Legislative Actions That Democrats Should Avoid Like the Plague

I. H.R. 4133 on Israel

The bill passed the U.S. House on a vote of 411 to 2 with eight abstentions. H.R. 4133 bemoans the fall of regimes believed to be stabilizing forces in the Middle East and blames Iran for trying to exploit the turmoil in the area. The bill calls for dramatically expanded arms aid and arms sales to Israel, along with unconditional loan guarantees. Commitment to Israel would be in the context of defending Israel as an explicitly “Jewish State.”

Most Democrats in the U.S. House voted for this bill, in spite of the fact that Israel has long been the recipient of very generous aid packages and has been amply furnished with U.S. military armaments. This aid provides a disincentive for Israel to stop building settlements outside its territorial boundaries.

Legislatively rendering Israel as an explicitly “Jewish State” creates an obstacle for obtaining full citizenship for the many non-Jewish residents of Israel and makes it more difficult to achieve a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

II. Holding Nuke Reduction Hostage

The Pentagon authorization bill of $642 billion before the U.S. House of Representatives would halt the reduction from 2,200 to 1,550 nuclear warheads by 2018 if President Obama fails to spend $88 billion to upgrade nuclear labs and $125 billion over ten years to replace aging nuclear warhead-armed bombers and submarines, and land-based nuclear missiles. It contains at least $100 million to build a new lab in New Mexico and $500 million for next year to build a new ballistic missile submarine. President Obama had previously delayed funding for the new New Mexico lab to build triggers for nuclear bombs until 2017.

Included in the bill is a provision to condition reduction, consolidation or withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe on meeting certain difficult conditions; also, it mandates a report on possibly reintroducing tactical nuclear missiles to South Korea. 

These provisions would increase government spending significantly and drive the nation further away from the vision of a nuclear weapons-free world articulated by President Obama early in his presidency. Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed by the United States, requires signatory nations to be taking significant steps toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

III. The Poison Pill Letter on Iran

Democrats were among the 44 U.S. senators who sent a letter to President Obama urging him to end negotiations with Iran, tighten sanctions to make them hurt Iran more and make more credible the threat of a military atttack.

These provisions represent a retreat from sensible policy but any attempt to increase the possibility of a military attack helps put the United States on a disastrous policy track. The likely consequences of a U.S. attack would be many people killed; a redoubling of any Iranian effort to build a nuclear bomb; and a violent “blowback” by the Iranians against the United States.

The best option would be to live with the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear bomb. That option is not now on the table.

 

Obama Supporters Pursue a Flawed Majoritarian Argument

Stephanie Miller, an otherwise very savvy political progressive, but burdened with an inability to see virtually any fault in the performance of President Barack Obama, has lately focused on the lack of a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate as a major reason for failing to pass more promised legislation. She says that beginning with the hospitalization of Senator Ted Kennedy and his subsequent death, the Democrats had the 60 votes to break a filibuster for less than 50 days and that was insufficient time to pass major legislation.

There is a major flaw in Stephanie Miller’s contention and that of like-minded supporters: the flaw is that the majority party in a newly elected Senate has the power and the authority to set its own rules as to how Senate business will be conducted. Instead of ruling out a filibuster on an introduction of a bill and then requiring that opponents of a bill hold the Senate floor to actually filibuster, the Democratic Senate leadership shelved any bill that the Senate minority leader said he had the 41 votes to sustain a filibuster.

While an actual filibuster was taking place, Senate majority leader Harry Reid could have called a press conference at noon every day and pointed out how a minority of senators were preventing consideration of the public’s business. Although the U.S. public is not notable for active involvement in the the law-making process in Washington DC, it doesn’t have a great tolerance for a clear minority of senators preventing any business from being done in the U.S. Senate.

I retain images from the past of cots being set up in Senate chambers and senators reading recipes and reciting from telephone books because they could only filibuster on final votes, and had to continuously hold the Senate floor.

