When George W. Bush disappears out the door of the White House, he'll leave his successor a long list of horrendous problems, not least of them a Defense Department budget of more than $518 billion that doesn't even include another $170 billion or so to continue funding a year of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If you add in the war money and the bits and pieces of national security spending in other departments' budgets, you begin closing in on the real figure for defense spending, which is close to $1 trillion for the fiscal year that will begin this October and end on September 30, 2009.
Much of that, like all of President Bush's war spending for the last seven years, will be deficit spending. Washington will sell bonds to foreign nations such as China in a continuing Ponzi scheme, assuming that the foreigners haven't noticed by then that the dollar is sinking like the Titanic and our economy is in the toilet.
We might hope that our representatives in Congress, who have to pass this expensive monstrosity of a bill, would hold it up to the light and see how much of our money is being poured down a rat-hole. But of course that's much too much to expect of those courageous folks in an election year - or any year, for that matter.
Pentagon procurement spending, according to the experts, is so totally out of control that no one even attempts to separate the good and necessary weapons programs from the bad, useless and even harmful ones. When money gets tight, the brilliant thinkers in the five-sided puzzle palace even starve good programs to feed bad ones.
Under the Bush administration, defense spending has skyrocketed since 2001, but the money hasn't been spent wisely. With a recession looming, or already here, and the national debt heading north of $10 trillion, the next president and Congress may want to give serious thought to whether we can afford to go on spending like a drunken sailor on a defense establishment that's financed like Enron and managed like General Motors.
The military-industrial complex that Dwight D. Eisenhower, who unlike Bush knew a thing or two about the military, warned about in his farewell speech has had a field day with the Bush administration's laissez faire defense spending policy.
Consider, if you will, the $22.9 billion we're spending to rush as many as 20,000 mine-resistant ambush protection (MRAP) vehicles to the soldiers and Marines fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This began in earnest only last year - too late for the troops who've been killed and wounded by improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The MRAP is a huge, heavily armored truck that can carry a squad of troops, eight to 10 men, in relative safety. It's not a fighting vehicle, just a deuce-and-a-half truck on steroids with a v-shaped bottom that deflects the force of a blast from a landmine or a buried IED around instead of through the vehicle.
Good idea. Where were they when then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was sending everyone to war in unarmored Humvees? Why wait five years, and then suddenly begin buying 20,000 of them? Why wait for American defense plants to produce an inferior version that costs more than $1 million each when Israel and South Africa are selling better designed MRAPs off the shelf for about a third of the price?
Then there's the question of what the hell the Army and Marine Corps are going to do with 20,000 MRAPs cluttering up their motor pools when the Iraq war ends? These beasts can weigh as much as 40 tons. They can't leave the road, and there are few bridges that can bear their weight. They can't turn around on an average road. Their only defenses are their armor and a few small portholes through which soldiers can fire their rifles at targets they can't see.
Are they better than the alternative, the $200,000 up-armored Humvee, which is a death trap when an IED goes off and is destroyed by its own weight in daily use? You bet they are.
But how many do we really need when the current U.S. strategy in Iraq is not to drive up and down roads and streets on "presence patrols" but to use dismounted troops patrolling on foot?
Congress hardly blinked when the Pentagon began shifting money from other programs last year to fund all-out production of the MRAPs. Why would they? Think of the jobs created in MRAP plants in South Carolina and Mississippi and dozens of other factories around the country that produce the parts and pieces that go into the vehicle.
MRAPs were a good idea five years ago when the Abominable No-Man Rumsfeld was running the Pentagon and telling soldiers to quit whining about armored vehicles because we go to war with the Army we have, not the Army we may want to have.
Today both Rumsfeld and the war have moved on, and the defense plants are humming 24/7 making a very expensive ride that's likely to end up as tomorrow's war surplus. Maybe we can sell them off by the pound.
Just think: The MRAP is one little $22 billion program in a trillion-dollar national security budget. How many more outdated, useless widgets are hidden in there like so many termites, eating up your money? How many worthwhile projects have been ignored, vetoed or scuttled to pay for expensive toys that don't work, but will make big money for the military-industrial complex? (Hint: Think border fence.)
The next president might want to know the answer to that question when he takes off his overcoat and sits down in the Oval Office on the afternoon of January 20, 2009.
Joseph L. Galloway, a military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers, is the co-author, with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, of "We Were Soldiers Once Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ and Young," a story of the first large-scale ground battle of the Vietnam War.
© 2008 McClatchy Newspapers