at $773 billion for 2023, more than $30 billion above that of 2022. Such an increase alone is three times the discretionary budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more than three times the total allocation for the Environmental Protection Agency.

In all, the Pentagon consumes nearly half of the discretionary budget of the whole federal government, a figure that’s come down slightly in recent years thanks to the Biden administration’s increased investment in civilian activities. That still means, however, that almost anything the government wants to do other than preparing for or waging war involves a scramble for funding, while the Department of Defense gets virtually unlimited financial support.

And keep in mind that the proposed Biden increase in Pentagon spending comes despite the ending of 20 years of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, a move that should have meant significant reductions in the department’s budget. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn, however, that, in the wake of the Afghan disaster, the military establishment and hawks in Congress quickly shifted gears to touting — and exaggerating — challenges posed by China, Russia, and inflation as reasons for absorbing the potential savings from the Afghan War and pressing the Pentagon budget ever higher.

It’s worth looking at what America stands to receive for its $773 billion — or about $2,000 per taxpayer, according to an analysis by the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. More than half of that amount goes to giant weapons contractors like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, along with thousands of smaller arms-making firms.

The most concerning part of the new budget proposal, however, may be the administration’s support for a three-decades-long, $1.7-trillion plan to build a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles (as well, of course, as new warheads to go with them), bombers, and submarines. As the organization Global Zero has pointed out, the United States could dissuade any country from launching an atomic attack against it with far fewer weapons than are contained in its current nuclear arsenal. There’s simply no need for a costly — and risky — nuclear weapons “modernization” plan. Sadly, it’s guaranteed to help fuel a continuing global nuclear arms race, while entrenching nuclear weapons as a mainstay of national security policy for decades to come. (Wouldn’t those decades be so much better spent working to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether?)

The riskiest weapon in that nuclear plan is a new land-based, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). As former Secretary of Defense William Perry once explained, ICBMs are among “the most dangerous weapons in the world” because a president warned of a nuclear attack would have only a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them, increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear war based on a false alarm. Not only is a new ICBM unnecessary, but the existing ones should also be retired to reduce the potential for a world-ending nuclear conflagration.

To its credit, the Biden administration is trying to get rid of an ill-conceived nuclear weapons program initiated during the Trump years – a sea-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile that, rather than adding a “deterrent” capability, would raise the risk of a nuclear confrontation. As expected, nuclear hawks in the military and Congress are trying to restore funding for that nuclear SLCM (pronounced “Slick ‘em”).

The Pentagon budget is replete with other unnecessary, overpriced, and often potentially dysfunctional systems that should either be canceled or replaced with more affordable and effective alternatives. The most obvious case in point is the F-35 combat aircraft, meant to carry out multiple missions for the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. So far, it does none of them well.

In a series of careful analyses of the aircraft, the Project on Government Oversight determined that it may never be fully ready for combat. As for cost, at an estimated $1.7 trillion over its projected period of service, it’s already the most expensive single weapons program ever undertaken by the Pentagon. And keep in mind that those costs will only increase as the military services are forced to pay to fix problems that were never addressed in the rush to deploy the plane before it was fully tested. Meanwhile, that aircraft is so complex that, at any given moment, a large percentage of the fleet is down for maintenance, meaning that, if ever called on for combat duty, many of those planes will simply not be available.

In a grudging acknowledgment of the multiple problems plaguing the F-35, the Biden administration proposed decreasing its buy of the plane by about a third in 2023, a figure that should have been much lower given its poor performance. But congressional advocates of the plane — including a large F-35 caucus made up of members in states or districts where parts of it are being produced — will undoubtedly continue to press for more planes than even the Pentagon’s asking for, as the Senate Armed Services Committee did in its markup of the Department of Defense spending bill.

In addition to all of this, the Pentagon’s base budget includes mandatory spending for items like military retirement, totaling an estimated $12.8 billion for 2023.

Running national (in)security tally: $785.8 billion

The Nuclear Budget

The average taxpayer no doubt assumes that a government agency called the Department of Energy (DOE) would be primarily concerned with developing new sources of energy, including ones that would reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels to help rein in the ravages of climate change. Unfortunately, that assumption couldn’t be less true.

Instead of spending the bulk of its time and money on energy research and development, more than 40% of the Department of Energy’s budget for 2023 is slated to support the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which manages the country’s nuclear weapons program, principally by maintaining and developing nuclear warheads. Work on other military activities like reactors for nuclear submarines pushes the defense share of the DOE budget even higher. The NNSA spreads its work across the country, with major locations in California, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Its proposed 2023 budget for nuclear-weapons activities is $16.5 billion, part of a budget for defense-related projects of $29.8 billion.

Amazingly the NNSA’s record of managing its programs may be even worse than the Pentagon’s, with cost overruns of more than $28 billion during the last two decades. Many of its current projects, like a plan to build a new facility to produce plutonium “pits” — the devices that trigger the explosion of a hydrogen bomb — are unnecessary even under the current, misguided nuclear weapons modernization plan.

Nuclear budget: $29.8 billion

Running (in)security tally: $815.6 billion

Defense-Related Activities

This catch-all category, pegged at $10.6 billion in 2023, includes the international activities of the FBI and payments to Central Intelligence Agency retirement funds, among other things.

Defense-Related Activities: $10.6 billion

Running (in)security tally: $826.2 billion

The Intelligence Budget

Information about this country’s 18 separate intelligence agencies is largely shielded from public view. Most members of Congress don’t even have staff that can access significant details on how intelligence funds are spent, making meaningful Congressional oversight almost impossible. The only real data supplied with regard to the intelligence agencies is a top-line number – $67.1 billion proposed for 2023, a $5 billion increase over 2022. Most of the intelligence community’s budget is believed to be hidden inside the Pentagon budget. So, in the interests of making a conservative estimate, intelligence spending is not included in our tally.

Intelligence Budget: $67.1 billion

Running (in)security tally still: $826.2 billion

Veterans Affairs Budget

America’s post-9/11 wars have generated millions of veterans, many of whom have returned from battle with severe physical or psychological injuries. As a result, spending on veterans’ affairs has soared, reaching a proposed $301 billion in the 2023 budget plan. Research conducted for the Costs of War Project at Brown University has determined that these costs will only grow, with more than $2 trillion needed just to take care of the veterans of the post-9/11 conflicts.

Veterans Affairs Budget: $301 billion

Running (in)security tally: $1.127 trillion

International Affairs Budget

The International Affairs budget includes non-military items like diplomacy at the State Department and economic aid through the Agency for International Development, critical (but significantly underfunded) parts of the U.S. national security strategy writ large. But even in this category there are significant military-related activities in the form of programs that provide arms and training to foreign militaries and police forces. It’s proposed that the largest of these, the Foreign Military Financing program, should receive $6 billion in 2023. Meanwhile, the total requested International Affairs budget is $67.8 billion in 2023.

International Affairs Budget: $67.8 billion

Running (in)security tally: $1.195 trillion

The Homeland Security Budget

After the 9/11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established by combining a wide range of agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Agency, the U.S. Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Coast Guard. The proposed DHS budget for 2023 is $56.7 billion, more than one-quarter of which goes to Customs and Border Protection as part of a militarized approach to addressing immigration into the United States.

Homeland Security Budget: $56.7 billion

Running (in)security tally: $1.252 trillion

Interest on the Debt

The national security state, as outlined so far, is responsible for about 26% of the interest due on the U.S. debt, a total of $152 billion.

Interest on the Debt: $152 billion

Running (in)security tally: $1.404 trillion

Our Misguided Security Budget

Spending $1.4 trillion to address a narrowly defined concept of national security should be considered budgetary malpractice on a scale so grand as to be almost unimaginable — especially at a time when the greatest risks to the safety of Americans and the rest of the world are not military in nature. After all, the Covid pandemic has already taken the lives of more than one million Americans, while the fires, floods, and heat waves caused by climate change have impacted tens of millions more.

Yet the administration’s proposed allocation of $45 billion to address climate change in the 2023 budget would be less than 6% of the Pentagon’s proposed budget of $773 billion. And as noted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are slated to get just one-third of the proposed increase in Pentagon spending between 2022 and 2023. Worse yet, attempts to raise spending significantly to address these urgent challenges, from President Biden’s Build Back Better plan to the Green New Deal, are stalled in Congress.

In a world where such dangers are only increasing, perhaps the best hope for launching a process that could, sooner or later, reverse such perverse priorities lies with grassroots organizing. Consider, for instance the “moral budget” crafted by the Poor People’s Campaign, which would cut Pentagon spending almost in half while refocusing on programs aimed at eliminating poverty, protecting the environment, and improving access to health care. If even part of such an agenda were achieved and the “defense” budget reined in, if not cut drastically, America and the world would be far safer places.

Given the scale of the actual security problems we face, it’s time to think big when it comes to potential solutions, while recognizing what Martin Luther King, Jr., once described as the “fierce urgency of now.” Time is running short, and concerted action is imperative.

Cold War 2.0 over Ukraine would open a Pandora's Box of foolishness

Hartung, Cleveland-Stout, and Giorno, Cold Wars, Then and Now


It’s strange, don’t you think, this feeling of having been here before? Well, not quite here. It wasn’t Ukraine and Europe then, but Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East. And if this is indeed Cold War II, Russia isn’t the Soviet Union, but an ever-shakier petro-state with an all-too-bizarre new czar at the helm. In other words, in certain ways it’s already scarier than the original Cold War because we don’t quite know where we are, as Nick Cleveland-Stout, Taylor Giorno, and Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular William Hartung make all too clear today in discussing the ever more astronomical Pentagon “budget” — or do I mean gold mine or garbage dump?

Still, you’d think that Vladimir Putin, at least, would have remembered the last time around when a far more powerful Soviet Union went into Afghanistan and found itself fighting a determined local resistance movement backed by American money and arms galore. Yes, that was Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviet Union was still a great power and its military an impressive force. Yet its Afghan War proved a disaster of the first order. When the Soviets finally did limp out of that country in 1989, and not so long after the USSR imploded, Washington effectively stayed — at least until, 30-odd years later, its troops departed in dismal defeat like their Russian counterparts, heading for a country that looked as if it might be on the verge of coming apart at the seams.

Now, here we are in what might indeed be Cold War II, playing out the Ukrainian version of Afghanistan with a weaker Russian military, a visibly more disturbed leader, Washington again shoveling arms, money, and training to the other side, and the possibility that the war could spread elsewhere in Europe. What happens when history repeats itself, however weirdly? That’s a question to consider as you read today’s account of our potential new Cold War and the one that preceded it. Tom

Washington Should Think Twice Before Launching a New Cold War

A History Lesson for Our Desperate Moment

By William D. Hartung, Nick Cleveland-Stout, and Taylor Giorno

A growing chorus of pundits and policymakers has suggested that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marks the beginning of a new Cold War. If so, that means trillions of additional dollars for the Pentagon in the years to come coupled with a more aggressive military posture in every corner of the world.

Before this country succumbs to calls for a return to Cold War-style Pentagon spending, it’s important to note that the United States is already spending substantially more than it did at the height of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or, in fact, any other moment in that first Cold War. Even before the invasion of Ukraine began, the Biden administration’s proposed Pentagon budget (as well as related work like nuclear-warhead development at the Department of Energy) was already guaranteed to soar even higher than that, perhaps to $800 billion or more for 2023.

Here’s the irony: going back to Cold War levels of Pentagon funding would mean reducing, not increasing spending. Of course, that’s anything but what the advocates of such military outlays had in mind, even before the present crisis.

Some supporters of higher Pentagon spending have, in fact, been promoting figures as awe-inspiring as they are absurd. Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, is advocating a trillion-dollar military budget, while Matthew Kroenig of the Atlantic Council called for the United States to prepare to win simultaneous wars against Russia and China. He even suggested that Congress “could go so far as to double its defense spending” without straining our resources. That would translate into a proposed annual defense budget of perhaps $1.6 trillion. Neither of those astronomical figures is likely to be implemented soon, but that they’re being talked about at all is indicative of where the Washington debate on Pentagon spending is heading in the wake of the Ukraine disaster.

Ex-government officials are pressing for similarly staggering military budgets. As former Reagan-era State Department official and Iran-Contra operative Elliott Abrams argued in a recent Foreign Affairs piece titled “The New Cold War”: “It should be crystal clear now that a larger percentage of GDP [gross domestic product] will need to be spent on defense.” Similarly, in a Washington Post op-ed, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted that “we need a larger, more advanced military in every branch, taking full advantage of new technologies to fight in new ways.” No matter that the U.S. already outspendsChina by a three-to-one margin and Russia by 10-to-one.

Truth be told, current levels of Pentagon spending could easily accommodate even a robust program of arming Ukraine as well as a shift of yet more U.S. troops to Eastern Europe. However, as hawkish voices exploit the Russian invasion to justify higher military budgets, don’t expect that sort of information to get much traction. At least for now, cries for more are going to drown out realistic views on the subject.

Beyond the danger of breaking the budget and siphoning off resources urgently needed to address pressing challenges like pandemics, climate change, and racial and economic injustice, a new Cold War could have devastating consequences. Under such a rubric, the U.S. would undoubtedly launch yet more military initiatives, while embracing unsavory allies in the name of fending off Russian and Chinese influence.

The first Cold War, of course, reached far beyond Europe, as Washington promoted right-wing authoritarian regimes and insurgencies globally at the cost of millions of lives. Such brutal military misadventures included Washington’s role in coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile; the war in Vietnam; and support for repressive governments and proxy forces in Afghanistan, Angola, Central America, and Indonesia. All of those were justified by exaggerated — even at times fabricated — charges of Soviet involvement in such countries and the supposed need to defend “the free world,” a Cold War term President Biden all-too-ominously revived in his recent State of the Union address (assumedly, yet another sign of things to come).

Indeed, his framing of the current global struggle as one between “democracies and autocracies” has a distinctly Cold War ring to it and, like the term “free world,” it’s riddled with contradictions. After all, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates to the Philippines, all too many autocracies and repressive regimes already receive ample amounts of U.S. weaponry and military training — no matter that they continue to pursue reckless wars or systematically violate the human rights of their own people. Washington’s support is always premised on the role such regimes supposedly play in fighting against or containing the threats of the moment, whether Iran, China, Russia, or some other country.

Count on one thing: the heightened rhetoric about Russia and China seeking to undermine American influence will only reinforce Washington’s support for repressive regimes. The consequences of that could, in turn, prove to be potentially disastrous.

Before Washington embarks on a new Cold War, it’s time to remind ourselves of the global consequences of the last one.

Cold War I: The Coups

Dwight D. Eisenhower is often praised as the president who ended the Korean War and spoke out against the military-industrial complex. However, he also sowed the seeds of instability and repression globally by overseeing the launching of coups against nations allegedly moving towards communism or even simply building closer relations with the Soviet Union.

In 1953, with Eisenhower’s approval, the CIA instigated a coup that led to the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeqh. In a now-declassified document, the CIA citedthe Cold War and the risks of leaving Iran “open to Soviet aggression” as rationales for their actions. The coup installed Reza Pahlavi as the Shah of Iran, initiating 26 years of repressive rule that set the stage for the 1979 Iranian revolution that would bring Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power.

In 1954, the Eisenhower administration launched a coup that overthrew the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz. His “crime”: attempting to redistribute to poor peasants some of the lands owned by major landlords, including the U.S.-based United Fruit Company. Arbenz’s internal reforms were falsely labeled communism-in-the-making and a case of Soviet influence creeping into the Western Hemisphere. Of course, no one in the Eisenhower administration made mention of the close ties between the United Fruit Company and both CIA Director Allen Dulles and his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Such U.S. intervention in Guatemala would prove devastating with the four decades that followed consumed by a brutal civil war in which up to 200,000 people died.