As for the U.S. House of Representatives, a common contention of apologists for Obama and Democratic legislative failures is that prior to January 2011, Blue Dog Democrats, allied with a rock-solid Republican minority, could block any legislation proposed by Obama and the Democratic leadership. Some Blue Dogs were bluer than others and some of the Blue Dog opposition was centered on taxation issues, or possibly abortion. Moreover, the House Speaker and Democratic leadership could have punished recalcitrant Blue Dogs by denying them coveted committee assignments and blocking their pet legislative projects.

Much of the blame for legislative failures is attributable to the Democratic leadership in Congress not effectively using the tools at its disposal; President Obama’s weakness as a negotiator; and Obama’s sharp changes of position, such as on the Bush tax cuts and the public option on healthcare reform.

Kill Lists, JSOC, Drones and Arms Sales

Recent revelations that President Obama has been engaging in cyber warfare against Iran’s nuclear program by infecting centrifuges and drawing up kill lists in the White House reveals how conventional warfare and diplomacy have been subordinated to other tools of foreign policy. Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan puts in a nutshell this shift in the use of foreign policy tools: “Drone strikes, electronic surveillance, and stealth engagement by military units, such as JSOC, as well as private corporations, mercenary armies and terrorist groups are more common as tools of US foreign policy than conventional warfare or diplomacy.”*

I. JSOC Dissected

Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin have made keeping track of U.S. covert intelligence a journalistic speciality. In the September 2, 2011 issue of the Post, the two reporters corroborated on a dissection of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which has grown to about 25,000 troops, a number that has flucuated according to mission.

JSOC has the president’s authority to select individuals for its kill list and then to kill, not capture. The CIA has a similar but shorter list. JSOC has its own intelligence division, its own drones and reconissance planes, even its own dedicated satellites.

JSOC officers, when working with civilian government agenices in U.S. embassies, dispense with uniforms and wear no names nor rank identities.

The only significant difference in JSOC management between George W. Bush and Barack Obama is that Bush rarely briefed JSOC activities to Congress and Obama has insisted that they be briefed to select congressional leaders.

Priest and Arkin write that even before Abu Ghraib photos began circulating in 2004, a confidential report warned that JSOC interrogators were assaulting prisoners and holding them in seret facilities. They also detained mothers, wives and daughters. An investigation over a four-month period in 2004 found that interrogators gave some prisoners only bread and water, in one case for 17 days. Prisoners were held in cells so cramped that they could not lie down nor stand up, while their captors played loud music. Still others were stripped, drenched with cold water and then interrogated in an air-conditioned room or outside.

JSOC interrogators were, and still are allowed to keep their detainees separate from other detainees and hold them for up to 90 days.  

In 2009, JSOC executed 464 operations and killed 400 to 600 enemy forces in Afghanistan.

The JSOC roles now include tracing the flow of money from international banks to finance terrorist networks and psychological operations. According to the two reporters, Obama uses JSOC more than did Bush II, repeating a pattern in which Obama follows Bush II policies but pursues them more energetically than did his predecessor.

II Drones: An Outside Agitator Coming to Your Neighborhood

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that the United States has killed on the order of 3,000 people in 319 drone strikes, some 600 of them civilian bystanders, and 174 of those, children. President Obama has ordered 84 percent of these death-dealing strikes. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen are the four countries in which drone strikes are occurring today.

Polling shows that opposition to drone strikes is almost universal in Pakistan, fueled not just by the strikes themselves but by the fact that in some areas of Pakistan, seeing a drone in the sky is almost a daily occurance. It has got to be frightening to realize that anyone of those drones could be targeting you, your family, or friends and associates.

Accuracy of identifying targets is certainly a problem. During the war in Iraq, the International Red Cross found that most of the thousands of Iraqis being held in captivity by U.S. forces had not been charged with a crime. The fact that U.S. intelligence did not have good information on suspected insurgents meant that family members and close friends of suspects were held, because they might supply incriminating evidence or clues to a suspect’s location.

