Imagine, for a moment, a country that no longer rebuilds or reinforces its sagging infrastructure but just can’t stop pouring money into its military. Oh wait, you don’t have to imagine that at all! You just have to look at the United States. This fall, for instance, the president who swore he was going to give us an infrastructure plan that would blow our minds discovered that, after a tax cut for billionaires, a ballooning national debt, and a staggering $716 billion Pentagon budget, there were few dollars left over for much of anything else.
In October, Donald Trump began talking about cutting agency spending by 5% across the board and about a possible $700 billion limit on the 2020 Pentagon budget. As December began, he became even more emphatic on that point, tweeting that he should talk to the Chinese and Russian presidents about halting an arms race and so cut down on military spending that was... well, not to put too fine a point on it, “Crazy!”
Hmm... and just how long did that sentiment survive? Well, that was Monday, December 4th. On Tuesday, the newly nominated head of U.S. Central Command, Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and insisted that any future Pentagon budget below $733 billion would “increase risk and that risk would be manifested across the force.” That very day, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) trooped to the White House for a lunch meeting. The next thing anyone knew, the 2020 Pentagon budget was to be a modest $750 billion. "The President fully supports the National Defense Strategy and continuing to rebuild the military," an administration official told CNN. "With the help of Sen. Inhofe and Chairman Thornberry, President Trump agreed to $750 billion topline."
Well, honestly, what can you expect of a Pentagon incapable of auditing itself? How could it possibly solve a total stumper of a division and subtraction problem like: What’s 5% less than its 2019 budget? (And here’s a little footnote to that change in numbers: Senator Inhofe walked out of that lunch and within the week had purchased “tens of thousands of dollars of stock in one of the nation’s top defense contractors.” Raytheon, to be exact. When that buy made news, he blamed it all on his “financial adviser,” claimed to know nothing about it, and cancelled the order.)
And then, of course, there’s always the purely secondary question: What is the U.S. military—its budget already bigger than of that those of god-knows-how-many-other countries combined—going to spend all that money on? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Michael Klare has a thought on the subject. He suggests that, in the years to come, increasing billions of those dollars are going to be invested in creating a future battlespace in which “intelligent” machines fight our wars and, in the end, the only role left for humans may be the dying. In other words, we’re heading for a militarized, remarkably automated, artificially intelligent hell on Earth. What about an $850 billion budget, just to ensure that we’re the first ones there?