In 1973, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger followed Eisenhower’s playbook by fomenting a coup that overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Chilean President Salvador Allende, installing the vicious dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. That coup was accomplished in part through economic warfare — “making the economy scream,” as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger put it — and partly thanks to CIA-backed bribes and assassinations meant to bolster right-wing factions there. Kissinger would justify the coup, which led to the torture, imprisonment, and death of tens of thousands of Chileans, this way: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

Vietnam and Its Legacy

The most devastating Cold War example of a war justified on anti-communist grounds was certainly the disastrous U.S. intervention in Vietnam. It would lead to the deployment there of more than half a million American troops, the dropping of a greater tonnage of bombs than the U.S. used in World War II, the defoliation of large parts of the Vietnamese countryside, the massacre of villagers in My Lai and numerous other villages, the deaths of 58,000 U.S. troops and up to 2 million Vietnamese civilians — all while Washington systematically lied to the American public about the war’s “progress.”

U.S. involvement in Vietnam began in earnest during the administrations of Presidents Harry Truman and Eisenhower when Washington bankrolled the French colonial effort there to subdue an independence movement. After a catastrophic French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the U.S. took over the fight, first with covert operations and then counterinsurgency efforts championed by the administration of John F. Kennedy. Finally, under President Lyndon Johnson Washington launched an all-out invasion and bombing campaign.

In addition to being an international crime writ large, in what became a Cold War tradition for Washington, the conflict in Vietnam would prove to be profoundly anti-democratic. There’s no question that independence leader Ho Chi Minh would have won the nationwide election called for by the 1954 Geneva Accords that followed the French defeat. Instead, the Eisenhower administration, gripped by what was then called the “domino theory” — the idea that the victory of communism anywhere would lead other countries to fall like so many dominos to the influence of the Soviet Union — sustained an undemocratic right-wing regime in South Vietnam.

That distant war would, in fact, spark a growing antiwar movement in this country and lead to what became known as the “Vietnam Syndrome,” a public resistance to military intervention globally. While that meant an ever greater reliance on the CIA, it also helped keep the U.S. out of full-scale boots-on-the-ground conflicts until the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Instead, the post-Vietnam “way of war” would be marked by a series of U.S.-backed proxy conflicts abroad and the widespread arming of repressive regimes.

The defeat in Vietnam helped spawn what was called the Nixon Doctrine, which eschewed large-scale intervention in favor of the arming of American surrogates like the Shah of Iran and the Suharto regime in Indonesia. Those two autocrats typically repressed their own citizens, while trying to extinguish people’s movements in their regions. In the case of Indonesia, Suharto oversaw a brutal war in East Timor, greenlighted and supported financially and with weaponry by the Nixon administration.

“Freedom Fighters”

Once Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981, his administration began to push support for groups he infamously called “freedom fighters.” Those ranged from extremist mujahideen fighters against the Soviets in Afghanistan to Jonas Savimbi’s forces in Angola to the Nicaraguan Contras. The U.S. funding and arming of such groups would have devastating consequences in those countries, setting the stage for the rise of a new generation of corrupt regimes, while arming and training individuals who would become members of al-Qaeda.

The Contras were an armed right-wing rebel movement cobbled together, funded, and supplied by the CIA. Americas Watch accused them of rape, torture, and the execution of civilians. In 1984, Congress prohibited the Reagan administration from funding them, thanks to the Boland amendment (named for Massachusetts Democratic Representative Edward Boland). In response, administration officials sought a work-around. In the end, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a Marine and member of the National Security Council, would devise a scheme to supply arms to Iran, while funneling excess profits from the sales of that weaponry to the Contras. The episode became known as the Iran-Contra scandal and demonstrated the lengths to which zealous Cold Warriors would go to support even the worst actors as long as they were on the “right side” (in every sense) of the Cold War struggle.

Chief among this country’s blunders of that previous Cold War era was its response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a policy that still haunts America today. Concerns about that invasion led the administration of President Jimmy Carter to step up weapons transfers through a covert arms pipeline to a loose network of oppositional fighters known as the mujahideen. President Reagan doubled down on such support, even meeting with the leaders of mujahideen groups in the Oval Office in 1983. That relationship would, of course, backfire disastrously as Afghanistan descended into a civil war after the Soviet Union withdrew. Some of those Reagan had praised as “freedom fighters” helped form al-Qaeda and later the Taliban. The U.S. by no means created the mujahideen in Afghanistan, but it does bear genuine responsibility for everything that followed in that country.

As the Biden administration moves to operationalize its policy of democracy versus autocracy, it should take a close look at the Cold War policy of attempting to expand the boundaries of the “free world.” A study by political scientists Alexander Downes and Jonathon Monten found that, of 28 cases of American regime change, only three would prove successful in building a lasting democracy. Instead, most of the Cold War policies outlined above, even though carried out under the rubric of promoting “freedom” in “the free world,” would undermine democracy in a disastrous fashion.

A New Cold War?

Cold War II, if it comes to pass, is unlikely to simply follow the pattern of Cold War I either in Europe or other parts of the world. Still, the damage done by the “good versus evil” worldview that animated Washington’s policies during the Cold War years should be a cautionary tale. The risk is high that the emerging era could be marked by persistent U.S. intervention or interference in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the name of staving off Russian and Chinese influence in a world where Washington’s disastrous war on terrorism has never quite ended.

The United States already has more than 200,000 troops stationed abroad, 750 military bases scattered on every continent except Antarctica, and continuing counterterrorism operations in 85 countries. The end of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and the dramatic scaling back of American operations in Iraq and Syria should have marked the beginning of a sharp reduction in the U.S. military presence in the Middle East and elsewhere. Washington’s reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine may now stand in the way of just such a much-needed military retrenchment.

The “us versus them” rhetoric and global military maneuvering likely to play out in the years to come threaten to divert attention and resources from the biggest risks to humanity, including the existential threat posed by climate change. It also may divert attention from a country — ours — that is threatening to come apart at the seams. To choose this moment to launch a new Cold War should be considered the folly of the first order, not to speak of an inability to learn from history.

The Pentagon budget is spiraling beyond any rational limits

Even as Congress moves to increase the Pentagon budget well beyond the astronomical levels proposed by the Biden administration, a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has outlined three different ways to cut $1 trillion in Department of Defense spending over the next decade. A rational defense policy could yield far more in the way of reductions, but resistance from the Pentagon, weapons contractors, and their many allies in Congress would be fierce.

After all, in its consideration of the bill that authorizes such budget levels for next year, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives recently voted to add $25 billion to the already staggering $750 billion the Biden administration requested for the Pentagon and related work on nuclear weapons at the Department of Energy. By any measure, that's an astonishing figure, given that the request itself was already far higher than spending at the peaks of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or President Ronald Reagan's military buildup of the 1980s.

In any reasonable world, such a military budget should be considered both unaffordable and deeply unsuitable when it comes to addressing the true threats to this country's "defense," including cyberattacks, pandemics, and the devastation already being wrought by climate change. Worst of all, providing a blank check to the military-industrial-congressional complex ensures the continued production of troubled weapon systems like Lockheed Martin's exorbitantly expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is typically behind schedule, far above projected costs, and still not considered effective in combat.

Changing course would mean real reform and genuine accountability, starting with serious cuts to a budget for which "bloated" is far too kind an adjective.

Three Options for Reductions

At the request of Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the CBO devised three different approaches to cutting approximately $1 trillion (a decrease of a mere 14%) from the Pentagon budget over the next decade. Historically, it could hardly be a more modest proposal. After all, without any such plan, the Pentagon budget actually did decrease by 30% between 1988 and 1997.

Such a CBO-style reduction would still leave the department with about $6.3 trillion to spend over that 10-year period, 80% more than the cost of President Biden's original $3.5 trillion Build Back Better proposal for domestic investments. Of course, that figure, unlike the Pentagon budget, has already been dramatically whittled down to half its original size, thanks to laughable claims by "moderate" Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) that it would break the bank in Washington. Yet such critics of expanded social and economic programs rarely offer similar thoughts when it comes to the Pentagon's far larger bite of the budgetary pie.

The options in the budget watchdog's new report are anything but radical:

Option one would preserve the "current post-Cold War strategy of deterring aggression through [the] threat of immediate U.S. military response with the objectives of denying an adversary's gains and recapturing lost territory." The proposed cuts would hit each military service equally, with some new weapons programs slowed down and a few, as in the case of the B-21 bomber, cancelled.

Option two "adopts a Cold War-like strategy for large nuclear powers of making aggression very costly and recognizing that the size of conventional conflict would be limited by the threat of a nuclear response." That leaves nearly $2 trillion for the Pentagon's planned "modernization" of the U.S. nuclear arsenal untouched, while relying more heavily on working with allies in conventional war situations than current strategy allows for. It would mean that the military might take longer to deploy in large numbers to a conflict.

Option three "de-emphasizes use of U.S. military force in regional conflicts in favor of preserving U.S. control of the global commons (sea, air, space, and the Arctic), ensuring open access to the commons for allies and unimpeded global commerce." In other words, Afghan- or Iraq-style boots-on-the-ground U.S. interventions would largely be avoided in favor of the use of long-range and "over-the-horizon" weapons like drones, naval blockades, the enforcement of no-fly zones, and the further arming and training of allies.

But looking more broadly at the question of what will make the world a safer place in an era of pandemics, climate change, racial injustice, and economic inequality, reductions well beyond the $1 trillion figure embedded in the CBO's recommendations would be both necessary and possible in a more reasonable American world. The CBO's scenarios remain focused on military methods for solving security problems, assuring an all-too-narrow view of what might be saved by a new approach to security.

Nuclear Excess

The CBO, for instance, chose not to look at possible savings from simply scaling back (not even ending) the Pentagon's $2-trillion, three-decades-long plan to build a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers, and submarines, complete with accompanying new warheads. Scaling back such a buildup, which will only further imperil this planet, could easily save in excess of $100 billion over the next decade.

One significant step toward nuclear sanity would be to adopt the alternative nuclear posture proposed by the organization Global Zero. That would involve the elimination of all land-based nuclear missiles and rely instead on a smaller force of ballistic missile submarines and bombers as part of a "deterrence-only" strategy.

Land-based, intercontinental ballistic missiles were accurately described by former Secretary of Defense William Perry as "some of the most dangerous weapons in the world." The reason: a president would have only a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them upon being warned of an oncoming nuclear attack by an enemy power. That would, of course, greatly increase the risk of an accidental nuclear war and the potential destruction of the planet prompted by a false alarm (of which there have been several in the past). Eliminating such missiles would make the world a far safer place, while saving tens of billions of dollars in the process.

Capping Contractors

While most people think about the Pentagon budget in terms of what it spends on new guns, ships, planes, and missiles, services are about half of what it buys every year. These are the contracts that go to various corporate "Beltway bandits" to consult with the military or perform jobs that could often be done more cheaply by federal employees. Both the Defense Business Board and the Pentagon's own cost estimating office have identified service contracting as an area where there are significant opportunities for large-scale savings.

Last year, the Pentagon spent nearly $204 billion on various service contracts. That's more than the budgets for the Departments of Health and Human Services, State, or Homeland Security. Reducing spending on contractors by even 15% would instantly save tens of billions of dollars annually.

In the past, Congress and the Pentagon have shown that just such savings could easily be realized. For example, a provision in a 2011 defense law simply capped such spending at 2010 levels. Government spending data shows that, in the end, it was reduced by $42 billion over four years.

Closing Unneeded Bases

While the Biden administration seeks to expand domestic infrastructure spending, the Pentagon has been desperate to shed costly and unnecessary military facilities. Both the Obama and Trump administrations asked Congress to authorize another round of what's called base realignment and closure to help the Defense Department get rid of its excess capacity. The Pentagon estimates that it could save $2 billion annually that way.

The CBO report cited above explicitly excludes any consideration of such cost savings as politically unfeasible, given the present Congress. But considering the ways in which climate change is going to threaten current military basing arrangements domestically and globally, that would be an obvious way to go.

Another CBO report warns that the future effects of climate change — from rising sea levels (and flooding coastlines) to ever more powerful storms — will both reduce the government's revenue and increase its mandatory spending, if its base situation remains as it is now. After all, ever fiercer tropical storms and hurricanes, as well as rising levels of flooding, are already resulting in billions of dollars in damage to military bases. Meanwhile, it's estimated that, in the decades to come, more than 1,700 U.S. military installations worldwide may be impacted by sea-level rise. Future rounds of base closings, both domestic and global, should be planned now with the impact of climate change in mind.

Turning Around Congress, Fighting Off Lobbyists

So far, boosting Pentagon spending has been one of the only things a bipartisan majority of this Congress can agree on, as indicated by that House decision to add $25 billion to the Pentagon budget request for Fiscal Year 2022. A similar measure is included in the Senate version, which it will debate soon. There are, however, glimmers of hope on the horizon as the number of members of Congress willing to oppose the longstanding practice of shoveling ever more funds at the Pentagon, no questions asked, is indeed growing.

For example, a majority of Democrats and members of the leadership in the House of Representatives supported an ultimately unsuccessful provision to strip some excess funds from the Pentagon this year. A smaller group voted to cut the department's budget across the board by 10%. Still, it was a number that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. That core group is only likely to grow in the years to come as the costs of non-military challenges like pandemics, climate change, and the financial impact of racial and economic injustice supplant traditional military risks as the most urgent threats to American lives and livelihoods.

Opposition to increased Pentagon spending is growing outside of Washington as well. An ever-wider range of not just progressive but conservative organizations now support substantial reductions in the Pentagon budget. The challenge, however, is to translate such sentiments into a concerted, multifaceted campaign of public pressure that will move a majority of the members of Congress to stop giving the Pentagon a yearly blank check. A new poll from the Eurasia Group Foundation found that twice as many Americans now support cutting the Pentagon budget as support increasing it.

Any attempt to curb Pentagon spending will run up against a strikingly powerful arms industry that deploys campaign contributions, lobbyists, and promises of defense-related employment to keep budgets high. In this century alone, the Pentagon has spent more than $14 trillion, up to one-half of which has gone to contractors. During those same years, the arms industry has spent $285 million on campaign contributions and $2.5 billion on lobbying, most of it focused on members of the armed services and defense appropriations committees that take the lead in deciding how much the country spends for military purposes.

The arms industry's lobbying efforts are especially insidious. In an average year, it employs around 700 lobbyists, more than one for every member of Congress. The top five corporate weapons makers got a return of $1,909 in taxpayer funds for every dollar they spent on lobbying. Most of their lobbyists once worked in the Pentagon or Congress and arrived in the world of arms contractors via the infamous "revolving door." Of course, they then used their relationships with their former colleagues in government to curry favor for their corporate employers. A 2018 investigation by the Project On Government Oversight found that, in the prior decade, 380 high-ranking Pentagon officials and military officers had become lobbyists, board members, executives, or consultants for weapons contractors within two years of leaving their government jobs.

A September 2021 study by the Government Accountability Office found that, as of 2019, the top 14 arms contractors employed more than 1,700 former military or Pentagon civilian employees, including many who had previously been involved in making or enforcing the rules for buying major weapons systems.

The revolving door spins both ways, with executives and board members of the major weapons makers moving into powerful senior positions in government where they're well situated to help their former (and, more than likely, future) employers. The process starts at the top. Four of the past five secretaries of defense have also been executives, lobbyists, or board members of Raytheon, Boeing, or General Dynamics, three of the top five weapons makers that split tens of billions of dollars in Pentagon contracts annually. Both the House and Senate versions of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act extend the periods of time in which those entering the government from such industries have to recuse themselves from decisions involving their former companies. Still, as long as the Pentagon continues to pluck officials from the very outfits driving those exploding budgets, we should all know more or less what to expect.

So far, the system is working — if you happen to be an arms contractor. The top five weapons companies alone split $166 billion in Pentagon contracts in Fiscal Year 2020, well over one-third of those issued by the Department of Defense that year. To give you some sense of the scale of all this — and our government's twisted priorities — Lockheed Martin alone received $75 billion in Pentagon contracts in Fiscal Year 2020, nearly one and one-half times the $52.5 billion allocated for the State Department and the Agency for International Development combined.

Which Way Forward?

The Congressional Budget Office's new report charts a path toward a more rational approach to Pentagon spending, but the $1 trillion in savings it proposes should only be a starting point. Hundreds of billions more could be saved over the next decade by reassessing our national security strategy, cutting back the Pentagon's nuclear buildup, capping its use of private contractors, and scaling back the colossal sums of waste, fraud, and abuse baked into its budget. All of this could be done while making this country and the world a significantly safer place by shifting such funds to addressing the non-military risks that threaten the future of humanity.