During the early stages of the war in Afghanistan, some suspected insurgents/terrorists were detained on the basis that they had the same or similar name of a suspected insurgent/terrorist. Others were turned in by someone who had a score to settle or to get rid of an inconvenient rival.

Jeff Morley, who writes for Salon magazine, has raised the issue that as the top terrorist leaders are being killed off, the bar might be lowered to attack lower echelon terrorist suspects. It wasn’t long ago that reports surfaced of an argument raging in the White House on targeting the “soldiers” who carry out terrroist plots. Thus, those seen unloading what look like explosives could be hit, along with those frequenting a terrorist hangout. Within the past few days of this writing, 26 House representatives wrote a letter to President Obama demanding to know the legal basis for “signature” drone strikes against suspected terrorist leaders. The signatories also warned that the strikes might be creating more enemys for the United States. This concept, known as “blowback,” contends that covert activities in other lands might be doing the U.S. more harm than good.

Besides the real possibility that U.S. drone strikes might be creating more enemys for the U.S. than they eliminate, Americans should be concerned about aerial outside agitators coming into their communities. Miami-Dade County in Florida and a county in Texas already have certification to use drones in law enforcement activities. Ten other counties have applied for certification. We have already given up too much of our privacy to government surveillance.

III. U.S. Arms Sales Impoverish the U.S. and Recipient Countries

The announcement of a nearly $30 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia was hailed as a hedge against Iranian aggression and as a job creator in the United States. The sale is part of a $60 billion Middle East arms deal over ten years. In the most recent Saudi Arabian arms sale, 84 jet fighters will be sold and another 74 jet fighters now in Saudi Arabia will be refurbished.

Also in the news in the recent past was the Pentagon announcement of the sale of “bunker busters” and other munitions to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). What posble use would the UAE have for bunker busters, except for an implied threat that the UAE will bomb Iran’s underground nuclear facilities if attacked by Iran?

One thing I have not been able to find in the mainstream media’s coverage of these sales is any mention of President Eisenhower’s warning about aiding and abetting the military-industrial complex. Also missing in the coverage is a riposte to President Obama’s claim that the Saudi Arabian sale would create 50,000 U.S. jobs. Economists have clearly established that spending on military weapons production is one of the poorest ways of creating jobs.

On the receiving end, those countries to whom we sell arms are compelled thereby to increase the proportion of their resources devoted to the military. We thus help to impoverish these countries. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union used arms sales to bring the recipient countries to their respective sides in the ideological struggle for world supremacy.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States has assumed the world lead in arms exports by a big margin. The U.S., with $37.8 billion in arms sales, controlled 68.4 percent of the global arms market in 2008. Italy came in a distant second, with $3.7 billion in sales. In “developing nations” in 2008, the U.S. controlled 70.1 percent of the market; Russia was far back in second, with a 7.8 percent market share.

Since 1970, nearly half of U.S. arms sales have gone to an area containing about one-fifth of the world’s population. Sales to the Near East and South Asia go to countries where the leaders are heavily armed and the people have little say in the election of their leaders. So in addition to distributing weapons of war more widely in the world, the United States is tarnishing any image it wants to create as expanding the reach of representative government in the world.

Those who voted for Barack Obama for president, at least in part because he would reduce the prevalence of military arms in the world, have found his embrace of arms sales to be yet another reason to be disappointed in his presidency.

Reducing or eliminating the reach of current U.S. policies on use of JSOC, unmanned drones and arms sales is yet another huge task for a restructured Democratic Party necessary to reverse the direction of the country in so many policy areas.

*Juan Cole, “Shadow Wars,” The Nation, April 30, 2012.

Backtracking From a Nuclear Weapons-Free World

David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, was all aglow immediately after Barack Obama won the presidency. He expressed his thoughts in an email addressed to “Dear Friends” on November 5, 2008. In electing Obama, Krieger said: “The American people have chosen hope over fear, unity over division.”

The Obama campaign statement that Krieger liked best was: “A world without nuclear weapons is profoundly in America’s interest and the world’s interest. It is our reponsibility to make the commitment, and to do the hard work to make this vision a reality. That’s what I’ve done as a Senator and a candidate, and that’s what I’ll do as President.”

