Pentagon gets huge raise in new spending plan

WASHINGTON – The budget bill that President Donald Trump signed on February 9 includes huge spending increases for the military. The Pentagon will get $94 billion more this budget year than last — a 15.5 percent jump. It’s the biggest budget the Pentagon has ever seen: $700 billion. That’s more than twice the combined defense spending of America’s two nearest competitors, China and Russia. And next year it will rise to $716 billion.

The two-year deal provides what Defense Secretary James Mattis says is needed to pull the military out of a slump in combat readiness at a time of renewed focus on the stalemated conflict in Afghanistan and the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula. It’s the biggest year-over-year increase for the Pentagon since the budget soared by 26.6 percent in 2002, when the nation was fighting in Afghanistan, invading Iraq and expanding national defense after the 9/11 attacks.

The extra money is not targeted at countering a new enemy or a singular threat like al-Qaida extremists or the former Soviet Union. Instead it is being sold as a fix for a broader set of prob-lems, including a deficit of training, a purported need for more high-tech missile defenses, and the start of a complete moderniza-tion of U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

Since 2011, when Congress passed a law setting firm limits on military and domestic spending, every secretary of defense has complained that the spending caps were squeezing the military so hard that troops were not getting enough training, the number of combat-ready units was dwindling, and aging equipment was stacking up. Yet even with the spending caps, the defense budget of recent years has been robust by historical standards.

Todd Harrison, a defense budget specialist at the Center for Security and International Studies, said military funding has been near the inflation-adjusted peak levels of the armed forces buildup during the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan — the largest peacetime military buildup in U.S. history. The problem, Harrison said, is that the budgets have been stretched by rising personnel costs, more expensive technology investments and other factors, compounded by the cumulative effects of the unending years of combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“We are stretched too thin,” Harrison said. “"We are trying to do too much with the size force that we have all around the world. Money doesn’t necessarily fix that.”

The U.S. has far fewer troops in Iraq than it did 10 years ago, and the roughly 15,000 troops in Afghanistan today compare with a peak of 100,000 in 2010-11, but the trend is leaning in the opposite direction under President Trump, including stepped-up counterterrorism operations in Somalia and Yemen. Trump has added several thousand troops in Afghanistan. Also, the prospect of war against North Korea looms large as Trump insists on compelling the North to give up its nuclear weapons.

The increases in defense spending even go beyond what Trump asked for. Of the $700 million in spending for the 2018 budget year that started October 1, about $629 billion is for core Pentagon operations and nearly $71 billion is for the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Trump had requested a 2018 military budget of $603 billion for basic functions and $65 billion for war missions.

The biggest winners in the military buildup are the country’s largest defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics, that spend millions of dollars each year lobbying Congress.

The legislation that Trump signed is expected to translate to billions more for one of the Pentagon’s highest priorities: ballistic missile defense. The bill included money for as many as 28 additional Ground-Based Interceptors in underground silos in Alaska — anti-missile missiles that, after decades of development, still don’t work.

– edited from The Associated Press, February 9, 2018
PeaceMeal, March/April 2018

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Lies we tell ourselves about the military

Maj. Danny Sjursen.jpg (3541 bytes)Maj. Danny Sjursen, U.S. Army

Seven of my soldiers are dead. Two committed suicide. Bombs got the others in Iraq and Afghanistan. One young man lost three limbs. Another is paralyzed. I entered West Point a couple of months before 9/11. Eight of my classmates died “over there.”

Military service, war, sacrifice: When I was 17, I felt sure this would bring me meaning, adulation, even glory. It went another way. Sixteen years later, my generation of soldiers is still ensnared in an indecisive, unfulfilling series of losing wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Niger — who even keeps count anymore? Sometimes, I wonder what it’s all been for.

I find it hard to believe I’m the only one who sees it, but you hear few dissenting voices among the veterans of the “global war on terror.” See, soldiers are all “professionals” now, at least since Richard Nixon ditched the draft in 1973. Mostly the troops — especially the officers — uphold an unwritten code, speak in esoteric vernacular and hide behind a veil of reticence.

Maybe it’s necessary to keep the machine running. I used to believe that. Sometimes, though, we tell you lies. We tell them to each other and ourselves as well. Consider just three:

1. Soldiers don’t fight (or die) for king, country or apple pie. They do it for each other, for teammates and friends. Think Henry V’s “band of brothers.” In that sense, the troops can never be said to die for nothing.

No disrespect to the fallen, but this framework is a slippery- slope formula for forever war. Imagine the dangerous inverse of this logic: If no soldiers’ lives can be wasted, no matter how ill-advised the war, then the mere presence of U.S. “warriors” and deaths of American troops justifies any war, all war. But two things can be true at once: American servicemen can die for no good reason and may well have fought hard and honorably with/for their mates. The one does not preclude the other.

Unfortunately, it seems Americans are in for (at least) three more years of this increasingly bellicose — and perilous — rhetoric. We saw it when Sean Spicer, President Trump’s former press secretary, had the gall to declare that questioning the success of a botched January raid in Yemen “does a disservice” to the Navy SEAL killed in the firefight. It got worse from there. Trump tweeted that a certain senator — Vietnam veteran John McCain, of all people — who talked about “the success or failure of the mission” to the media had “emboldened the enemy.” According to this fabled logic, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens died for his brothers-in-arms, and thus to even ponder the “what-for” is tantamount to abetting the enemy.

2. We have to fight “them”—terrorists, Arabs, Muslims, whomever—“over there” so we don’t end up fighting them “over here.”

In fact, the opposite is likely true. Detailed State Department statistics demonstrate that international terrorist attacks numbered just 346 in 2001 versus 11,072 worldwide in 2016. That’s a cool 3,100 percent increase. Sure, the vast majority of those attacks occurred overseas, mostly suffered by civilians across the Mideast.