Whether our leaders meet the challenges of today or continue to succumb to the power of the arms lobby is an open question.

Copyright 2021 William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands(the final one in his Splinterlands series), 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.

Mandy Smithberger, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

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William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy and the author of "Profits of War: Corporate Beneficiaries of the Post-9/11 Surge in Pentagon Spending" (Brown University's the Costs of War Project and the Center for International Policy, September 2021).

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How corporate America cashed in on the post-9/11 Pentagon spending surge

The costs and consequences of America's twenty-first-century wars have by now been well-documented — a staggering $8 trillion in expenditures and more than 380,000 civilian deaths, as calculated by Brown University's Costs of War project. The question of who has benefited most from such an orgy of military spending has, unfortunately, received far less attention.

Corporations large and small have left the financial feast of that post-9/11 surge in military spending with genuinely staggering sums in hand. After all, Pentagon spending has totaled an almost unimaginable $14 trillion-plus since the start of the Afghan War in 2001, up to one-half of which (catch a breath here) went directly to defense contractors.

"The Purse is Now Open": The Post-9/11 Flood of Military Contracts

The political climate created by the Global War on Terror, or GWOT, as Bush administration officials quickly dubbed it, set the stage for humongous increases in the Pentagon budget. In the first year after the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan, defense spending rose by more than 10% and that was just the beginning. It would, in fact, increase annually for the next decade, which was unprecedented in American history. The Pentagon budget peaked in 2010 at the highest level since World War II — over $800 billion, substantially more than the country spent on its forces at the height of the Korean or Vietnam Wars or during President Ronald Reagan's vaunted military buildup of the 1980s.

And in the new political climate sparked by the reaction to the 9/11 attacks, those increases reached well beyond expenditures specifically tied to fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Harry Stonecipher, then vice president of Boeing, told the Wall Street Journal in an October 2001 interview, "The purse is now open… [A]ny member of Congress who doesn't vote for the funds we need to defend this country will be looking for a new job after next November."

Stonecipher's prophesy of rapidly rising Pentagon budgets proved correct. And it's never ended. The Biden administration is anything but an exception. Its latest proposal for spending on the Pentagon and related defense work like nuclear warhead development at the Department of Energy topped $753 billion for FY2022. And not to be outdone, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have already voted to add roughly $24 billion to that staggering sum.

Who Benefitted?

The benefits of the post-9/11 surge in Pentagon spending have been distributed in a highly concentrated fashion. More than one-third of all contracts now go to just five major weapons companies — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. Those five received more than $166 billion in such contracts in fiscal year 2020 alone. To put such a figure in perspective, the $75 billion in Pentagon contracts awarded to Lockheed Martin that year was significantly more than one and one-half times the entire 2020 budget for the State Department and the Agency for International Development, which together totaled $44 billion.

While it's true that the biggest financial beneficiaries of the post-9/11 military spending surge were those five weapons contractors, they were anything but the only ones to cash in. Companies benefiting from the buildup of the past 20 years also included logistics and construction firms like Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) and Bechtel, as well as armed private security contractors like Blackwater and Dyncorp. The Congressional Research Service estimates that in FY2020 the spending for contractors of all kinds had grown to $420 billion, or well over half of the total Pentagon budget. Companies in all three categories noted above took advantage of "wartime" conditions — in which both speed of delivery and less rigorous oversight came to be considered the norms — to overcharge the government or even engage in outright fraud.

The best-known reconstruction and logistics contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan was Halliburton, through its KBR subsidiary. At the start of both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Halliburton was the recipient of the Pentagon's Logistics Civil Augmentation Program contracts. Those open-ended arrangements involved coordinating support functions for troops in the field, including setting up military bases, maintaining equipment, and providing food and laundry services. By 2008, the company had received more than $30 billion for such work.

Halliburton's role would prove controversial indeed, reeking as it did of self-dealing and blatant corruption. The notion of privatizing military-support services was first initiated in the early 1990s by Dick Cheney when he was secretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and Halliburton got the contract to figure out how to do it. I suspect you won't be surprised to learn that Cheney then went on to serve as the CEO of Halliburton until he became vice president under George W. Bush in 2001. His journey was a (if not the) classic case of that revolving door between the Pentagon and the defense industry, now used by so many government officials and generals or admirals, with all the obvious conflicts-of-interest it entails.

Once it secured its billions for work in Iraq, Halliburton proceeded to vastly overcharge the Pentagon for basic services, even while doing shoddy work that put U.S. troops at risk — and it would prove to be anything but alone in such activities.

Starting in 2004, a year into the Iraq War, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a congressionally mandated body designed to root out waste, fraud, and abuse, along with Congressional watchdogs like Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), exposed scores of examples of overcharging, faulty construction, and outright theft by contractors engaged in the "rebuilding" of that country. Again, you undoubtedly won't be surprised to find out that relatively few companies suffered significant financial or criminal consequences for what can only be described as striking war profiteering. The congressional Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated that, as of 2011, waste, fraud, and abuse in the two war zones had already totaled $31 billion to $60 billion.

A case in point was the International Oil Trading Company, which received contracts worth $2.7 billion from the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency to provide fuel for U.S. operations in Iraq. An investigation by Congressman Waxman, chair of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, found that the firm had routinely overcharged the Pentagon for the fuel it shipped into Iraq, making more than $200 million in profits on oil sales of $1.4 billion during the period from 2004 to 2008. More than a third of those funds went to its owner, Harry Sargeant III, who also served as the finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party. Waxman summarized the situation this way: "The documents show that Mr. Sargeant's company took advantage of U.S. taxpayers. His company had the only license to transport fuel through Jordan, so he could get away with charging exorbitant prices. I've never seen another situation like this."

A particularly egregious case of shoddy work with tragic human consequences involved the electrocution of at least 18 military personnel at several bases in Iraq from 2004 on. This happened thanks to faulty electrical installations, some done by KBR and its subcontractors. An investigation by the Pentagon's Inspector General found that commanders in the field had "failed to ensure that renovations… had been properly done, the Army did not set standards for jobs or contractors, and KBR did not ground electrical equipment it installed at the facility."

The Afghan "reconstruction" process was similarly replete with examples of fraud, waste, and abuse. These included a U.S.-appointed economic task force that spent $43 million constructing a gas station essentially in the middle of nowhere that would never be used, another $150 million on lavish living quarters for U.S. economic advisors, and $3 million for Afghan police patrol boats that would prove similarly useless.

Perhaps most disturbingly, a congressional investigation found that a significant portion of $2 billion worth of transportation contracts issued to U.S. and Afghan firms ended up as kickbacks to warlords and police officials or as payments to the Taliban to allow large convoys of trucks to pass through areas they controlled, sometimes as much as $1,500 per truck, or up to half a million dollars for each 300-truck convoy. In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that "one of the major sources of funding for the Taliban is the protection money" paid from just such transportation contracts.

A Two-Decade Explosion of Corporate Profits

A second stream of revenue for corporations tied to those wars went to private security contractors, some of which guarded U.S. facilities or critical infrastructure like Iraqi oil pipelines.

The most notorious of them was, of course, Blackwater, a number of whose employees were involved in a 2007 massacre of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad's Nisour Square. They opened fire on civilians at a crowded intersection while guarding a U.S. Embassy convoy. The attack prompted ongoing legal and civil cases that continued into the Trump era, when several perpetrators of the massacre were pardoned by the president.

In the wake of those killings, Blackwater was rebranded several times, first as XE Services and then as Academii, before eventually merging with Triple Canopy, another private contracting firm. Blackwater founder Erik Prince then separated from the company, but he has since recruited private mercenaries on behalf of the United Arab Emirates for deployment to the civil war in Libya in violation of a United Nations arms embargo. Prince also unsuccessfully proposed to the Trump administration that he recruit a force of private contractors meant to be the backbone of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

Another task taken up by private firms Titan and CACI International was the interrogation of Iraqi prisoners. Both companies had interrogators and translators on the ground at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a site where such prisoners were brutally tortured.

The number of personnel deployed and the revenues received by security and reconstruction contractors grew dramatically as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wore on. The Congressional Research Service estimated that by March 2011 there were more contractor employees in Iraq and Afghanistan (155,000) than American uniformed military personnel (145,000). In its August 2011 final report, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan put the figure even higher, stating that "contractors represent more than half of the U.S. presence in the contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, at times employing more than a quarter-million people."

While an armed contractor who had served in the Marines could earn as much as $200,000 annually in Iraq, about three-quarters of the contractor work force there was made up of people from countries like Nepal or the Philippines, or Iraqi citizens. Poorly paid, at times they received as little as $3,000 per year. A 2017 analysis by the Costs of War project documented "abysmal labor conditions" and major human rights abuses inflicted on foreign nationals working on U.S.-funded projects in Afghanistan, including false imprisonment, theft of wages, and deaths and injuries in areas of conflict.

With the U.S. military in Iraq reduced to a relatively modest number of armed "advisors" and no American forces left in Afghanistan, such contractors are now seeking foreign clients. For example, a U.S. firm — Tier 1 Group, which was founded by a former employee of Blackwater — trained four of the Saudi operatives involved in the murder of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, an effort funded by the Saudi government. As the New York Times noted when it broke that story, "Such issues are likely to continue as American private military contractors increasingly look to foreign clients to shore up their business as the United States scales back overseas deployments after two decades of war."

Add in one more factor to the two-decade "war on terror" explosion of corporate profits. Overseas arms sales also rose sharply in this era. The biggest and most controversial market for U.S. weaponry in recent years has been the Middle East, particularly sales to countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have been involved in a devastating war in Yemen, as well as fueling conflicts elsewhere in the region.

Donald Trump made the most noise about Middle East arms sales and their benefits to the U.S. economy. However, the giant weapons-producing corporations actually sold more weaponry to Saudi Arabia, on average, during the Obama administration, including three major offers in 2010 that totaled more than $60 billion for combat aircraft, attack helicopters, armored vehicles, bombs, missiles, and guns — virtually an entire arsenal. Many of those systems were used by the Saudis in their intervention in Yemen, which has involved the killing of thousands of civilians in indiscriminate air strikes and the imposition of a blockade that has contributed substantially to the deaths of nearly a quarter of a million people to date.

Forever War Profiteering?

Reining in the excess profits of weapons contractors and preventing waste, fraud, and abuse by private firms involved in supporting U.S. military operations will ultimately require reduced spending on war and on preparations for war. So far, unfortunately, Pentagon budgets only continue to rise and yet more money flows to the big five weapons firms.

To alter this remarkably unvarying pattern, a new strategy is needed, one that increases the role of American diplomacy, while focusing on emerging and persistent non-military security challenges. "National security" needs to be redefined not in terms of a new "cold war" with China, but to forefront crucial issues like pandemics and climate change.

It's time to put a halt to the direct and indirect foreign military interventions the United States has carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and so many other places in this century. Otherwise, we're in for decades of more war profiteering by weapons contractors reaping massive profits with impunity.

Copyright 2021 William D. Hartung

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands(the final one in his Splinterlands series), 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.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy. This piece is adapted from a new report he wrote for the Center for International Policy and the Costs of War Project at Brown University, "Profits of War: Corporate Beneficiaries of the post-9/11 Pentagon Spending Surge."

America's nearly $1.3 Trillion national security budget isn't making us safer

President Biden's first Pentagon budget, released late last month, is staggering by any reasonable standard. At more than $750 billion for the Defense Department and related work on nuclear weapons at the Department of Energy, it represents one of the highest levels of spending since World War II — far higher than the peaks of the Korean or Vietnam wars or President Ronald Reagan's military buildup of the 1980s, and roughly three times what China spends on its military.

Developments of the past year and a half — an ongoing pandemic, an intensifying mega-drought, white supremacy activities, and racial and economic injustice among them — should have underscored that the greatest threats to American lives are anything but military in nature. But no matter, the Biden administration has decided to double down on military spending as the primary pillar of what still passes for American security policy. And don't be fooled by that striking Pentagon budget figure either. This year's funding requests suggest that the total national security budget will come closer to a breathtaking $1.3 trillion.

That mind-boggling figure underscores just how misguided Washington's current "security" — a word that should increasingly be put in quotation marks — policies really are. No less concerning was the new administration's decision to go full-speed ahead on longstanding Pentagon plans to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and missiles, including, of course, new nuclear warheads to go with them, at a cost of at least $1.7 trillion over the next three decades.

The Trump administration added to that plan projects like a new submarine-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile, all of which is fully funded in Biden's first budget. It hardly matters that a far smaller arsenal would be more than adequate to dissuade any country from launching a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies. A rare glimmer of hope came in a recent internal memo from the Navy suggesting that it may ultimately scrap Trump's sea-launched cruise missile in next year's budget submission — but that proposal is already facing intense pushback from nuclear-weapons boosters in Congress.

In all, Biden's first budget is a major win for key players in the nuclear-industrial complex like Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor on the new nuclear bomber and a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM); General Dynamics, the maker of the new ballistic-missile submarine; Lockheed Martin, which produces sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs); and firms like Honeywell that oversee key elements in the Department of Energy's nuclear-warhead complex.

The Biden budget does retire some older-generation weapons. The only reason, however, is to fund even more expensive new systems like hypersonic weapons and ones embedded with artificial intelligence, all with the goal of supposedly putting the United States in a position to win a war with China (if anyone could "win" such a war).

China's military buildup remains, in fact, largely defensive, so ramping up Pentagon spending supposedly in response represents both bad strategy and bad budgeting. If, sooner or later, cooler heads don't prevail, the obsession with China that's gripped the White House, the Pentagon, and key members of Congress could keep Pentagon budgets high for decades to come.

In reality, the principal challenges posed by China are diplomatic and economic, not military, and seeking militarized answers to them will only spark a new Cold War and a risky arms race that could make a superpower nuclear conflict more likely. While there's much to criticize in China's policies, from its crackdown on the democracy movement in Hong Kong to its ethnic cleansing and severe repression of its Uyghur population, in basic military capabilities, it doesn't come faintly close to the United States, nor will it any time soon. Washington's military build-up, however, could undermine the biggest opportunity in U.S.-China relations: finding a way to cooperate on issues like climate change that threaten the future of the planet.

As noted, the three-quarters of a trillion dollars the United States spends on the Pentagon budget is just a portion of a much larger figure for the full range of activities of the national security state. Let's look, category by category, at what the Biden budget proposes to spend on this broader set of activities.

The Pentagon's "Base Budget"

The Pentagon's proposed "base" budget, which, in past years, has included routine spending for fighting ongoing conflicts, was $715 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2022, $10 billion more than last year's request. Despite complaints to the contrary by advocates of even higher Pentagon spending, that represents no small addition. It's larger, for instance, than the entire budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No question about it, the Pentagon remains by a long shot the agency with the largest discretionary budget.

One piece of good news is that this year's request marks the end of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. That slush fund was used to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also included tens of billions of dollars for pet Pentagon projects that had nothing to do with current conflicts.

While off-budget emergency spending has typically only been used in the initial years of a conflict, OCO became a tool to evade caps on the Pentagon's regular budget imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. That legislation has now expired and the Biden administration has heeded the advice of good-government and taxpayer-advocacy groups by eliminating the slush fund entirely.

Unfortunately, its latest budget request still includes $42.1 billion for direct and indirect war-spending costs, which means that, OCO or not, there will be no net reduction in spending. Still, the end of that fund marks a small but potentially significant step towards greater accountability and transparency in the Pentagon budget. Moreover, congressional leaders are urging the Biden administration to seize savings from the ongoing Afghan withdrawal to sooner or later reduce the Pentagon's top line.

As for what's in the base budget, there are a number of particularly troubling proposed expenditures that warrant attention and congressional pushback. Spending on the Pentagon's new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile — known formally as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent — has nearly doubled in the new proposal from $1.4 billion to $2.6 billion.

This may seem like small change in such a budget, but it's just a down payment on a system that could, in the end, cost more than $100 billion to procure and another $164 billion to operate over its lifetime. More importantly, as former secretary of defense William Perry noted, ICBMs are "some of the most dangerous weapons in the world" because a president would have only a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them upon a warning of an attack, greatly increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear war based on a false alarm. In short, the new ICBM is not just costly but exceedingly dangerous for the health of humanity. The Biden budget should have eliminated it, not provided more funding for it.