Krieger also quoted Obama as saying: “I will make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of US nuclear policy.”

Krieger then went on in that same email to make a long list of specific steps that Obama had promised to take once elected president:

*lead an international effort to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons around the world;

*strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;

*lock down the loose nuclear weapons that are out there right now;

*secure all loose nuclear materials within four years;

*immediately stand down all nuclear forces to be reduced under the Moscow Treaty and urge Russia to do the same;

*seek Russia’s agreement to extend essential monitoring and verification provisions of the START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) before it expires in December 2009;

*work with Russia to take US and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert;

* work with other nuclear powers to reduce global nuclear weapons stockpiles dramatically by the end of his presidency;

*stop the development of new nuclear weapons;

*seek dramatic reductions in US and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material;

*set a goal to expand the US-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global;

*build a bipartisan consensus for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;

*cut investments in unproven missile defense systems;

*not weaponize space.

On most of these 14 steps that candidate Obama promised to take there has been no evident progress, except for continued funding to secure loose nukes and reducing U.S. and Russian deployed missiles through the New START Treaty. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is totally off the table; the U.S. has continued to invest in missile defense at about prior levels; and the Pentagon has a space command that seeks to weaponize space. Far from not developing new nuclear weapons, the White House gave serious consideration to developing a new bunker-buster nuclear weapon; also, Obama has sunk additional billions into a modernization program that will quadruple the ability to create “pits”, the plutonium triggers to explode missiles.

Before proceeding into a discussion of the nuclear weapons complex and the modernization program, the various nuclear reduction treaties with Russia and earlier with the Soviet Union have been widely hailed as major steps to the elimination of nuclear weapons. There is a definite downside to these treaties, however: what they do is lock in high numbers of ballistic missiles for years to come and thus, actually, slow progress in eliminating nuclear weapons stockpiles. 

The Nuclear Weapons Complex

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Defense (DOD) jointly oversee all of the country’s nuclear weapons activities. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a branch of the DOD, is responsible for management and security of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. The complex is made up of eight main nuclear weapons laboratories, plants and facilities across the country, where the research, production, maintenance and dismantlement of nuclear weapons take place.

II. The Modernization Program

The NNSA is charged with the maintenance and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile, including the ability to design and produce new nuclear warheads. NNSA has been puushing hard for increased resources to the nuclear weapons complex for “modernization,” which would enhance nuclear warhead production capabilities. The Government Accounting Office has estimated that the cost for modernizing the complex would be more than $150 billion.

The heart of this modernization program would be the construction of three new facilities at Los Alamos, New Mexico, Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Kansas City, Missouri. At the first two plants, plutonium pit production would increase from 20 to 80 pits a year, with a “surge” capacity of 125 pits. Due to budgetary constraints, the Obama administration is proposing to put off funding the new Los Alamos facility until 2017.

The most recent JASON report, an independent scientific study commissioned by Congress, found that the reliability and safety of the present nuclear weapons stockpile is assured for at least 80 to 100 years.

The Stimson Center, identified as a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to enhancing international peace and security through rigorous analysis, released a report in early June 2012, estimating costs in support of strategic nuclear offensive forces. The Center estimates that an annual total of $31 billion is spent on nuclear weapons when costs dedicated to strategic offensive forces found in the NNSA of the DOE are included.

Extrapolating these costs over a ten-year period and adding in the modernization costs resulting from development programs to replace ballistic missile submarines and strategic bombers, the Stimson report estimates that the United States will spend between $352 and $392 billion on strategic nuclear offensive forces over the next ten years. The authors of the report emphasize that their cost figures do not include modernization programs like the next-generation aerial refueling tankers, nor does it include all U.S. government spending on nuclear weapons. It is a spending estimate on a single subset: strategic nuclear offensive forces.

