Peace activists have traditionally longed for the day when the Pentagon would need to hold bake sales to fund their activities while human needs in the US were adequately funded.
Yet this prospect has never been more remote as the current Administration and Congress would like to shrink every other aspect of government except the military, Homeland Security, and new public subsidies for large “free-market” corporations.
While billions are squandered on the war in Iraq, people of conscience are rightfully preoccupied with ending the death and destruction. At times, we may note the waste of resources compared to the needs of New Orleans, still largely mired in slime 10 months after Hurricane Katrina came and went, and other pressing domestic priorities.
But with federal dollars flooding into Iraq, it is easy to lose sight of the day-to-day waste and routine fraud back at the Pentagon. Two decades ago, the discovery of the Pentagon paying $435 for claw hammers, $640 for toilet seats, and $7,600 for coffee makers triggered massive media coverage and incited ongoing public outrage. But in 2006, however, even worse can happen on a regular basis with barely any notice and even less outcry.
The New York Times reported July 11 that overruns and delays on weapons are running at epidemic levels at the Pentagon where projects are slated for tens and hundreds of billions of dollars. This, of course, doesn’t take into account the lack of open discussion on the need for these weapons in the first place.
Current US military doctrine---barely questioned by anyone who matters in government or major media-- calls for a boundlessly grandiose “Full Spectrum Dominance” by the US, ranging from outer space to under the oceans. Defense Department military spending is now at $441 billion (excluding about $120 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan). This outlay dwarfs the defense spending of all other nations. Moreover, the US military operates at least 700 bases in about 130 nations.
In the current environment of unchallenged rationales for even the most questionable military programs, one of the more egregious examples has been an information-gathering satellite program called the Space-Based Infrared System. The unit cost on this item has grown from $4.1 billion to $10.2 billion, an increase of 315%. The cost of another item, the F-22A Raptor, exploded from an estimated $125.15 billion to $361.33 billion for many fewer planes than the contract originally called for. Meanwhile, the F-16 plane now labeled obsolete is considered by many experts as more than adequate and definitely more economical.
At a moment when the advocates for defense spending are opposing a rise in the minimum wage (at its lowest value in 51 years) and imposing iron-clad restraints on all social spending, this bonanza for defense contractors is particularly obscene.
Yet, any question of the need for increased and barely-monitored defense spending is labeled as “unpatriotic,” and goes unchallenged by most leading Democrats. Barely considered in the debate over the enormous US military budget is the fact that the most devastating damage to Americans was enabled by simple box-cutters on 9/11 and low-budget “improvised explosive devices” on a daily basis in Iraq, cobbled together from cell- phone, garage-opener, and TV- remote parts.
While there are potential (although probably greatly exaggerated) nuclear threats represented by North Korea and Iran, any diplomatic effort towards achieving non-proliferation is regarded with great distaste by the Bush Administration. Why bother to negotiate when you can spend billions on missile shields that may or may not work, thereby rewarding contractors who happen to be big campaign contributors? One may also ask why the doctrine of “non-proliferation” doesn’t apply to the U.S. and other so-called legitimate nuclear powers.
The whole scenario is all too reminiscent of the Emperor who wore no clothes and got away with it. Who is establishing and enforcing objective standards for military projects after decades of watching military contractors, including many of the largest U.S. corporations, rip off the public to reward defense interests that may be political contributors? How does the nation really decide how many F-16’s or F-22A’s we need? The whole enterprise seems to represent the largest pseudo-scientific hoax in American life.
A recent report issued by Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities bluntly called the Pentagon’s financial-management practices “an embarrassment that wouldn’t pass muster in the private sector.” The nonpartisan group, composed of more than 600 current and retired business executive from U.S. companies, advocates shifting federal spending priorities to domestic needs instead of weapons systems as the true path to national security. The author of the report, Kwai Chan, pointed out that defense spending has increased about 48% since 2001 and will reach its highest level this year since the Korean War,
Nearly all of the BSP report was drawn came from government documents, including a disclosure by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget that 20 out of 23 defense programs examined by the OMB auditor lacked strong financial-management standards.
In reports to Congress in recent years, the Government Accountability Office found $1.2 billion in Army supplies shipped to Iraq that couldn’t be accounted for. In addition, they identified $35 billion worth of excess supplies and equipment and $100 million in airline tickets that were never used. They also found that 94% of Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers experienced problems with their paychecks in 2004. As for the entire Defense Department, its own Office of the Inspector General pronounced the department hopelessly “un-auditable.”
Highlighting the cozy relationship between defense contractors and the government, the GAO found $100 million that could be collected annually from these contractors who underpaid federal taxes. The federal government has collected less than 1% of that— under $700,000.
The present situation adds up to a distressing merger of a permanent warfare state, operating globally, with a corporate welfare system. The rationale for this enterprise goes largely undefended because its existence is rarely discussed, hence, no need to justify it. With so much focus on Iraq and the murderous uses of our weapons, it is easy to overlook how the Pentagon, Inc. bleeds the domestic budget, adding billions to the deficit and depriving health, education, and other human needs of necessary funds.
This starvation of human needs may, in fact, constitute a very welcome side effect for the hawks who have devised this monumental sink hole for American tax dollars.
Roger Bybee and Carolyn Winter are Milwaukee, Wis.-based writers and activists. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.