Another eye-opener is the decision to spend more than $12 billion on the F-35 combat aircraft, a troubled, immensely expensive weapons system whose technical flaws suggest that it may never be fully ready for combat. Such knowledge should, of course, have resulted in a decision to at least pause production on the plane until testing is complete. House Armed Services Committee chair Adam Smith (D-WA) has stated that he's tired of pouring money down the F-35 "rathole," while the Air Force's top officer, General Charles Brown, has compared it to a Ferrari that "you don't drive to work every day" but "only drive it out on Sundays."

Consider that an embarrassing admission for a plane once publicized as a future low-cost bulwark for the U.S. combat aircraft fleet. Whether the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, the three services that utilize variants of the F-35, will stay the course and buy more than 2,400 of these aircraft remains to be seen. Count on one thing, though: the F-35 lobby, including a special F-35 caucus in the House of Representatives and the Machinists Union, whose workers build the planes, will fight tooth and nail to keep the program fully funded regardless of whether or not it serves our national security needs.

And keep in mind that the F-35 is only one of many legacies of failed Pentagon modernization efforts. Even if the Pentagon were to acquire its new systems without delays or cost overruns — something rare indeed — its expensive spending plans have already earned this decade the moniker of the "terrible twenties."

Worse yet, there's a distinct possibility that Congress will push that budget even higher in response to "wish lists" being circulated by each of the military services. Items on them that have yet to make it into the Biden Pentagon budget include things like — surprise! — more F-35s. The Army's wish list even includes systems it claimed it needed to cut. That the services are even allowed to make such requests to Congress is symbolic of a breakdown in budgetary discipline of the highest order.

The base budget also includes mandatory spending for items like military retirement. This year's request adds $12.8 billion to the Pentagon's tab.

Running Tally: $727.9 billion

The Nuclear Budget

It would be reasonable for you to assume that the Department of Energy's budget would primarily be devoted to developing new energy sources and combating climate change, but that assumption would, sadly enough, be wildly off the mark.

In fact, more than half of the department's budget goes to support the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which manages the country's nuclear weapons program. The NNSA does work on nuclear warheads at eight major locations — California, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico (two facilities), South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas — across the country, along with subsidiary facilities in several additional states. NNSA's proposed FY 2022 budget for nuclear-weapons activities is $15.5 billion, part of a budget for atomic-energy-related projects of $29.9 billion.

The NNSA is notorious for poor management of major projects. It has routinely been behind schedule and over cost — to the tune of $28 billion in the past two decades. Its future plans seem destined to hit the pocketbook of the American taxpayer significantly, with projected long-term spending on nuclear weapons activities rising by a proposed $113 billion in a single year.

Nuclear Budget $29.9 billion

Running tally: $757.8 billion

Defense-Related Activities

This is a catch-all category, totaling $10.5 billion in the FY 2022 request, including the international activities of the FBI and payments to the CIA retirement fund, among other things.

Defense-Related Activities $10.5 billion

Running tally: $768.3 billion

The Intelligence Budget

There is very little public information available about how the nation's — count 'em! — 17 intelligence agencies spend our tax dollars. The majority of congressional representatives don't even have staff members capable of accessing any kind of significant information on intelligence spending, a huge obstacle to the ability of Congress to oversee these agencies and their activities in any meaningful way. So far this year there is only a top-line figure available for spending on national (but not military) intelligence activities of $62.3 billion. Most of this money is already believed to be hidden away in the Pentagon budget, so it's not added to the running tally displayed below.

National Intelligence activities: $62.3 billion

Running tally: $768.3 billion

The Military and Defense Department Retirement and Health Budget

The Treasury Department covers military retirement and health expenditures that should be in the Pentagon's base budget. Net spending on these two items — minus interest earned and payments into the two accounts — was a negative $9.7 billion in FY 2022.

Military and Defense Department Retirement and Health Costs: -$9.7 billion

Running tally: $758.6 billion

Veterans Affairs Budget

The full costs of war go far beyond the expenditures contained in the Pentagon budget, including the costs of taking care of the veterans of America's "forever wars." Over 2.7 million U.S. military personnel have cycled through war zones in this century and hundreds of thousands of them have suffered severe physical or psychological injuries, ratcheting up the costs of veterans' care accordingly. In addition, as we emerge from the Covid-19 disaster months, the Veterans Affairs Department anticipates a "bow wave" of extra costs and demands for its services from veterans who deferred care during the worst of the pandemic. The total FY2022 budget request for Veterans Affairs is $284.5 billion.

Veterans Affairs Budget: $284.5 billion

Running tally: $1,043.1 billion

International Affairs Budget

The International Affairs budget includes funding for the State Department and the Agency for International Development, integral parts of the U.S. national security strategy. Here, investments in diplomacy and economic and health activities overseas are supplemented by about $5.6 billion in military aid to other countries. The Biden administration has proposed overall International Affairs funding for FY 2022 at $79 billion.

International Affairs Budget: $79 billion

Running tally: $1,122.1 billion

The Homeland Security Budget

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created by throwing together a wide range of agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Agency, the U.S. Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Coast Guard. The proposed DHS budget for FY2022 is $52.2 billion, nearly one-third of which goes to Customs and Border Protection.

Homeland Security Budget: $52.2 billion

Running tally: $1,174.3 billion

Interest on the Debt

The national security state, as outlined above, is responsible for about 20% of the interest due on the U.S. debt, a total of more than $93.8 billion.

Interest on the debt: $93.8 billion

Final tally: $1,268.1 billion

Are You Feeling Safer Now?

Theoretically, that nearly $1.3 trillion to be spent on national security writ large is supposed to be devoted to activities that make America and the world a safer place. That's visibly not the case when it comes to so many of the funds that will be expended in the name of national security — from taxpayer dollars thrown away on weapons systems that don't work to those spent on an unnecessary and dangerous new generation of nuclear weapons, to continuing to reinforce and extend the historically unprecedented U.S. military presence on this planet by maintaining more than 800 overseas military bases around the world.

If managed properly, President Biden's initiatives on rebuilding domestic infrastructure and combatting climate change would be far more central to keeping people safe than throwing more money at the Pentagon and related agencies. Unfortunately, unlike the proposed Pentagon budget, significant Green New Deal-style infrastructure funding is far less likely to be passed by a bitterly divided Congress. Washington evidently doesn't care that such investments would also be significantly more effective job creators.

A shift in spending toward these and other urgent priorities like addressing the possibility of future pandemics would clearly be a far better investment in "national security" than the present proposed Pentagon budget. Sadly, though, too many of America's political leaders have clearly drawn the wrong lessons from the pandemic. If this country continues to squander staggering sums on narrowly focused national-security activities at a time when our greatest challenges are anything but military in nature, this country (and the world) will be a far less safe place in the future.

Copyright 2021 William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands(the final one in his Splinterlands series), 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.

The erosion of civilian control: How the Pentagon is infecting American politics

This month's insurrection at the Capitol revealed the dismal failure of the Capitol Police and the Department of Defense to use their expertise and resources to thwart a clear and present danger to our democracy. As the government reform group Public Citizen tweeted, "If you're spending $740,000,000,000 annually on 'defense' but fascists dressed for the renaissance fair can still storm the Capitol as they please, maybe it's time to rethink national security?"

At a time of acute concern about the health of our democracy, any such rethinking must, among other things, focus on strengthening the authority of civilians and civilian institutions over the military in an American world where almost the only subject the two parties in Congress can agree on is putting up ever more money for the Pentagon. This means so many in our political system need to wean themselves from the counterproductive habit of reflexively seeking out military or retired military voices to validate them on issues ranging from public health to border security that should be quite outside the military's purview.

It's certainly one of the stranger phenomena of our era: after 20 years of endless war in which trillions of dollars were spent and hundreds of thousands died on all sides without the U.S. military achieving anything approaching victory, the Pentagon continues to be funded at staggering levels, while funding to deal with the greatest threats to our safety and "national security" — from the pandemic to climate change to white supremacy — proves woefully inadequate. In good times and bad, the U.S. military and the "industrial complex" that surrounds it, which President Dwight D. Eisenhower first warned us about in 1961, continue to maintain a central role in Washington, even though they're remarkably irrelevant to the biggest challenges facing our democracy.

These days, it's completely normal for military and defense officials to weigh in endlessly on what once would have been civilian matters. As the Biden years begin, it's time to give some serious thought to how to demilitarize our democracy.

Unfortunately, in the America of 2021, the short-term benefit of relying on the widely accepted credibility of military figures to promote policies of every sort is obvious indeed. Who in the political class in the nation's capital wouldn't want a stamp of approval from dozens of generals, active or retired, endorsing their favorite initiative or candidate? (It's something in years past the authors of this piece have been guilty of as well.) As it happens, though, such approval comes at a high price, undermining as it does the authority of civilian officials and agencies, while skewing resources toward the Pentagon that should be invested elsewhere to keep us truly safe.

It's an essential attribute of the American system that the military remains under civilian authority. These days, however, given the number of current or retired military officers who have become key arbiters of what we should do on a dizzying array of critical issues, civilian control is the policy equivalent of an endangered species.

In the last election season, long before the attack on the Capitol, there was already an intense national discussion about how to prevent violence at the polls, a conversation that all too quickly (and disturbingly) focused on what role the military should play in the process. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was repeatedly asked to provide assurances that it would have no role in determining the outcome of the election, something that in another America would have been a given.

Meanwhile, some actually sought more military involvement. For example, in a widely debated "open letter" to Milley, retired Army officers John Nagl and Paul Yingling stated that "if Donald Trump refuses to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the United States military must remove him by force, and you must give that order." Proposals of this sort undermine the integrity of the many laws Congress and the states have put in place to prevent the military or armed vigilantes from playing any role in the electoral process.

Similarly, both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have identified the military as a key future player in distributing the Covid-19 vaccine, something that could and should be handled by public-health institutions, if only they, like the Pentagon, had adequate resources.

The Military Knows Best?

During and after the attack on the Capitol, officials from the military and national security worlds were given pride of place in discussions about the future of our democracy. Their opinions were sought out by the media and others on a wide range of issues that fell well outside their primary areas of expertise. A letter from 10 former secretaries of defense calling on the Republican caucus to respect the results of the election was given headline attention, while political figures pressed to have retired military officers involved in the January 6th assault tried in military, not civilian, courts.

Before pursuing the second impeachment of Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi typically turned to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs (who isn't even in the civilian chain of command) to seek assurance that he could stop the president from starting a last-minute nuclear war. And none of this was faintly unusual, given that retired military officers have regularly been asked to weigh in on subjects as varied as abortion rights, climate change, and childhood obesity. It's not, of course, that such figures shouldn't be able, like anyone else, to offer their opinions or support on matters of public health and safety, but that their voices shouldn't matter more than those of public-health experts, scientists, medical professionals, or other civilians.

Despite its failure to win a war in decades, the military remains one of America's most respected institutions, getting the kind of appreciation that generally doesn't extend to other more successful public servants. After almost 20 years of forever wars, it's hard, at this point, to accept that the military's reputation for wisdom is deserved. In fact, continually relying on retired generals and other present or former national security officials as validators effectively erodes the credibility of, and the public's trust in, other institutions that are meant to keep us healthy and safe.

In the Covid-19 moment, it should be clear that relying on narrowly defined notions of national security harms our democracy, a subject that none of those military or former military figures are likely to deal with. In addition, in all too many cases, current and retired military officials have abused the public trust in ways that call into question their right to serve as judges of what's important, or even to imagine that they could provide objective advice. For one thing, a striking number of high-ranking officers on leaving the military pass through the infamous revolving door of the military-industrial complex into positions as executives, lobbyists, board members, or consultants for the defense industry. They work on behalf of firms like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics that receive a combined $100 billion annually in Pentagon contracts with little accountability, even as they remain key go-to media figures.

They then use their former rank and the prestige attached to it to lobby Congress and influence the media on the need for endless wars and an ever-increasing military budget to support major weapons programs like Lockheed Martin's troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — all without bothering to disclose that they stand to gain financially from the positions they're taking. And the prospect of a big, fat salary in the weapons sector upon retirement also exerts an unhealthy influence on officers still serving in the military who are often loath to anger, or in any way alienate, their potential future employers.

This revolving-door phenomenon is widespread. A study by the Project on Government Oversight found that, in 2018 alone, there were 645 cases in which the top 20 defense contractors hired former government officials, military officers, members of Congress, and senior congressional legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or executives. This should hardly inspire public trust in their opinions.

When civilian voices and policies are eclipsed as the central determinants in how our democracy should operate, a larger dilemma arises: continuing to rely on the military as a primary source of judgment for what's right or wrong in the civilian world risks politicizing the armed forces, too. From retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn leading chants of "Lock her up!" at the 2016 Republican National Convention to the competition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as well as, in the 2020 election campaign, between Joe Biden and Donald Trump to see who could get more retired generals to endorse him or her only helps militarize the civilian election process and politicizes what should be a nonpartisan institution.

In some cases, ex-military officers have even taken to the airwaves and the op-ed pages of newspapers to advocate for war without disclosing their ties to the arms industry. A 2008 New York Timesinvestigation, for example, revealed that a number of retired-officers-turned-media pundits with continuing defense industry ties had, for years, advocated for the Iraq War at the Pentagon's behest. Ex-generals like former Trump administration Defense Secretary James Mattis, who served on the board of General Dynamics before taking the helm of the Pentagon and returned there shortly after stepping down, too often use their stature to refrain from providing basic information to the media while befogging the transparency and accountability that should be a pillar of democracy.

The Politicization of the Military

Given the more than a trillion dollars Americans annually invest in the national security state, it's striking to note, for instance, how such institutions let us down when it came to addressing the threats of white nationalism. Last summer, the Interceptuncovered a buried FBI report on the shortcomings of various federal agencies when it came to dealing with domestic terrorism. Before the 2020 election, the bureau refused to release that report on the domestic threat of white supremacy. Last year, in a similar fashion, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) withheld for months its assessment of the same "lethal" threat of racist extremism in this country.

While there must be a full investigation of what happened at the Capitol on January 6th, reports seem to indicate a striking blindness in the national security state to the possibility of such an attack. It's not that the DHS, the FBI, or the military need an influx of new funds to face the problem. Rather, what's needed at this moment in history is a clearer focus on the real risks to our country, which have little to do with foreign terrorists, the Taliban, or other such groups the U.S. has been fighting abroad for years on end. The Department of Defense typically did itself and the rest of us no favors by burying a report on widespread racism in the ranks of the military, which, though completed in 2017, didn't see the light of day until this January. Only in the aftermath of the riot at the Capitol did that organization finally begin to truly address its own white-supremacy problems.

The military, like so many other American institutions, has failed to reckon seriously with deep-seated racism in its ranks. Even before the January 6th insurrection, it was clear that such racism made it nearly impossible for Black officers to be promoted. And while many questioned the naming of key military bases after Confederate generals, the issue has only recently been addressed (over a presidential veto at that) with the creation of a new commission to rename them. Reports of active duty, reserve, and veteran members of the military aiding the Capitol insurrection only bring into stark relief the inexcusable costs of not having addressed the problem earlier.

More Pentagon Spending Won't Make Us Safer

There are also high costs to be paid for relying on the Department of Defense to handle problems that have nothing to do with its primary mission. Using the armed forces as key players in addressing crises that aren't military in nature only further undermines civilian institutions and is often counterproductive as well.

In the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of politicians called for President Trump to use the Defense Production Act (as it seems Biden will indeed soon do) and the Department of Defense to ramp up the production of N95 masks, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment. The story of what happened to such funds in the Trump years should be telling. The Washington Post discovered that $1 billion in supposed pandemic relief money was instead funneled directly to defense contractors and $70 million of the funds the Pentagon spent went to ventilators that proved unfit for Covid-19 patients. While some of that money did go to bolster mask supply chains, another Post investigation discovered that such efforts did not come close to addressing national shortfalls and amounted to less than the department spends on instruments, uniforms, and travel for military bands.