III. Environmental and Health Effects

The following statement on environmental and health effects is taken from a 2010 factsheet put out by Peace Action: “The legacy of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex has been one of environmental injustice. From mining to the dumping of nuclear waste, the nuclear chain has had extreme health and environmental consequences for the communities surrounding the nuclear sites. The toxic burden has been placed disproportionately on indigenous communities targeted for mining, testing, research, and waste facilities. U.S. federal law and nuclear policies have been created to allow the nuclear industry to flourish at the expense of the indigenous health, ancestral lands, and ways of life. The over 60 years of nuclear weapons production will cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars, and over five decades of clean-up, and still there will be contamination for hundreds of generations. Increased nuclear warhead production, particularly with uranium and plutonium (the most carcinogenic matter known to exist) facilities will endanger U.S. communities.”

IV. What Should Be Done on Nuclear Threat Reduction

Besides taking action on many of the 14 specific steps identified by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation as Obama campaign promises, especially the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the most innovative idea for unilateral reduction of nuclear warheads is found in an article published in the Strategic Studies Quarterly by three Air Force strategists and scholars. They call for a reduction to 311 warheads deployed in a triad model, as follows: 100 single warheads deployed in silos; an ICBM carried by 19 of the 20 B-52s or 20s — one bomber would be assumed to be in maintenance at any one time —  and the remainder deployed in nuclear missile-equipped submarines. It is noted that previously the Institute of Air Power Studies called for eliminating the bomber leg of the nuclear triad.

The conclusion of the three Air Force thinkers is that “the actual marginal utility of additional forces is quite small.” The 311 warheads would provide the equivalent of 1,900 megatons of explosive power, or nine and one-half times the amount that former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara argued in 1965 could incapacitate the Soviet Union by destroying “one-quarter to one-third of its population and about two-thirds of the industrial capacity.”

The reduction to 311 warheads would be a dramatic demonstration of the U.S. determination to honor Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires signatory nations to make significant progress toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. The U.S. could also work more creditably  toward making the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone.

Deflating a Bloated Pentagon

Trying to make a comprehensive list of desirable cuts in military spending is beyond the scope of this blog and would probably make for tedious reading; therefore, this blog will focus on a few big ticket items and will present a way of downsizing through a military force structure model.

Military aviation experts are in general agreement that if the United States had not started developing new jet fighters in the early 2000s it would have had a distinct global aerial superiority until at least 2020. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most sophisticated jet fighter ever built and is designed to serve both the Air Force and the Navy. Jet fighters built to serve more than one of the military services have never worked well in the past.

The present plan is to build an air wing of 2,400 F-35s, with an overall cost of about 1.5 trillion dollars. This cost figure may be a case of lowballing, as in just the first eight years off the drawing board, the cost of a single F-35 has increased by 80 percent. Last year the Pentagon estimated that maintenance costs alone for the F-35 would run to $1 trillion in the next 30 years. The magnitude of a trillion dollars can be dramatized in the following way: if 100 dollar bills were laid end-to-end, they would circle the earth at the equator 59 times. Reducing that air wing by 2/3s would save a trillion dollars by the Pentagon’s current cost estimate. Based on the lack of a peer enemy military force, even 800 F-35s would be a case of vast overkill capability.

The United States has 11 aircraft carriers and no other nation has more than one. A decade ago the cost of a single aircraft carrier was approaching $6 billion and the protection of such a costly investment requires a whole flotilla of ships and an aerial umbrella of warplanes.

The proposal, then, would be to stop building carriers and allot one carrier to the Pacific Ocean, one to the Atlantic Ocean and one to the troubled Middle East. One carrier would be kept in reserve and the other seven mothballed.

President Obama could have taken a big step to earning his Nobel peace prize by proposing at the beginning off his presidency that if given two terms he would close all U.S. military bases on foreign soil, based on priorities worked out with Congress and the military services. Since the missions would no longer be needed, the armed forces would be reduced in personnel by the number of troops brought home and those whose principal job was to supply them. Personnel costs is the largest single item in the Pentagon’s budget.