Domestic attacks also have risen since the U.S. launched its “war on terror.” From 1996 to 2000 (pre-9/11), an average of 5.6 people were killed annually in terror attacks within the United States. Now fast-forward 15 years. From 2012 to 2016, an average of 32.2 people died at the hands of terrorists here in the U.S. Since 2001, lethal attacks on the U.S. homeland have proliferated.

Furthermore, from 2005 to 2015, 66 percent of terrorism fatalities in the U.S. were not perpetrated by Islamist groups. Besides, domestic mass shootings (in this case defined as four or more victims killed or wounded in a single event) are far more dangerous, with 1,072 incidents from 2013 to 2015. No doubt we’d hear more about these attacks if the culprits were a bit browner and named Ali or Abdullah.

It appears that U.S. military action may even be making matters worse. Take Africa, for instance. Prior to 9/11, few American troops patrolled that continent, and there were few recognized anti-U.S. threat groups in the region. Nonetheless, President George W. Bush (and later Barack Obama) soon sent more and more U.S. special forces to “advise and assist” across Africa. By 2017, al-Qaida and Islamic State-linked factions had multiplied and were killing American troops. It all seems counterproductive.

Let’s review: The threat from terrorism is minuscule, is not even majority “Islamic,” pales in comparison with domestic mass shooting deaths, and has not measurably decreased since 9/11. Remind me again how fighting “them there” saves soldiers from having to fight “them here?”

3. Americans are obliged to honor the troops. They fight for our freedom. Actively opposing the war(s) dishonors their sacrifice.

This is illogical and another surefire way to justify perpetual war. Like the recent NFL national anthem debate, such rhetoric serves mostly as a distraction. First off, it’s abstract and absurd to argue that U.S. troops engaged in the sprawling “war on terror” are dying to secure American freedom. After all, these are wars of choice, “away-games” conducted offensively in distant lands, with dubious allies and motives. All this fighting, killing and dying receives scant public debate and is legally “sanctioned” by a 16-year-old congressional authorization.

All this “don’t dishonor the troops” nonsense is as old as war itself. These sorts of “stab-in-the-back” myths were heard in post-Vietnam America. You know the shtick: The soldiers could’ve won, should’ve won, if only they hadn’t been stabbed in the back by politicians, and so on.

Let’s not forget, however, that the First Amendment sanctifies the citizenry’s right to dissent. Those who claim peaceful protest dishonors or undermines “the soldiers” don’t want an engaged populace. Those folks prefer obedient automatons, replete with “thanks for your service” platitudes and yellow ribbons plastered on car bumpers. As for me, I’ll take an engaged, thoughtful electorate over free Veterans Day meals at the local Texas Roadhouse any day.

The half-truths, comfortable fictions and outright lies are more than a little dangerous. They are affecting the next generation of young Americans. For instance, a full decade and two wars after I graduated, I taught history at West Point. Best job I ever had. My first crop of freshman cadets will graduate in May. They’re impressive young men and women. They’re mostly believers (for that, I envy them), ready to kick ass and wipe the floor with Islamic State or whomever. No one really tells them of the quagmires and disappointments that lie ahead. A few of us try, but we’re the outliers. Most cadets are unreachable. It has always been this way.

Truthfully, I surmise, it wouldn’t matter anyway. There’s a romance to it. I felt the tug once, too. Some of my students will excel, and 10 years from now, they’ll come back to West Point and mentor cadets en route to the same ugly places, the same never-ending wars. Those kids, mind you, will have been born a decade after 9/11. Thinking on this near certainty, I want to throw up. But make no mistake: It will be so.

A system of this sort — one that produces and exalts generations of hopeless soldiers — requires millions of individual lies and necessitates discarding inconvenient truths.

Maj. Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. His article is edited from Truthdig, November 15, 2017.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Breaking the militarism mindset: The Pentagon budget

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Militarism is embedded deeply in our country and culture. The size of the Pentagon budget is just one manifestation of that mindset and the problems it causes.

Today, U.S. taxpayers are giving as much money to the military as they did during the height of the Vietnam War. The Pentagon budget rivals military spending in the last years of the Cold War, and members of Congress are going to give the Pentagon even more, unless we can change their minds.

President Trump is expected to ask for $716 billion in defense spending when he unveils his 2019 budget in February — an increase of more than 7 percent over the 2018 budget. The proposed budget would be about $50 billion more than 2017.

These budget increases reflect a militaristic mindset in the federal government. Any time a new national security challenge arises, the default instinct of far too many in Washington D.C. has been to mindlessly reach first for military power to respond.

 Members of Congress and their staffs hear practically every day from all manner of Pentagon officials and from the legions of defense contractor lobbyists who swarm Capitol Hill. They hear a lot of stories about why Pentagon spending needs to keep growing, regardless of the fact that U.S. military spending already exceeds that of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea combined.

Congressional members and staff will claim that taxpayer spending on the military is a key source of jobs in their districts and states. In fact, dollar-for-dollar, military spending is less effective at creating jobs than spending on education, health care or clean energy, according to a study by Brown University.

The truth is that the Pentagon wastes much of what taxpayers give it. Misuse of Pentagon funds is so rampant that, when the Pentagon itself conducted an internal study, it identified $125 billion in potential savings over five years.

So long as we keep funding military strategies at the expense of other approaches, the military strategies will seem like the only option. Taking on militarism requires cutting off the taxpayer dollars that enable it to flourish. That’s why Congress and the president need to hear from all of us. If we aren’t out there reminding our elected representatives of some of these facts, then we really can’t count on anyone else to say them either.

– edited from the FCNL Washington Newsletter, Dec. 2017
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2018

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)