Perhaps the most disturbing cost of our overreliance on the military can be found in Congress's budget and policy priorities. In December of last year, a bill to authorize nearly $740 billion in Pentagon spending garnered enough votes to easily overcome President Trump's veto (motivated mainly by his refusal to condone renaming military bases named after Confederate generals) at the very moment when Congress was blocking legislation to give $2,000 relief checks directly to Covid-19 embattled Americans.

By now, two decades into the twenty-first century, it's clear that more money for the Pentagon hasn't made this country safer. It has, however, helped give the military an ever more central role in our previously civilian political world. Biden's selection of retired General Lloyd Austin III to be secretary of defense only emphasizes this point. While it's certainly laudatory to appoint the first Black leader to that position, Austin has retired so recently that he needed a congressional waiver from a law requiring a seven-year cooling off period before taking up such a civilian post (just as Mattis did four years ago) — another sign that civilian control of the military is continuing to weaken. In addition, now that he has retired from his role in private industry, Austin stands to make a small fortune, up to $1.7 million, when he divests his stock holdings in Raytheon Technologies.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," President Eisenhower warned Americans in his 1961 farewell address. How right he proved to be! Sixty years later, it's become all too clear that more must be done to deal with that very "unwarranted influence." The immediate crises of the American republic should be clear enough right now: responding to the pandemic and restoring our civilian democracy. Certainly, military leaders like Milley should be appreciated for agreeing on the need to prioritize the pandemic and oppose sedition. However, more Pentagon spending and more military influence will not, in the end, make us any safer.

Copyright 2021 Mandy Smithberger and William D. Hartung

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel Frostlands(the second in the Splinterlands series), 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.

Mandy Smithberger, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

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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.

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Why Trump's claims to be a peacemaker are absurd on their face

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

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How the business of war fueled the Pentagon's exploding spending over decades

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.

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Here's How Saudi Arabia Took Donald Trump for a Ride

It’s another Trump affair -- this time without the allegations of sexual harassment (and worse), the charges and counter-charges, the lawsuits, and all the rest. So it hasn’t gotten the sort of headlines that Stormy Daniels has garnered, but when it comes to influence, American foreign policy, and issues of peace and war, it couldn’t matter more or be a bigger story (or have more money or lobbyists involved in it). Think of it as the great love affair of the age of Trump, the one between The Donald and the Saudi royals. And if there’s any place to start laying out the story, it’s naturally at a wedding, in this case in a tragic ceremony that happened to take place in Yemen, not Washington.

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Weapons for Anyone: 
Donald Trump and the Art of the Arms Deal

It’s one of those stories of the century that somehow never gets treated that way. For an astounding 25 of the past 26 years, the United States has been the leading arms dealer on the planet, at some moments in near monopolistic fashion. Its major weapons-producers, including Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, regularly pour the latest in high-tech arms and munitions into the most explosive areas of the planet with ample assistance from the Pentagon. In recent years, the bulk of those arms have gone to the Greater Middle East. Donald Trump is only the latest American president to preside over a global arms sales bonanza. With remarkable enthusiasm, he’s appointed himself America’s number one weapons salesman and he couldn’t be prouder of the job he’s doing.

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It’s Going to Be a Good Year for the Merchants of Death

As Donald Trump might put it, major weapons contractors like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin cashed in “bigly” in his first year in office. They raked in tens of billions of dollars in Pentagon contracts, while posting sharp stock price increases and healthy profits driven by the continuation and expansion of Washington’s post-9/11 wars. But last year’s bonanza is likely to be no more than a down payment on even better days to come for the military-industrial complex.

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Trump's Generals Will Build on Obama Policies Toward a Permanent State of War for the U.S.

In the splurge of “news,” media-bashing, and Bannonism that’s been Donald Trump’s domestic version of a shock-and-awe campaign, it’s easy to forget just how much of what the new president and his administration have done so far is simply an intensification of trends long underway. Those who already pine for the age of Obama—a president who was smart, well read, and not a global embarrassment—need to acknowledge the ways in which, particularly in the military arena, Obama’s years helped set the stage for our current predicament.

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The Amount of Our Taxpayer Money the Military Pisses Away Is Just Unbelievable

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Late last year, I spent some time digging into the Pentagon’s “reconstruction” efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries it invaded in 2001 and 2003 in tandem with a chosen crew of warrior corporations. As a story of fabled American can-do in distant lands, both proved genuinely dismal no-can-do tales, from roads built (that instantly started crumbling) to police academies constructed (that proved to be health hazards) to prisons begun (that were never finished) to schools constructed (that remained uncompleted) to small arms transfers (that were “lost” in transit) to armies built, trained, and equipped for stunning sums (that collapsed).  It was as if nothing the Pentagon touched turned to anything but dross (including the never-ending wars it fought).  All of it added up to what I then labeled a massive “$cam” with American taxpayer money lost in amounts that staggered the imagination.

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How Leading GOP Presidential Candidates Want to Balloon the Pentagon's Budget

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Memo to the Congressional "Super-Committee": Military Spending Murders Jobs

Plans for cutting the federal deficit have raised an important question: what impact would military spending reductions have on jobs?

Contrary to the assertions of the arms industry, maintaining military spending at the expense of other forms of federal expenditures would actually result in a net loss of jobs. This is because military spending is less effective at creating jobs than virtually any other form of government activity.

The question is not whether military spending creates jobs – it is whether more jobs could be created by the same amount of money invested in other ways. The evidence on this point is clear.

• A billion dollars devoted to a tax cut creates 25% more jobs than a billion dollars of military spending

• Spending on clean energy production produces one and one-half times more jobs

• Spending on education creates two and one-half times more jobs

And though average overall compensation is higher for military jobs than the others, these other forms of expenditure create more decent-paying jobs (those paying $64,000 per year or more) than military spending does.

Part of the reason that military spending creates fewer jobs than other forms of expenditure is that a large share of that money is either spent overseas or spent on imported goods. By contrast, most of the money generated by spending in areas like education is spent in the United States.

In addition, more of the military dollar goes to capital, as opposed to labor, than do the expenditures in the other job categories. For example, only 1.5% of the price of each F-35 Joint Strike Fighter pays for the labor costs involved in “manufacturing, fabrication, and assembly� work at the plane’s main production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. A full 85% of the F-35s costs go for overhead, not for jobs actually fabricating and assembling the aircraft.

In a climate in which deficit reduction is the central focus of budget policy in Washington, a dollar spent in one area is likely to come from cuts in other areas. The more money we spend on unneeded weapons programs, the more layoffs there will be of police officers, firefighters, teachers and other workers whose jobs are funded directly or indirectly by federal spending.

The Libya Intervention Has Started a Dialogue on Military Spending -- Now Let's Examine the More Expensive, Never-Ending Afghanistan War

Congress, the media, and the public are rightly asking whether America should be spending $1 billion or more on the intervention in Libya at a time of fiscal austerity. One member of Congress has even proposed that the mission be offset dollar for dollar by cuts in domestic programs (leaving the Pentagon and related security programs off limits).

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Made in the U.S.A.: Tear Gas, Tanks, Guns and Fighter Planes Used Against Egyptian Protestors Funded and Built by U.S.

The United States has given billion dollars of military aid to Egypt over the last decades. Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Electric have provided tanks, missiles, engines and more to the Hosni Mubarak regime. Following the massive popular uprising, U.S. foreign aid continues to flow to Egypt, although the Obama administration has placed the program under review. We speak with William Hartung, author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, and Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University.

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Cost of Iraq War Now Beyond Human Comprehension

How far off were they? Well, it depends on which figure you choose to start with. Here's the range: According to key officials in the Bush administration back in 2002-2003, the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq was either going to cost $60 billion, or $100-$200 billion. Actually, we can start by tossing that top figure out, since not long after Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey offered it in 2002, he was shown the door, in part assumedly for even suggesting something so ludicrous.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz championed the $60 billion figure, but added that much of the cost might well be covered by Iraqi oil revenues; the country was, after all, floating on a "sea of oil." ("To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he told a congressional hearing.) Still, let's take that $60 billion figure as the Bush baseline. If economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes are right in their recent calculations and this will turn out to be more than a $3 trillion war (or even a $5-7 trillion one), then the Bush administration was at least $2,940,000,000,000 off in its calculations.

That definitely qualifies as a ballpark figure for an administration that never saw a budget estimate for one of its imperial dreams that it couldn't hike. Take just one of its major "reconstruction" projects: getting the vast U.S. embassy staff out of a former palace of Saddam Hussein and into a brand-new, almost Vatican-sized "embassy," a genuine mother ship, being built from the ground up inside Baghdad's heavily fortified (and often heavily shelled) Green Zone. Originally scheduled to open in mid-2007, what will undoubtedly be the largest "diplomatic" mission on the planet was initially budgeted for $592 million. Predictably, its price tag soared another $144 million, and now comes in at $736 million, as yet unopened. In December 2007, the State Department officially certified it "substantially complete," but, as with most Bush administration construction projects in that country, it remains in a state of staggering unreadiness; two of the State Department employees who worked on it are now "under criminal investigation"; and the State Department is dragging its feet about handing over relevant documents to Congress. Ho-hum.

Nothing, of course, has been cheap for American taxpayers who are financing the Bush administration's war policies. It's been like putting up money for an administration staffed by shopaholics let loose in Neiman Marcus or gambling addicts freed to roam Las Vegas with no betting limits.

But what does money matter? After all, this administration has been spending as if there were no tomorrow. And now, with tomorrow staring them in the face, the latest scare tactic seems to be claiming that doing anything about present policies will simply be ... too expensive. Not long after the price of oil crested above $103 a barrel, Karl Rove, for instance, predicted that any serious "redeployment" from Iraq would mean ... $200 a barrel oil.

Sigh ... Fortunately, we've got William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, to try to put Bush spending policies in its wars of choice into perspective. -- Introduction by TomDispatch editor Tom Engelhardt.

War is Hell, But What the Hell Does it Cost? One Week at War in Iraq and Afghanistan for $3.5 Billion
By William D. Hartung

War is hell -- deadly, dangerous, and expensive. But just how expensive is it?

In a recent interview, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz asserted that the costs of the Iraq war -- budgetary, economic, and societal -- could reach $5 trillion.

That's a hard number to comprehend. Figuring out how many times $5 trillion would circle the globe (if we took it all in one dollar bills) doesn't really help matters much, nor does estimating how many times we could paper over every square inch of Rhode Island with it. The fact that total war costs could buy six trillion donuts for volunteers to the Clinton, Obama, McCain, and Huckabee campaigns -- assuming a bulk discount -- is impressive in its own way, but not all that meaningful either. In fact, the Bush administration's war costs have already moved beyond the human scale of comprehension.

But what if we were to try another tack? How about breaking those soaring trillions down into smaller pieces, into mere millions and billions? How much, for instance, does one week of George Bush's wars cost?

Glad you asked. If we consider the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan together -- which we might as well do, since we and our children and grandchildren will be paying for them together into the distant future -- a conservative single-week estimate comes to $3.5 billion. Remember, that's per week!

By contrast, the whole international community spends less than $400 million per year on the International Atomic Energy Agency, the primary institution for monitoring and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; that's less than one day's worth of war costs. The U.S. government spends just $1 billion per year securing and destroying loose nuclear weapons and bomb-making materials, or less than two days' worth of war costs; and Washington spends a total of just $7 billion per year on combating global warming, or a whopping two weeks' worth of war costs.

So, perhaps you're wondering, what does that $3.5 billion per week actually pay for? And how would we even know? The Bush administration submits a supplemental request -- over and above the more than $500 billion per year the Pentagon is now receiving in its official budget -- to pay for the purported costs of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and for the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). If you can stay awake long enough to read the whole 159-page document for 2008, it has some fascinating revelations.

For example, to hear the howling of the white-collar warriors in Washington every time anyone suggests knocking a nickel off administration war-spending requests, you would think that the weekly $3.5 billion outlay is all "for the troops." In fact, only 10% of it, or under $350 million per week, goes to pay and benefits for uniformed military personnel. That's less than a quarter of the weekly $1.4 billion that goes to war contractors to pay for everything from bullets to bombers. As a slogan, insisting that we need to keep the current flood of military outlays flowing "for Boeing and Lockheed Martin" just doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

You could argue, of course, that all these contracting dollars represent the most efficient way to get our troops the equipment they need to operate safely and effectively in a war zone -- but you would be wrong. Much of that money is being wasted every week on the wrong kinds of equipment at exorbitant prices. And even when it is the right kind of equipment, there are often startling delays in getting it to the battlefield, as was the case with advanced armored vehicles for the Marine Corps.

But before we get to equipment costs, let's take a look at a week's worth of another kind of support. The Pentagon and the State Department don't make a big point -- or really any kind of point -- out of telling us how much we're spending on gun-toting private-contract employees from companies like Blackwater and Triple Canopy, our "shadow army" in Iraq, but we can make an educated guess. For example, at the high end of the scale, individual employees of private military firms make up to 10 times what many U.S. enlisted personnel make, or as much as $7,500 per week. If even one-tenth of the 5,000 to 6,000 armed contract employees in Iraq make that much, we're talking about at least $40 million per week. If the rest make $1,000 a week -- an extremely conservative estimate -- then we have nearly $100 million per week going just to the armed cohort of private-contract employees operating there.

Now, let's add into that figure the whole private crew of non-government employees operating in Iraq, including all the cooks, weapons technicians, translators, interrogators, and other private-contract support personnel. That combined cost probably comes closer to $300 million per week, or almost as much as is spent on uniformed personnel by the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines.

By one reliable estimate, there are more contract employees in Iraq alone -- about 180,000 -- than there are U.S. troops. There are thousands more in Afghanistan. But since many of these non-military employees are poorly paid subcontract workers involved in cooking meals, doing laundry, and cleaning latrines, the total costs for the services of all private-contractor employees in Iraq probably runs somewhat less than the costs of the uniformed military. Hence our estimate.

So, if $650 million or so a week is spent on people, where does the other nearly $3 billion go? It goes for goods and services, from tanks and fighter planes to fuel and food. Most of this money ends up in the hands of private companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the former Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root.

The list of weapons and accessories paid for from our $3.5 billion is long and daunting:

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Is Bush Leading Us to Nuclear War?

Only days before the fifth anniversary of September 11, President George W. Bush addressed military officers in Washington to warn that nuclear-armed terrorists could "blackmail the free world and spread their ideologies of hate and raise a moral threat to America."

This alarmist vision was accompanied by the White House's release of "A National Strategy for Combating Terrorism," which painted a picture of a "troubling potential WMD terrorism nexus emanating from Tehran." The administration is building the case for war against Iran -- a job made easier by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent announcement that Iran can now enrich uranium on an industrial scale -- despite the fact that many Iran-watchers and nuclear experts consider their claims of enrichment capacity to be an overblown boast.

This is not the first time the "no-nuclear-weapons-for-you" ploy has been used to lay the groundwork for a war. On Oct. 7, 2002, while making the case for regime change in Iraq, President Bush said: "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

Yellow cake, aluminum tubes and histrionics about Saddam Hussein's nuclear capabilities followed ... all of which were challenged at the time, and have turned out to be completely fabricated. And, when not grinding the axe of pre-emptive war as counter-proliferation strategy, the administration periodically raises the specter of nuclear terrorism, in the form of dirty bombs and suitcase-sized warheads.

But while the United States demands that other countries end their nuclear programs, the Bush administration is busy planning a new generation of nuclear weapons. Nearly 20 years after the Berlin Wall crumbled, the United States is allocating more funding, on average, to nuclear weapons than during the Cold War.

The Bush administration is pumping this money -- more than $6 billion this year -- into renovating the nuclear weapons complex and designing new nuclear weapons. Such hypocrisy is one of the main obstacles to nuclear arms reductions because it runs the risk of shattering the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in which the nuclear-armed states pledged to begin the process of disarmament if the non-nuclear states opted not to pursue the deadly technology.

The centerpiece of the administration's move toward developing a new generation of nuclear weapons is "Complex 2030," a multiyear plan introduced last April by the National Nuclear Security Administration (the semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy that oversees the nuclear weapons program).

Complex 2030 calls for the construction of new or upgraded facilities at each of the National Nuclear Security Administration's eight nuclear weapons-related sites throughout the country. The plan also calls for building a new nuclear weapon, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), inside the old warheads. The program was conceived in response to concerns that the cores of existing nuclear weapons could be wearing out and need to be replaced. But RRW development has gone much further than that.