A political calculation in this bold policy is that it will be easier to close foreign bases than it will to close bases within the United States.

It should be noted that the recommendation to phase out all overseas military bases echoes a recommendation made by the Boston Study Group, a team of defense analysts noted for their wide-ranging analysis of U.S. military spending. Furthermore, the recommendation to mothball seven carrier groups mirrors a seven-carrier cut proposed about two decades ago by defense analysts consulting Scientific American magazine. Forbes magazine also weighed in with a proposed military force structure for the early 1990s, costing about $100 billion less than the contemporary Pentagon spending figures. The 1990s was a time of proposing deep cuts in the military infrastructure.

The linchpin for reducing the size of the armed forces would be to adopt the type of model published in 1992 by defense analyst Randall Forsberg, laying out the minimal force structure needed to protect the nation and phasing it in over a ten-year period. If the Forsberg model — costed out at $86 billion ( she had another model, costing $79 billion) — had been adopted when presented, it would have cut the FY 2003 military budget by about 75 percent, thus probably making it unfeasible to launch the very costly war in Iraq, or to fight a long war in Afghanistan. 

Those who want to reduce the role of the military in U.S. life usually concentrate on the spending of  a bloated Pentagon and the more beneficial societal uses that could be funded with the savings. There are, however, a number of very destructive effects caused by a large standing military: 1) Military spending tends to be inflationary, because it doesn’t make things that consumers can buy or are socially useful; 2) The military is a voracious consumer of resources, particularly oil, aluminum, copper, nickel and platinum; 3) The military employs an inordinate number of the nation’s oceanographers, physicists, and engineers — aeronautical, astronautical, electrical and electronic; 4) The military is the biggest single-source pollutor in the world; and 5) Military spending is a very poor job creator.

Overall, the Council for Economic Priorities has found that the more a country spends on the military as a part of its economy, the slower the rate of economic growth, the higher the rate of unemployment and the slower the productivity growth.

President Obama has not taken any visible action to cut down on the large army of contractors that serve the Pentagon. The Pentagon says it employs 766,000 contractors at an annual cost of $155 billion. The Washington Post says that when you add in private intelligence organizations, the total comes to 1.2 million contractors.

The Pentagon’s invisible army consists of 70,000 cooks, cleaners, construction workers, fast-food clerks, electricians and beauticians from the world’s poorest countries. This privatization has produced convoluted chains of foreign subcontracts that often lead to cost overruns and fraud. A researcher named Sarah Stillman has interviewed hundreds of T.C.N.s (third country nationals) and has seldom met one who had paid less than a thousand dollars for his/her job.

When I was in the U.S.Army during the Korean War, Army cooks prepared the meals, soldiers pulled KP (messhall duties),  soldiers carried out guard duty on a scheduled basis, and troops were transported by Army drivers. If we were to go back to this in-house taking care of business, we could largely eliminate this large army of highly-paid contractors. 

Even though the  military protects people and not GDP, it is worth looking at one treatment of the relationship of military spending to GDP by the team of Pollin and Garrett-Peltier.* The team notes that in Bush IIs last year in office, military spending was 4.3 percent of GDP, whereas in Clinton’s last year in office, military spending was 3 percent of GDP.The conclusion is that if we were to return to the 2000 level of military spending as a share of  the economy, that would itself entail budget cuts of $260 billion per year (i.e., $1.4 trillion over four years).**

Another way of looking at military spending is to mark its percentage of discretionary spending — the War Resisters League and the National Priorities Project, Inc. are among the groups that have done this. Discretionary spending is that which the Congress actually votes on. Trust fund spending and interest on the debt are excluded. The National Priorities Project, Inc. pie chart for 2011 shows military spending at 58 percent of the total and education and health at four and five percent respectively.

The next blog will deal with the nuclear weapons component of military spending.

*Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, The Nation, May 28, 2012.

