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The Progressive

Pentagon Spending Totally Out of Control

Amitabh Pal

The Pentagon is really raking it in.

I'm as aware as the next person that there's a war on terror going on, in addition to a small bit of military action in Iraq, but the current military budget is unprecedented.

"In 'constant' (inflation adjusted) dollars the Pentagon budget is now significantly larger than at any time in recent history," says the Center for Defense Information in a recent press release. "It is now larger than the previous peaks of Department of Defense spending for the Korean and Vietnam wars and the similarly large increase during the early part of the Reagan presidency."

In the most recent fiscal year, the Pentagon was ladled out an incredible $600 billion, if you total the "regular" budget and special "emergency" appropriations. When you add the nuclear weapons program of the Department of Energy, VA spending, and other Homeland Security expenditure, the total came to $760 billion-plus.

On, Robert Dreyfuss calculates the defense budget to be more than $1 trillion, if you total all the sundry items, plus interest payments on past defense spending. Dreyfuss, who has written a book on U.S. nurturing of Islamic radicalism, "Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam," has no illusions about Al Qaeda. But he rightly asks:

"To a rational observer, such spending-totaling more than $1 trillion in 2008, according to the figures I've just cited-seems quite literally insane. During the Cold War, hawks scared Americans into tolerating staggering but somewhat lesser sums by invoking the specter of Soviet Communism. Does anyone, anywhere, truly believe that we need to spend more than a trillion dollars a year to defend ourselves against small bands of Al Qaeda fanatics?"

It's just astounding. The United States is now spending roughly half of the world's combined defense budget. And much of the expenditure is a result of the incredibly expensive weapons systems that the Pentagon seems to ever-so desperately crave.

"According to the reputable Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, there are at least 28 pricey weapons systems that, just by themselves, will rack up a whopping $44 billion in 2008," Dreyfuss points out. "The projected cost of these 28 systems-which include fighter jets, the B-2 bomber, the V-22 Osprey, various advanced naval vessels, cruise-missile systems, and the ultra-expensive aircraft carriers the Navy always demands-will, in the end, be more than $1 trillion."

A big reason for this? As always in Washington, follow the money. The Center for Defense Information has issued a recent, very revealing chart on campaign contributions made by arms manufacturers.

In the 2006 election cycle, weapons hawkers donated almost $16.5 million to politicians, with the Republicans being favored by almost every single company. Lockheed Martin was the single largest source of munificence, giving more than $2 million (with a 58 percent Republican share) in all its generosity. Not to be left too far behind, General Dynamics chipped in a bighearted $1.4 million. The Pentagon budget is their reward for such kindness.

What do the American people think about this gigantic amount of Pentagon spending?

A February Gallup poll found that a plurality of Americans-and the highest level in 15 years-think that the government is spending too much on defense. Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives argues that since the public perception of the country as "not strong enough" is also quite high, Americans are looking for a new approach to improving the country's security.

Alas, whenever there is a difference of opinion between the public and campaign contributors, the wrong side prevails pretty much every time.

Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive.

© 2007 The Progressive

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