The Department of Energy (DOE) notes in its summary of Complex 2030 that one of the major goals of the program is to "improve the capability to design, develop, certify and complete production of new or adapted warheads in the event of new military requirements." In short, while the Bush administration has publicly stressed reductions in nuclear weapons, it is working to produce new, more usable nuclear weapons.

Three small steps forward

As a candidate for president in 2000, and during his first months in office, Bush suggested that the United States should significantly cut its nuclear arsenal. In his first address before a joint session of Congress, the new president went so far as to pledge: "We can discard Cold War relics and reduce our own nuclear forces to reflect today's needs." He followed through on this promise with the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which calls for reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals from 6,000 each -- the limit established under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads each over a 10-year period.

Presidents Bush and Putin signed the treaty at Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg right after the city celebrated its 300th birthday in June 2003. Also known as the Treaty of Moscow, SORT has serious flaws. It has no method for verifying that each side is meeting its commitments; the cuts are not permanent -- neither side is obligated to destroy or dismantle the warheads, only to take them "off-line;" and both sides would have to agree to extend the treaty if they have not met their obligations by the time the treaty expires in 2012. After the Senate unanimously voted to ratify the treaty, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) called it "as flimsy a treaty as the Senate has ever considered." Yet even with these flaws, SORT establishes important benchmarks and offers the potential of trust-building between the former superpower rivals.

Another positive development occurred in mid-February, when the Bush administration, after years of work through the "six party talks," announced a deal with North Korea. The hermit nation agreed to take the first steps toward dismantling its nuclear program in exchange for large supplies of fuel oil and eventual political recognition. The first phase of the agreement calls for North Korea to take concrete steps within 60 days, including closing down its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, getting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the ground, and beginning to reveal the locations of its other nuclear facilities. In exchange, it will receive 50,000 tons of fuel oil at the end of the 60-day period. The agreement demonstrates that the Bush administration is slowly learning the nuances of diplomacy -- you have to give to get.

More good news surrounds the recent fate of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). One of the most controversial new weapon designs proposed by the nuclear weapons complex, the RNEP promised to destroy hardened and deeply buried targets, such as underground bunkers containing chemical and biological weapons and military command centers. Such a difficult challenge would necessitate decades of steady and climbing investment, making it the kind of techno-fantasy that the nuclear weapons complex of the future would love to tackle.

In 2003, Congress allocated $15 million to study the RNEP. But in 2004 and 2005, Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), then chair of the Water and Energy Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, led successful fights to defund the RNEP. Later, he boasted: "It's dead, forget about it! Go conventional. If I have to kick it three or four times, I'm going to keep kicking at it until we think we've totally gotten it out of the way."

Giant leaps backward

The Bush administration has aggressively counteracted these small positive developments with a succession of negative and destabilizing actions and statements -- the most significant of which is the assertion that nuclear weapons are a central component of U.S. military and political strategy.

This stunner was concealed within the administration's 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), a Pentagon report that relies on input from the Joint Chiefs and the armed services to define the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security. The final classified report concluded that nuclear weapons "play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends."

Submitted to Congress in January 2002, the NPR was not made public until portions were leaked to the press two months later. It states, "The need is clear for a revitalized nuclear weapons complex that will ... be able, if directed, to design, develop, manufacture and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground testing if required."

The NPR introduces the concept of a "new Triad," composed of nuclear and non-nuclear strike capabilities, defensive systems, and "responsive infrastructure" for maintaining and/or producing nuclear weapons as requested. The report also emphasizes the development of creative new nuclear weapons -- like low-yield or surgical warheads that are able to "reduce collateral damage," and nuclear bombs with "earth penetrating" capabilities.

The NPR concluded that nuclear weapons "provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force." The Bush NPR explicitly named potential targets -- Iran, Syria, North Korea, China and Russia. The review explained that the United States might use nuclear weapons to retaliate for the use of chemical or biological weapons against U.S. targets, as the ultimate tool in a military conflict over Taiwan, or, disturbingly, as a response to undefined "surprising developments." Proliferation trumps prevention

During the Cold War, spending on nuclear weapons averaged $4.2 billion a year. When the Cold War ended, DOE officials and members of Congress imagined the conversion of the nuclear weapons complex. But innovative proposals for civilian or green technology labs never got off the ground, and the nuclear labs successfully lobbied Congress for a new infusion of weapons money. By the end of President Clinton's tenure, nuclear weapons activities within the DOE's annual budget had jumped to $5.2 billion -- more than the Cold War average, but less than what the new Bush administration would say it needed.

Since then, spending on nuclear weapons has increased by almost 14 percent to a 2007 total of $6.4 billion (after adjustment for inflation), but it is not enough to satisfy a nuclear-obsessed administration. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), formed in 2000 to manage the nation's nuclear weapons complex within the DOE, has a five-year "National Security Plan" that calls for annual increases that will push the nuclear weapons budget to $7.4 billion by 2012.

Compare these significant increases in nuclear spending to what the DOE is allocating for non-proliferation and prevention of nuclear conflict. The NNSA spends more than nine times more on "Atomic Energy Defense Activities" -- a category that includes nuclear weapons, naval nuclear reactors and environmental cleanup at military nuclear facilities -- than it does on nuclear arms reductions and non-proliferation.

In addition, spending on nuclear weapons research, development and maintenance in the DOE budget far outpaces the funding devoted to the development of alternative energy sources, a critical need in the age of global warming and dwindling oil supplies. The DOE's proposed budget for "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy" -- which includes non-nuclear, non-fossil fuel forms of energy -- is $1.2 billion for FY 2008, one-thirteenth of expenditures on "Atomic Energy Defense Activities."

Upgrading nuclear capabilities

Under Complex 2030, the NNSA is taking steps to boost the U.S. ability to test and produce new warheads, and to consolidate production of uranium, plutonium and non-nuclear components within nuclear weapons.

The central component of Complex 2030 is the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. The official rationale for the RRW program is to produce weapons that are safer and more durable than the warheads in the current stockpile. Supporters of RRW fear that the components of nuclear weapons could wear out and that the only way to know if the warheads are viable is to replace their inner workings. And -- the line of thinking continues -- as long as scientists are replacing the plutonium or uranium cores, they might as well "tweak" the weapon's design.

But the assertion that the old nuclear weapons need to be replaced by reliable new warheads is undermined by a recent NNSA study that indicates that the existing plutonium triggers, or "pits," may be viable for another 90 to 100 years. The report, issued in November and reviewed by an independent panel of scientists and academics, indicates the need for considerable skepticism of the Complex 2030 claims.

In addition, the RRW program will establish the infrastructure needed for future development of new warheads with new capabilities. A key element of this upgraded and consolidated nuclear infrastructure is a new facility to produce "pits," the plutonium triggers that set off the explosion of a hydrogen bomb. The DOE has proposed constructing a Modern Pit Facility, but Congress has deemed the $2 to $4 billion price tag too steep, and has rejected funding proposals for two years running.

As an alternative, the department is pushing the idea of a Consolidated Plutonium Center (CPC) that would bring all of the plutonium-related activities together at one site. The new facility would be a sort of "modern pit facility-plus," capable each year of producing 125 plutonium pits to trigger nuclear weapons, and at the same time develop new military applications for plutonium.

This more expansive concept is likely to cost more than the facility alone, but NNSA has yet to provide a cost estimate to Congress. A small down payment for the CPC -- $24.9 million -- is proposed in the FY 2008 budget; budget projections for continuing work on the CPC total $282 million through 2012.

Under Complex 2030, the new CPC will be one of a series "transformed" and "consolidated" nuclear sites. Currently, there are eight facilities -- Los Alamos National Laboratory (N.M.), Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (Calif.) and Sandia National Laboratories (N.M.), the Nevada Test Site (R&D activities, including sub-critical experiments), the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant in Tennessee (uranium and other components), the Pantex Plant in Texas (warhead assembly, disassembly, disposal), the Kansas City Plant (non-nuclear components), and the Savannah River Site (tritium extraction and handling) in Georgia.

While Complex 2030 would mandate that some of the sites have a smaller "footprint" (less floor space), it would also require the investment of tens of billions of dollars for new or upgraded factories, including two new factories -- a Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) and a Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) -- at the Y-12 site; a new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory to "support plutonium operations"; a new factory for the production of non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons at the current site of the Kansas City plant; and significant upgrades at the Pantex warhead assembly/disassembly facility. The spending on the CPC is only a small portion of the as yet unknown costs of the Complex 2030 initiative. Broken pledges, skeptical Congress

All of this raises concerns for Robert Civiak. A program examiner for Department of Energy national security programs in 1988 and 1989, Civiak now does research for Tri-Valley Cares, a group that advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. He calls the Reliable Replacement Warhead a "multibillion dollar effort to redesign and replace every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal." Jay Coghlan, executive director at Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, agrees, calling RRW a "nukes forever program, and a Trojan horse for future new designs."

NNSA's planning documents call for the production of the first RRW by 2012, and according to analysis by James Sterngold in the San Francisco Chronicle, the work is already beginning. He writes, "Lab officials said researchers not only have produced extensive designs ... but they have already conducted non-nuclear tests of the critical detonation devices and other components. They have begun to plan in detail how the weapons would be manufactured."

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), the new chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, has criticized the RRW project for its "make-it-up-as-you-go-along" approach. "There appears to have been little thought given to the question of why the United States needs to build new nuclear warheads at this time," he says. "My preference is that the DOE would have spent their resources reconfiguring the old Cold War complex and dismantling obsolete warheads." He has not ruled out slowing or eliminating the RRW if the administration is unable to present a strategy "that defines the future mission, the emerging threats and the specific U.S. nuclear stockpile necessary to achieve strategic goals."

The 110th Congress and beyond

In an August 2005 speech to a symposium on post-cold war nuclear strategy, Rep. Hobson described the administration's call for research on new bombs and the Nuclear Earth Penetrator as "very provocative and overly aggressive policies that undermine our moral authority to argue that other nations should forgo nuclear weapons."

Hobson's concerns are shared by a number of his colleagues on the other side of the aisle, including Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Lynne Woolsey (D-Calif.), all of whom joined him in successfully leading an effort to defund the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. Skepticism about the need for massive investment in nuclear weapons at a time of huge war bills and growing deficits, a growing sophistication about nuclear issues, and a Democratic majority means that for the first time in years the nuclear weapons complex is feeling the heat.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) represents the state that houses the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which recently won the Reliable Replacement Warhead competition. In a press release issued after the decision, she said, "While I appreciate the fact that Lawrence Livermore was selected, this in no way answers my questions about the Reliable Replacement Warhead program" -- a program that she remains "100 percent opposed to."

Despite support from the White House, the DOE, key contractors, and a number of powerful members of Congress such as Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) -- all of whom have nuclear weapons facilities in their states or districts -- the Complex 2030 plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure may be scaled back or rejected by congressional opponents, who will receive backing from arms control and environmental organizations.

But it will take more than cutting a million here or a billion there, more than gunning against a specific corner of the Complex 2030 plan, more than defunding the most aggressive or alarming aspects of the nuclear weapons complex, to deal with nuclear weapons in the 21st century. Members of Congress are going to need to challenge the bedrock of administration foreign policy -- that nuclear weapons should occupy center stage as a guarantor of U.S. security.

But they will not do that without being pushed -- and pushed hard -- by civil society. The urgency of the task creates opportunities for a big tent of strange bedfellows to work together: Weary cold warriors like George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, who in January co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons"; well-established Washington organizations like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Arms Control Association; disarmament activists like Helen Caldicott and the Abolition 2000 network; and members of the international community from the United Nations on down are all saying the same thing: The United States cannot insist that other nations disarm or opt not to pursue nuclear technology, while aggressively ramping up U.S. nuclear capabilities. This hypocrisy cannot stand.

Global security through nuclear disarmament or a world awash in nuclear weapons. The choice is obvious. And it is ours to make.

Bombings Put 'Executive Mercenaries' In Spotlight

You had probably never heard of the Vinnell Corp. before the brutal bombing that killed at least nine of its employees in Saudi Arabia this week, but you should have.

This is the second time Vinnell's Saudi operations have been targeted. The first attack, in November 1995, hit the headquarters of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, or SANG, and a nearby office complex that housed Vinnell employees. Though both attacks were decried by U.S. officials as senseless violence, they actually had a chillingly clear, brutal logic.

Vinnell's job in Saudi Arabia is to train the national guard, which Jane's Defense Weekly has described as "a kind of Praetorian Guard for the House of Saud, the royal family's defense of last resort against internal opposition." That is why company employees were targeted in 1995 and again last week. The story of how an obscure American firm ended up becoming an integral part of the Saudi monarchy's handpicked internal security force is a case study in how unaccountable private companies have become a central tool of U.S. foreign policy.

Vinnell was founded in 1931 as a small Los Angeles area construction firm. According to a 1975 profile of the company in the New York Times, the firm's early growth was tied to the building of the L.A. freeway system, work on the Grand Coulee Dam, and the construction of Dodger Stadium.

But by the end of World War II, the company was already dabbling in military work, funneling guns to Chiang Kai-shek to fuel his efforts to displace the communist regime in Beijing. In a memoir, former CIA operative Wilbur Crane Eveland described using his title as Vinnell vice president as a cover while working in Africa and the Middle East in the early 1960s.

Vinnell's military contracts took off after that. The Times' article reported that the company landed work building military airfields in Okinawa, Taiwan, Thailand, South Vietnam and Pakistan. At the height of the Vietnam conflict, Vinnell had 5,000 personnel in that country. According to a March 1975 article in the Village Voice that quoted an anonymous Pentagon source, the company did everything from base construction to military operations. The source described Vinnell as "our own little mercenary army in Vietnam."

Also in 1975, the company received a $77-million contract to train the Saudi National Guard. The deal raised eyebrows at the time both among Senate hawks like Henry Jackson and John C. Stennis -- who questioned the propriety of a private company undertaking such a sensitive military training mission -- and reformers like then Wisconsin Rep. Les Aspin, who found evidence suggesting Vinnell had used a middleman to bribe Saudi officials for the contract. When Peter Arnett, then an Associated Press reporter, asked one of Vinnell's "men in Riyadh" whether he viewed himself as a mercenary he was told: "[W]e are not pulling the triggers. We train people to pull the triggers. Perhaps that makes us executive mercenaries."

There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that at times Vinnell employees went beyond "training people to pull the triggers." In 1979, when a rebellion rocked the Saudi regime and opposition forces occupied the Grand Mosque at Mecca, Vinnell "trainers" were reportedly on the scene, helping to coordinate the Saudi military response. By 1981, when Ronald Reagan declared that he would not let Saudi Arabia become "another Iran," Vinnell's role in propping up the regime had become even more critical.

The question now is what to do about companies like Vinnell, which is currently a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, and which received a new $831-million, five-year contract in 1998.

There have been recriminations in recent days about whether Saudi officials did enough to protect the Vinnell compound, but these criticisms miss the larger point: Why is it necessary for a U.S. company to play such a central role in training the Saudi regime's Praetorian Guard? And if the hired "protectors" of the Saudi regime can't even protect their own employees in the kingdom, has the time come to rethink the U.S. commercial/military presence in Riyadh?

Just as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has suggested decreasing the U.S. troop presence in Saudi Arabia, it may be time to look at reducing the role of private military companies there as well.

As the second attack on Vinnell in eight years suggests, in the context of Saudi society, the presence of "executive mercenaries" is apparently no less provocative than the presence of uniformed personnel.

While we're looking at the Saudi situation, let's also review the wisdom of using private military companies like Vinnell, DynCorps, and Halliburton to do everything from bombing drug labs in Colombia to rebuilding Iraq. If we are going to rely more heavily on these firms to carry out U.S. policies, let's at least set some clear ground rules for their operations, to ensure a higher level of transparency and accountability.

Curbing the privatization of our foreign policy would be good for our democracy, good for America's global reputation, and good for the employees of companies like Vinnell, who have all too often been put in harm's way.