**Ibid.

A Very Light Diet for the Pentagon

Diane Sawyer, ABC News anchor, described as “massive” the Pentagon budget cuts announced by President Barack Obama on January 5, 2012. The Pentagon has been trying to frame the overall cut of $487 billion over ten years as the maximum sacrifice it will be able to endure. Yet President Obama gave much of the game away when he said that even with the cuts, the United States would be spending more on the military than the next two highest spending nations; also, he stated that the Pentagon would continue to get its “normal” increase in funding. Obama was lowballing the comparative spending, as the United States spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined.

None of the 11 aircraft carrier flotillas will be cut as part of the deal reached to reduce the deficit, except that their sailing schedules might be reduced. None of the current missions of the Pentagon will be eliminated, only “narrowed.” There will still be a formidable nuclear weapons force, with the triad deployment probably preserved. Even though there might be fewer nuclear warheads, the modernization program for increasing the capacity to build warheads, a new fleet of nuclear weapons-armed submarines and a new bomber equipped to carry nuclear warheads will not be affected, except for a delay in the deployment of the new submarines.

The planned 2,400 plane air wing of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will remain intact under the deal to cut the Pentagon budget by $487 billion. The cost of a single F-35 almost doubled in just eight years; also, the Pentagon announced last year that projected maintenance costs alone of the F-35 will reach $1 trillion in 30 years. Fighter planes designed to serve two of the military services, such as the F-35, haven’t worked out in the past.

Although because of the cuts, the armed forces will have a reduced capacity to fight land warfare, this limitation is described as “reversible,” as use of reserve forces and the Natrional Guard will allow the U.S. to fight two land wars simultaneously. It is hard to imagine that given the drain on resources of the two wars during the last decade, we are contemplating fighting an additional war in the next decade. 

The Pentagon is following a slew of incongruous paths for the future: 1) the last Quadrennial Review elevated fighting an insurgency of violent extremists to the highest planning level; 2) the Pentagon is also engaged in trying to surmount the major technological challenges involved in creating the electronic/robotic battlefield of the future, once the apple of his eye of former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld; 3) the Pentagon is continuing to build the sophisticated weapons systems appropriate to fighting a major peer enemy, such as the Soviet Union once was; 4) there is an Air Force command for putting weapons into space; and 5) the United States spends billions each year to try to fulfill Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars fantasy of an umbrella or shield of anti-missile weapons to shoot down oncoming ballistic missiles — $150 billion and counting since inception. 

There is a sense of deja vu in elevating fighting an insurgency to the top of the planning list, as about the same time Barack Obama came into the presidency, a Department of Defense directive put “IW” (irregular warfare) on a level “as strategically important as traditional warfare,” arguing that for the “foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent extremists will be the central objective of U.S. policy.”

The fact that the United States is following several major pathways in military planning is linked to the concept of “full spectrum dominance,” whereby a joint military structure achieves control over all elements of the battlefield, using surface, sub-surface and air space-based assets. Full spectrum dominance includes the electromagnetic spectrum and information space. Control implies that the freedom of an opposition force to exploit the battlefield will be wholly contained.

Given that the ten-year projection of Pentagon base budget spending and ongoing war fighting costs submitted with the FY 2012 budget is $6.5 trillion, a cut of $487 billion is not very significant.

How will the $487 billion in cuts be achieved? The Army will be cut from 570,000 to 490,000 troops by 2017 and the Marines will go from 202,000 to 182,000. It was only a few years ago that the armed forces were increased by 92,000 personnel, so this 100,000 cut in personnel basically restores the troop size to what it was some seven years ago. If Barack Obama wins a second term, the troop reduction will not be completed during his presidency.

Besides the troop reduction, some old planes will be retired — two dozen C-5A cargo aircraft and 65 of the oldest C-130 cargo planes — the Navy will retire seven cruisers earlier than planned and delay some purchases; the new generation of submarines will be deployed in 2032 instead of 2030; and purchases of F-35s will be delayed. Notable in this list of cost savings is that not a single weapons system will be eliminated.

The next blog wil focus on what should be done to significantly reduce the size of our military establishment.

The Magnitude of U.S. Military Spending

The Air Force online magazine published an article in the October 2000 issue which did a backward projection of military spending, starting with President Carter. Spending was shown in FY 2001 dollars. Seven of President Ronald Reagan’s eight budgets totaled at least $390 billion and four exceeded $400 billion, with a high of $436.40 billion in FY 1985. None of the other three presidents in the Air Force survey — Carter, Bush I and Clinton —  had military budgets in the $400 billion or higher range; futhermore, none of President Bill Clinton’s charted budgets exceeded even $300 billion, based on FY 2001 dollars.

The decade of the 1990s saw some cutting back in military spending under George Herbert Walker Bush, and, especially, Bill Clinton. Due to the demise of the Soviet Union, the 1990s saw a number of long-term projections of military spending. Notable among these projections was that of the defense analyst Randall Forsberg. Forsberg published two military budget models in 1992, designed to be phased in over ten years. When fully phased in, one model totaled $79 billion and the other, $86 billion. Forsberg’s more costly model would have reduced FY 2003 military spending by about 75 percent. 

Forsberg’s fully phased-in $86 billion budget called for a fairly robust military, with 10 strategic submarines carrying 240 nuclear weapons; five active and three reserve Army divisions; eight tactical air wings, with three of them the U.S. Navy’s; and over 130 ships and submarines. 

The new century ushered in George W. Bush and a sizable uptick in the base Pentagon budget. The Congressional Budget Office calculated a 74 percent increase in the base Pentagon budget, or an average of 8.22 percent a year in President Bush’s two terms.

Finally, we come to President Barack Obama. Although Obama promised in the presidential campaign that he would include Iraq and Afghanistan in the base Pentagon budget, he has continued to finance them through supplementals, as did his immediate predecessor. President Obama’s first two fiscal year budgets more than halved the average annual increase found under George W. Bush.

As for the Pentagon’s future funding under President Obama, it appears that it will never need to hold a yard sale. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates could find only $78 billion in miscellaneous savings through 2015 and another $100 billion in reduced war costs and having military personnel pick up more of their medical costs. Obama’s ten-year projection of the base Pentagon budget, submitted with the FY 2012 budget, called for accumulated spending of $6.5 trillion.

When President Obama rolled out his 12-year budgetary plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion, he counted only $400 billion in Pentagon budget savings. Later, however, when he endorsed the plan of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he also accepted the $1 trillion is estimated war savings. It is not certain if the $400 billion in Obama’s 12-year plan is in addition to the $1 trillion in war savings. Either way, the cuts would not be a significant percentage of projected military spending over a 12-year period.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put global military spending at $1.6 trillion for 2010. U.S. military spending was put at $698 billion. or 43.6 percent of global military spending by a nation that has about five percent of the world’s population.

The Stockholm group considered only the base Pentagon budget and the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some defense spending analysts contend that a category called militarily-related spending is a more accurate indicator of total military spending. These analysts would include the cost of the nuclear weapons complex, which is partly in the Department of Energy budget; the part of the intelligence budget that services military needs; that part of the State Department budget devoted to security at U.S. embassies and other security needs; national security components of the Homeland Security budget; interest on the national debt caused by unfunded past wars; and healthcare costs of war-related injuries.

The annual cost of this militarily-related spending is put in a range of $800 billion to $1.2 trillion — this latter figure comes from the National Priorities Project, Inc. The $1.2 trillion figure would be 75 percent of the Stockholm group’s $1.6 trillion global spending figure. This $1.2 trillion figure, if projected forward with an annual three percent increase, would total $17.5 trillion over the course of Obama’s previously mentioned 12-year plan.

Those commentators who focus almost exclusively on cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the best ways of cutting the deficit, are ignoring the frightful costs of military and militarily-related spending. If we had followed the Randall Forsberg ten-year phased-in military spending plan, we undoubtedly would not have had the overkill capacity to invade Iraq and fight the long and ongoing war in Afghanistan. Thus, we would have saved the projected long-term $3 trillion or more cost of those two wars.