William D. Hartung is a senior research fellow at the World Policy Institute and a contributor to the forthcoming "Power Trip: Unilateralism and Global Strategy after September 11" (Seven Stories Press). He serves on the Advisory Committee for Foreign Policy in Focus. This commentary first appeared in the May 16, 2003 edition of the Los Angeles Times.

Buying a Coalition

Just as his father did, George W. Bush is offering generous packages of aid and arms to nations that join his drive for war against Iraq. There is so much bargaining going on that arms analyst Ira Shorr has called the Administration's ad hoc alliance for war the "coalition of the wanting." According to former Secretary of State James Baker, winning support for the first Gulf War involved "cajoling, extracting, threatening and occasionally buying votes." This time there is far more buying and threatening than cajoling going on, and recruiting allies has been far more costly.

Would-be allies are driving harder bargains because Gulf War II is a much shakier proposition. As John Chipman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has observed, "Then it was straightforward. Eject Iraq from Kuwait. Now it's 'regime change,' and that's ... hard for many to swallow." Bush officials are hoping that massive doses of U.S. aid will make unpopular anti-Iraq positions go down more easily. The Administration is weighing proposals for nearly $30 billion worth of grants and subsidized loans for allies concerned about the political and economic side-effects of a new Gulf conflict.

Recipients of Administration largesse fit into two categories: (1) countries in the region seeking to be reimbursed for the negative impacts of the war, and (2) countries whose support is sought as a way to legitimize the war in the eyes of a skeptical world. The biggest aid deal is being offered to one of the former -- Turkey. As this went to press, the Turkish Parliament was considering a U.S. offer of $15 billion in aid -- $5 billion in grants and $10 billion in guaranteed loans -- in exchange for Turkey's agreement to host 62,000 U.S. ground troops for an invasion of northern Iraq.

The Administration is also finalizing separate deals for Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Israel is seeking a multiyear deal involving $4 billion in new grants and $8 billion to $10 billion in U.S.-government guaranteed loans. Jordan is slated to receive an additional $1 billion in aid, and Egypt is seeking new aid beyond its current $1.3 billion, plus a free-trade deal similar to the one Jordan already has with the United States. In exchange for the increased aid, Jordan is hosting U.S. special forces and engaging in joint intelligence gathering. Israel has shared intelligence and helped train U.S. forces for urban combat, but the biggest "contribution" sought by the Administration is for the Sharon government to refrain from retaliating in the event of an Iraqi attack, to avoid regionalizing the conflict. Sharon has so far refused to make any such pledge. From Egypt, a key Arab ally whose population is overwhelmingly against the war, Washington is seeking a statement of political support and the use of some air bases.

Outside the Middle East, the most important battleground is the fifteen-member UN Security Council, where the United States is seeking a resolution justifying the use of force to oust Saddam Hussein. So far, Washington can count on support from the United Kingdom, Bulgaria and Spain. Bulgaria's support was secured by a U.S. pledge to see to it that Iraq pays its outstanding debts to Bulgaria in the post-Saddam period. The Administration's next objective is to win over "swing states" like Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan with a mix of promises and threats.

The United States is notorious for bullying nations over key Security Council votes. In 1990, when Yemen voted against authorizing war on Iraq, a U.S. diplomat told the Yemeni ambassador, "That was the most expensive no vote you ever cast." Three days later, all U.S. aid to Yemen was canceled. Last November, Mauritius recalled its UN ambassador and gave him a public scolding for failing to speak out forcefully enough insupport of U.S.-sponsored Security Council Resolution 1441 against Iraq. UN expert Phyllis Bennis notes that Mauritius made this move to avoid falling afoul of a provision of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which states that U.S. aid recipients should not "engage in activities contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interests." The Administration will seek to exert similar leverage over Guinea and Cameroon, both of which are recipients of U.S. aid under AGOA.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies provides a detailed accounting of the military and economic levers the Administration is likely to use to round up votes at the UN. For Mexico, a vote against the United States could spark a backlash that would undermine aid and trade, a daunting prospect for a country that sends 80 percent of its exports to the U.S. market. A no vote by Chile could kill plans for granting it the same access to the U.S. market that Canada and Mexico now enjoy. Pakistan will have to weigh the costs of voting with the United States and antagonizing its strongly antiwar population against the costs of voting against Washington and risking cutbacks in the hundreds of millions in U.S. aid and loans it is receiving as a privileged ally in the "war on terrorism." For Angola, future U.S. loans for developing its critical oil industry may hang in the balance.

Leaders in Donald Rumsfeld's so-called New Europe who have spoken out in favor of the Administration's war policies are also hoping to receive increased U.S. assistance. As the Pentagon considers cutbacks in its presence in Germany to punish the Schröder government for its antiwar stance, prowar governments in Eastern and Central Europe may be courted to host new U.S. bases. In the process, they are likely to receive special favors like the recent $3.8 billion U.S.-government-subsidized loan to Poland to finance the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-16 combat aircraft. Don't be surprised if states like Hungary, which is hosting a U.S. training mission for Iraqi exiles, receive sweet deals for U.S. military equipment as a "thank you" for their support of the war in Iraq. These arms deals will no doubt be helped along by influential friends of the Administration like former Lockheed Martin vice president Bruce Jackson, who serves as chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a private, pro-intervention lobbying group launched last fall with the blessing of the White House. Jackson was involved in helping draft the widely publicized letter in support of Bush's Iraq policy by leaders of Eastern and Central European states.

Given the military and economic leverage the Administration can bring to bear, it's amazing that so many key governments have held out this long. If the global peace movement keeps the pressure on, there may be time to stop this war yet, despite the machinations of the President and his hard-line advisers.

Perils of Bush's Nuclear Policy

In the annals of the nuclear age, this week is historic for two reasons.

June 12 was the twentieth anniversary of the million-person disarmament march in New York's Central Park. The march helped turn the tide in an era of perpetual, spiraling arms race, creating the impetus for major reductions in nuclear weapons.

The next day, June 13, marked the official US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

The two events have sparked contradictory responses.

On Wednesday in Washington, the Heritage Foundation hosted a "celebration" of the imminent demise of the ABM Treaty featuring John Bolton, the Bush administration's virulently anti-arms control Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs.

Later that day in Manhattan, Peace Action and the Nation magazine sponsored a rally to commemorate the 1982 Central Park disarmament demonstration and to promote an "Urgent Call" for verifiable nuclear arms reductions.

The convergence of these historic events and the ongoing conflict between the nuclear-armed states of India and Pakistan raises an obvious question: are we on the right track to reduce nuclear dangers in the decades to come, or are we on the verge of a new global arms race?

We already know President George W. Bush's answer.

Bush recently touted the loophole-laden new strategic arms agreement with Russia as a historic step that will "liquidate the legacy of the Cold War." Administration officials argue that the Pentagon's new freedom to pursue a multi-tiered missile defense system will protect Americans from nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, whether launched by a rogue-state or accidentally by an established nuclear-weapon state. These new-age nuclear conservatives also insist that the Bush White House is carrying on the unfinished legacy of Ronald Reagan, who called for an ambitious missile defense shield and deep nuclear reductions.

Unfortunately, these comforting views of the administration's nuclear policy are a gross distortion of recent history and current realities.

It's true that Ronald Reagan rode into Washington like the ultimate nuclear cowboy, joking that "the bombing will start in five minutes." But by his second term, it was clear that he was committed to the abolition of nuclear weapons. Indeed, if he wasn't so taken with the notion of an impenetrable missile shield, Reagan might have overruled his top aides and agreed to a plan presented by Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1986 Reykjavik summit to eliminate all US and Soviet nuclear weapons.

As it was, Reagan negotiated two major arms reduction accords, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement and the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and he endlessly reminded Gorbachev that when it comes to arms reductions, nations must "trust but verify."

In stark contrast to Reagan's record of supporting verifiable arms reductions -- which was clearly shaped by a vibrant anti-nuclear movement and the historic changes in Moscow -- the Bush administration is committed to a policy of nuclear unilateralism disguised as arms control.

Even after 10 years, last month's Bush-Putin accord will leave both sides with massive nuclear overkill capability arsenals in the range of 1,700 to 2,200 deployed nuclear warheads each. More critically, the new agreement doesn't require either side to destroy the weapons removed from active deployment, leaving the fate of thousands of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons unresolved.

Worst of all, the new US nuclear posture review emphasizes developing "usable" lower-yield weapons and expanding the number of scenarios under which we might use or threaten to use nuclear arms. This is a clear endorsement of the idea that these ultimate terror weapons have legitimate uses -- a dangerously hypocritical stance to adopt at a time when the White House is trying to convince other countries to forego or cut nuclear arsenals to reduce chances that they might end up in the hands of terrorists.

If President Bush truly wants to fulfill Ronald Reagan's legacy, he should agree to the prompt destruction of the thousands of nuclear weapons taken out of deployment under the Bush-Putin accord. He should also move quickly to broker a deal to destroy all tactical nuclear weapons on both sides, and to revive plans to cap the nuclear arsenals of states like Iraq and North Korea through verifiable diplomatic initiatives, rather than scattershot military threats.

That would be a nuclear policy worth bragging about.

William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute and the author of "About Face," an analysis of the Bush administration's nuclear policy. This article originally appeared in GlobalBeat.org.

Making the World Safe for Nuclear Weapons

At first glance, the U.S.-Russian agreement to reduce deployed nuclear weapons by two-thirds over the next decade seems like good news. But upon closer inspection, President Bush's latest diplomatic "victory" is a dangerous, double-edged sword. Far from leaving the Cold War behind us, the new arms accord preserves the reality of "mutually assured destruction," even as it opens the door to what nuclear weapons analyst Richard Butler has described as a potential era of "unilateral assured destruction, American-style."

In expressing his support for the accord, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut inadvertently cited one of the major weaknesses of the proposed accord, noting that "both countries have enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other and most of the rest of the world, even after this agreement."

That's precisely the problem with the agreement: it doesn't go nearly far enough.

By holding fast to their capabilities for massive overkill, the United States and Russia are violating their pledge under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to make an "unequivocal undertaking" to eliminate their nuclear arsenals at the earliest possible date. This "do as I say, not as I do" approach to non-proliferation by the world's two largest nuclear powers will undermine the incentives for other nations to put aside their own efforts to develop these devastating weapons.

Looked at in the context of the Bush administration's bellicose Nuclear Posture Review, which endorses the development of new, more "usable" nuclear weapons while dramatically expanding the circumstances in which the Pentagon would consider "going nuclear" in a future conflict, the Bush-Putin accord represents a reorientation of the nuclear arms race, not a step toward nuclear disarmament.

By taking 10 years to make the proposed reductions, allowing both sides to keep thousands of their withdrawn warheads in "reserve" rather than destroying them, and giving either party the right to withdraw from the agreement on just 90 days notice, the Pentagon has preserved its ability to rapidly reverse the Bush administration's proposed reductions in the U.S. arsenal whenever it wants to, even as it continues to seek new types of nuclear weapons. Add to this the Pentagon's undiminished right under the accord to pursue a costly, multi-tiered missile defense system, and the outlines of a drive for unchallenged U.S. nuclear dominance become clear.

One clear sign that the new accord isn't a step toward disarmament is the fact that spending on the Pentagon's so-called "New Triad" -- composed of long-range strike systems, ballistic missile defenses, and a revitalized nuclear arms production complex -- is slated to increase by more than $30 billion over the next five years.

No wonder weapons makers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Bechtel are not complaining about the Bush-Putin agreement.

As one Bush administration official put it, "What we agreed to under the treaty is what we wanted to do anyway. That's our kind of treaty."
No doubt. But by failing to give anything up in pursuit of maximum "flexibility" for U.S. nuclear planners, President Bush is squandering a historic opportunity to obtain deep, permanent cuts in global nuclear arsenals.

Deeper, verifiable cuts on both sides -- to as low as 200 to 500 strategic warheads each rather than the 1,700 to 2,200 allowed in the current proposal -- would have given Washington and Moscow leverage to begin pressing nuclear-armed states like Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel (which is believed to have an undeclared arsenal of about 200 warheads) to eliminate their own arsenals. This move toward multilateral reductions would also make it much easier to get states with nuclear capabilities to agree not to aid nations like Iraq, Iran or North Korea to develop their own weapons of mass destruction.

Most importantly, at a time when the Bush administration claims that preventing global terrorism is its top priority, the new arms accord does nothing to reduce Russia's massive, poorly secured stockpiles of tactical nuclear weapons and nuclear materials.

In exchange for the U.S. "right" to keep weapons withdrawn from deployment on "active reserve," Russia is left to its own devices as to what to do with its own nuclear stockpile. But it is Russia's vast nuclear reserves -- not the modest nuclear programs of the so-called "axis of evil" states of Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- that pose the greatest danger of nuclear materials or a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of a terrorist group. It would have been well worth offering deeper reductions and limits on the administration's ill-considered missile defense program in exchange for an agreement to cooperate in destroying Russia's -- and America's -- excess nuclear weapons and materials as quickly as possible.

Thankfully, the proposed Bush-Putin accord need not be the last word on nuclear arms reductions. The administration has agreed to keep talking to Moscow about the issue of destroying weapons that are withdrawn from deployment. And last week the Senate Armed Services Committee moved to slash missile defense spending by more than $800 million and to eliminate funding for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a low-yield weapon designed to destroy underground bunkers. These small rays of hope need to be reinforced by a strong public outcry against the doctrine of "usable nukes" and "flexibility" in nuclear buildups, and in favor of concrete steps toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Once he had grasped the horrifying implications of ever having to actually use nuclear weapons, President Bush's political idol, Ronald Reagan, came to embrace the elimination of nuclear weapons as the goal of U.S. policy. But Reagan's nuclear awakening came in a radically different context. Pressed by a growing anti-nuclear movement and a reformist Soviet leader who wouldn't take no for an answer when it came to nuclear reductions, Reagan was forced to reconsider the unilateralist "peace through strength" credo that he had campaigned on.

As the 20th anniversary of the June 12, 1982 disarmament rally that brought one million people to Central Park approaches, President Bush needs to hear from the American public that his plan to make the world safe for nuclear weapons just isn't good enough. The only way to protect the American people, and the people of the world, from the threat of nuclear weapons is to take determined steps to get rid of them, once and for all.

We don't need to give our government -- or any government -- the "flexibility" to re-ignite the nuclear arms race at will.

William D. Hartung is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School and the author of a forthcoming report on the role of the arms lobby in shaping the Bush nuclear doctrine (to be posted soon at www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms).

Donald Rumsfeld: Matinee Idol or Prevaricator-in-Chief?

Just when you thought the press coverage of the Bush administration's war on terrorism couldn't get more surreal, along came the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 31 to up the ante. In an essay in the newspaper's "Leisure and Arts" section, journal editorial board member Claudia Rosett described Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's press briefings on the war in Afghanistan as "the best new show on television." Rosett enthusiastically cited CNN's description of Rumsfeld as a "virtual rock star" and Fox News' description of the Pentagon chief as "a babe magnet for the 70-year old set." She went on to argue that "in recent weeks, the geriatric qualifiers have pretty much faded away, and in print and on the air, we've been hearing about Donald Rumsfeld, sex symbol, the new hunk of home-front air time."

The adulation has carried over into the new year. During a January 20th interview with Rumsfeld on NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert held up a copy of National Review with a cover story entitled "The Stud: Donald Rumsfeld, America's New Pinup." And in a Jan. 22 essay, New York Times fashion reporter Ginia Belafonte argued that "the post-Sept. 11 world has caused a certain kind of woman to reevaluate what she is looking for in a man. She has seen the valiant efforts of rescue workers and remarked to herself that men like Donald Rumsfeld make big, impactive decisions in the time it would take any of her exes to order lunch."

There's obviously no accounting for tastes, but it is interesting to probe the roots of this newfound attraction to America's warmaker-in-chief. The Wall Street Journal's Rosett argues that "the world loves a winner," a variation on Henry Kissinger's claim that "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." In addition, she claims that "the basic source of Rumsfeld's charm is that he talks straight." On this score, Rosett cites with approval Rumsfeld's statement that the goal of the U.S. war effort is "to capture or kill all the Al Qaeda." Ms. Rosett is so smitten with Rumsfeld's performances that she actually suggests that "if you don't own a TV, I'd suggest buying one just to watch him."

Leaving aside the strong possibility that Rumsfeld's alleged sex appeal is evidence of a rare strain of war fever that has infected certain regions of the American body politic, you have to admit there's something different about his public relations strategy. Unlike most public figures these days who tend to dance around issues in the hopes of coming across as likeable, Rumsfeld likes to go on the attack, using preemptive verbal strikes to disarm, befuddle, and intimidate his questioner, even as he manages to come across as an amiable fellow.

Rumsfeld may relish "straight talk" about "killing" Al Qaeda members, but as media critic Norman Solomon has noted, the Defense Secretary has been loathe to deal seriously with the question of civilian deaths caused by U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan. From the outset Rumsfeld and his official spokespersons have reacted harshly to questions about civilian casualties, alternating between blaming them on the Taliban, or claiming that the Afghan sources reporting the bombing deaths are unreliable, or stating that they picked the target based on "solid intelligence," or simply stating that in the fog of war it's hard to really know for sure who killed whom using what.

Even as he warns his critics to be cautious about making claims about civilian casualties, Rumsfeld himself shows no such restraint as he repeatedly makes blanket statements such as the following "I can't imagine there's been a conflict in history where there has been less collateral damage, less unintended consequences."

A new report from the Project on Defense Alternatives, "Operation Enduring Freedom: Why a Higher Rate of Civilian Bombing Casualties," contradicts Rumsfeld's claim. The report notes that the number of civilians killed by U.S. bombs in Afghanistan to date is at least 900 to 1,500, a figure two to three times as high as the civilian casualty rate during the NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo. In Afghanistan, the fatality rate per bomb dropped is four times higher than in Kosovo. Reasons cited for the higher civilian death rate included a greater percentage of unguided bombs used in Afghanistan, the targeting of residential areas in efforts to hit Taliban leadership, and "reliance on intelligence from local sources who were at times less than trustworthy."

The PDA study makes a more conservative estimate of civilian bombing deaths than an ongoing data base maintained by Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire, who has used press accounts to assemble an estimate of over 4,000 civilian deaths in the war. But don't expect Rumsfeld to respond seriously to either report -- according to military expert William Arkin, neither the Pentagon, nor the Air Force, nor the U.S. intelligence community are planning to take a close look at the issue of civilian casualties in their forthcoming studies of U.S. military performance in Afghanistan.

Similarly, when human rights groups, U.S. allies in Europe, and UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson raised questions about Rumsfeld's decision to treat Taliban and Al Qaeda captives as "unlawful combatants" who are not entitled to the rights granted to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions and to house them in chain link cages, he brushed off the criticism. Rumsfeld argued that the makeshift prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was "not a country club," but that it was better than the conditions they had experienced in Afghanistan. On January 22nd, in an hour long session with reporters on the issue, Rumsfeld referred to the cages in which the prisoners were held, which are big enough to hold a sleeping mat and a bucket that serves as a toilet, as "sunny Guantanamo." His recent "photo op" trip to Guantanamo Bay to convince foreign reporters that all is well there avoids the basic point: that prisoners are entitled to the rights set out in the Geneva Conventions at least until their status has been determined by a legitimate judicial body. But that would interfere with U.S. officials desire to squeeze as much information out of the captives as possible as quickly as possible without being bound by the niceties of the Geneva accords.

Rumsfeld's depiction of the Pentagon's budget for the war on terrorism has been equally misleading. He spent the first nine months of 2001 arguing that he was going to "transform" the U.S. military by canceling or cutting back obsolete systems to forge a quicker, more mobile force. But Rumsfeld's budgets for this year and next have managed to retain every major weapons program that was in the pipeline when he came into office, including nuclear attack submarines, heavy destroyers, the 70-ton Crusader artillery system, and the $200 million per copy F-22 fighter plane. This despite the fact that these systems were designed to fight heavily armored Soviet forces, not the terrorists and so-called "rogue regimes" that are the Pentagon's current enemies of choice. President Bush's recent announcement that he will seek a $48 billion increase in Pentagon spending this year confirms what had long been suspected: notions of military reform have taken second place to the "needs" of weapons contractors, military bureaucrats, and members of Congress from militarily -- dependent states and districts. But don't expect the "straight-talking" Mr. Rumsfeld to admit that.

As Paul Krugman of the New York Times has noted, Rumsfeld's decision to save the Crusader system from the budget ax directly benefited his old college roommate and wrestling partner Frank Carlucci, whose Carlyle Group investment company owns United Defense, the manufacturer of the Crusader. Carlyle, which also employs former Secretary of State James Baker and former President George Herbert Walker Bush, took United Defense public late last year and raised over $200 million in capital in the process. Suggestions that Rumsfeld may have cut a deal to help an old buddy (not to mention the company that employs our current president's father) have been met with the argument that Don Rumsfeld just doesn't do that kind of thing.

After particularly harsh treatment at the hands of Rumsfeld while she was attempting to interview him late last year, Newsweek reporter Lally Weymouth tried to make nice and flatter him by noting that people were saying he was "the new Gary Cooper." That does not sound quite right. A better person to compare Rumsfeld to might be the compulsive liar played by Jon Lovitz in his old Saturday Night Live routines. The only difference is that Rumsfeld is so much better at distorting the truth -- with thousands of lives and billions of dollars on the line -- that somehow it's just not funny. If Rumsfeld's gruff humor and congenital evasiveness are what's fashionable these days, our democracy is in even deeper trouble than I thought.

William D. Hartung is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute.

Ready for What? The New Politics of Pentagon Spending

President Clinton's plan to increase Pentagon spending by $112 billion over the next six years to boost "military readiness" has more to do with domestic budget politics than it does with global military needs.The President's rhetoric notwithstanding, there is no threat to U.S. interests that can possibly justify the largest increase in the Pentagon budget since the Reagan era. Current U.S. arms spending of $276 billion per year is already more than twice as much as the combined military budgets of every conceivable U.S. adversary, including Russia, China, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Syria, and Cuba. Furthermore, the United States and its closest allies -- in NATO, South Korea, and Japan -- now account for nearly two-thirds of world military expenditures, a substantially higher proportion of global arms budgets than obtained at the height of the Reagan buildup.The main problems facing U.S. forces have to do with misguided priorities, not inadequate funding. Spending tens of billions of dollars on new fighter planes, attack submarines, and Star Wars missile defenses -- as Clinton has proposed -- will have little or no impact on the main threats to U.S. interests: regional instability, terrorism, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological weapons). And designing U.S. forces to fight two large (but extrmemely unlikely) regional conflicts simultaneously will continue to drain resources from preparing for the peacekeeping missions that U.S. forces are facing with increasing frequency.The real readiness crisis in our armed forces is at the top, where our Commander-in-Chief, the Pentagon, and the Congressional leadership have all failed to wean themselves from the outmoded strategies and weapons of the Cold War and come up with a more intelligent, forward-looking blueprint for defending U.S. interests. Ready to Spend: The New Politics of the Pentagon BudgetThe real reasons for the proposed Clinton/Gore military buildup are political and economic, not military. The pending Pentagon feeding frenzy is firmly grounded on the twin pillars of pork barrel politics and political positioning.Last spring, the conventional wisdom in Washington was that the military budget would remain steady at about $270 billion per year through 2002, as called for in the 1997 balanced budget agreement between the White House and the Congressional leadership. But the assumption of a steady state defense budget changed dramatically in the fall of 1998, when both the Republicans in Congress and the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that a President facing impeachment charges was ripe to be roughed up on the issue of military spending. Given his history of yielding to the top military brass on major personnel and spending issues (in part as a way to seek political cover for his own lack of military service), Clinton was an easy target.The Joint Chiefs fired the opening salvo in September, when they invited Clinton to Fort McNair (in Washington D.C.) for a "closed-door" briefing at which they read him their wish lists on everything from military pay and weapons procurement to fresh paint jobs for neglected military bases. The details of the session were promptly leaked to the press by a "senior defense official,"complete with an anti-Clinton spin that was summarized by Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times as follows: "It has not escaped notice in the Pentagon that the accusations against Mr. Clinton" having a sexual relationship with a subordinate and lying about it "would end the career of any officer, including each of the men who sat around the table with Mr. Clinton this afternoon." The implication was that if the President agreed to throw more money at the Pentagon, all would be forgiven.Clinton got the message. A week after the Joint Chiefs had called him out to the wood shed at Fort McNair, Clinton sent a letter to Secretary of Defense William Cohen in which he signaled his willingness to seek increases in military spending and pledged that "the men and women of our armed forces will have the resources they need to do their jobs."There was just one small problem with the President's promise: under the 1997 balanced budget accord, Pentagon spending was capped at about $270 billion per year. The only options for spending more would be to break the balanced budget agreement, slash domestic programs, or find some budgetary sleight-of-hand that would allow the President to avoid these politically painful trade-offs. In the short-term, Clinton chose smoke-and-mirrors, in the form of a $1.1 billion "emergency" increase for military readiness that he sought as a last minute add-on to the F.Y. 1999 budget.The vehicle for providing the President's infusion of readiness funds to the Pentagon was the catch-all budget bill that the White House and Capitol Hill cobbled together in October 1998. But in the inevitable horse-trading that was needed to close the deal, Congress transformed Clinton's relatively modest readiness increase into what the Council for a Livable World described as a "$9 billion grab bag of pet projects." The bill included an extra $1 billion for Star Wars missile defense systems, $2 billion for intelligence operations (including money for then-Speaker Newt Gingrich's half-baked plan to arm Iraqi opposition groups), and more than $900 million for the military and Coast Guard to pursue their ill-conceived "war on drugs." The final budget also allowed at least $5 billion in what Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has described as the "worst pork" in recent memory, including over $400 million for unrequested C-130 transport planes (built at a Lockheed Martin plant just outside of Newt Gingrich's Georgia district) and a down payment on a $1.5 billion helicopter carrier for the Marines built in Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi.The multi-billion dollar add-on for the Pentagon was matched by a comparable investment on the domestic side of the budget, including a seed fund designed to stimulate the hiring of 100,000 new teachers nationwide. Aside from a few grumpy fiscal conservatives who were alarmed at the ease with which the balanced budget caps were cast aside to make way for nearly $20 billion in new programs, the package offered something for everyone: military hawks could point to billions in new funds for the Pentagon, while liberals could take pride in the new funding for education. Critics of excessive military spending were completely outflanked as the existence of the first budget surplus in decades shifted the Washington debate from "guns versus butter" to "more guns and more butter."The antics of October offered a preview of the main event in January, when Clinton announced his plan for a six year, $112 billion increase in Pentagon spending. Senate Republicans promptly upped the ante by calling in the Joint Chiefs of Staff to grill them on how on earth they could do without the full $150 billion, six year increase contained in the wish lists they had presented to the President and the Congress last year. So, within less than a year's time, the Washington debate had shifted from how to carry out the Pentagon's ambitious objectives within current spending levels to how much to increase military spending. And a bi-partisan coalition, led by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) and Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA), is already hatching plans to add another $5 to $15 billion on top of the President's proposed military spending increase for F.Y. 2000.From Politics to Policy: Is There a Readiness Crisis?Assuming that pork barrel politics and political posturing are business-as-usual in Washington, an underlying question remains: is there a readiness crisis in the U.S. armed forces? The short answer is no: U.S. troops are far better prepared and far better armed than any adversary they are likely to face in the next decade or more, whether or not the Pentagon builds any of the expensive new weapons systems it has in the pipeline.The weapons that won Operation Desert Storm and the many smaller encounters with Iraq that have followed in its wake are more than adequate to meet the threat of conventional conflicts with so-called "rogue states" like Iraq, North Korea, and Iran for at least ten to fifteen years. As Harvey Sapolsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has amply documented, the Army, Navy, and Air Force already have more top-of-the-line tanks, combat ships, and fighter planes than they know what to do with.Given the absence of a major superpower rival like the Soviet Union that has a large, well-funded weapons development and production complex of its own, the U.S. military would be better served by a less frantic procurement strategy that involved replacing worn out equipment with small numbers of current generation fighters, ships, and combat vehicles. This approach, would save tens of billions of dollars that could be spent on fuel, spare parts, pay raises and the other "nuts and bolts" items that can help keep U.S. forces in fighting shape.The most legitimate aspect of the readiness problem has do to with retaining skilled personnel. There are a relatively robust civilian economy luring pilots, computer specialists, and other trained people out of the military services. On the other hand, punishing deployment schedules for peacekeeping and enforcement missions in Iraq and Bosnia are taking a personal toll on key service people and their families.It is interesting to note that even with all of the sound and fury about helping "the troops," the largest increases in Clinton's six year plan go to the big three weapons contractors -- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. While military pay and benefits are slated to go up by a healthy 22 percent between now and 2005, spending on big ticket weapons will grow at more than twice that rate, or 53 percent in all. In the budgetary battle that is know inside the Pentagon as "the boys versus the toys" (troops versus weapons purchases), the toys are winning.As William Grieder argues in his indispensable new book, Fortress America, the Pentagon's readiness woes are rooted in its inability to adapt to a new era: "The military is committed to maintaining a gigantic scale and structure inherited from the Cold War, but with reduced resources for the workaday tasks of training people and maintaining an active state of readiness." In short, until the Pentagon is willing to re-think its Cold War strategy and wean itself from the high-priced, gold-plated weapons systems that were favored during that era, there will be a chronic mismatch between the resources available for defense and the short-term needs of the men and women charged with making the military work. The Third Way: Downsizing the PentagonIn addition to instituting better management practices and cutting back on politically-driven pork, the Pentagon and the military services desperately need a clarification of their mission in the post-Cold War period. Despite two major strategy reviews in this decade, the so-called Bottom Up Review and the more recent Quadrennial Defense Review, there has been no significant re-focusing of the U.S. military's major strategic goals. Official policy still calls for U.S. forces to be in a position to fight two major regional conflicts (one in the Middle East and one in Asia) nearly simultaneously, and the regional powers that the Pentagon uses to "size" its forces are several times more powerful than either Iraq or North Korea, the most likely U.S. adversaries in these areas. Furthermore, the two war strategy depends on costly, cumbersome weapons platforms such as heavy battle tanks, massive aircraft carriers, and gold-plated combat aircraft that may have some value if U.S. forces get to re-fight the 1991 Persian Gulf War ad infinitum, but have little relevance to peacekeeping, or fighting terrorism, or combatting next generation adversaries who may rely on highly mobile forces, cruise missiles and "smart" weapons to counter U.S. superiority in more traditional combat systems.A more prudent strategy would begin by abandoning the two war strategy -- which maverick Pentagon analyst Franklin Spinney has described as nothing more than "a marketing device for a high Pentagon budget" -- and replacing it with a strategy based on one major regional conflict plus peacekeeping. This would allow for modest additional force reductions (from current levels of 1.4 million active duty personnel down to 1.2 million), and imply a change in the mix of weaponry purchased by the services to focus more on lighter, more mobile systems.A more realistic strategy should also include a moratorium on the purchase of major new big ticket items -- such as the F-18 and F-22 fighter aircraft, 30-50 new attack submarines, and two additional aircraft carriers -- in order to free up $10 to $20 billion per year in procurement funds. A small fraction of these savings could be utilized to replace current generation systems as needed (e.g., replacing F-16s with the latest model F-16 instead of the F-22, which costs 4 times as much per copy). An additional increment of perhaps $5 billion per year could be reserved for research on novel systems such as the Navy's proposed "arsenal ship," which could potentially provide a much cheaper way to get cruise missiles to zones of conflict than sending a $17 billion aircraft carrier task force.Progress on any one of these fronts -- military management, more responsible Congressional oversight, or implementing a more realistic strategy -- would eliminate the need for any increase in military spending. Moving on all three at once could set the stage for substantial cuts, in the range of $40 to $50 billion per year. But getting from here to there will require either decisive presidential leadership, a quality that has been in short supply on military issues in recent years, or a sustained public outcry that will force Congress and the White House to put the Pentagon on a real budget that involves making hard choices among competing demands.William D. Hartung is the Presidential Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York City. This article was adapted from a longer piece that will appear in the spring issue of the World Policy Journal (forthcoming).A longer version of this article originally will appear in the World Policy Journal.

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