S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Follow the money

Illusion of control - The following quote by David Sedaris is a prelude to today's post. "Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it." What will readers bring to the reading of today's post on Congressional decisions about military spending?

  • An impatience with complexity or a love of detail
  • A head for numbers or not a clue
  • A prayer for an end to the wars or a wish for real victories
  • A history of military service or of never having served
  • A preference for a world view or a more isolationist view
  • A preference for militray over diplomatic expenditures
  • A memory of losing a loved one in an unwanted war or a loss that has true meaning
  • A love of politics or a disdain for all politicians
  • An ambivalence about the questions raised or a clear and firm opinion

My biases exposed - For a "little blogger" like me to write about the pending U.S. military budget takes the utmost temerity, but I can at least let you know what my own biases are. I like detail but I do not have much of a head for numbers. I want the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to end. I have never served in the military, nor did my father or brother. I prefer to take the global view over a purely nationalistic one, and the diplomatic over the military solution. I have not had any significant personal losses in a war. I love politics and feel it can be an honorable Congressional endeavor. And I have much ambivalence about the whole question of how to support our military personnel, and at the same time, try to trim spending on war-making.
To "follow the money" and to follow the laws they enacted, have been the traditional ways for Congress to investigate scandals. The new Democratically controlled Congress will have its hands full, come January's encounter with the scandalous cost of the Bush administration's so called "war on terror." Congress will struggle with the budget's "guns or butter" impossibilities, as well as the need to be supportive to troops still in harm's way. At least Democrats are being smart about giving their freshmen members a running start, according to the New York Times. To quote:
Eyeing ’08, Democrats Nurse Freshmen at Risk
By ADAM NAGOURNEY. Published: December 22, 2006
When newly elected Democratic members of Congress showed up here last month, they were taken on the traditional round of orientation, civic-minded lessons on how Congress works, tours of the Capitol and receptions with their new colleagues and leaders.
The Arms Trade is big business. Anup Shah, who writes Global Issues, calls it "a major cause of the world's suffering." His site is "link-rich" and presents a few startling ideas, from which I quote:

  • The world spends some $1,000 billion annually on the military.
  • . . . world military spending has now reached one trillion dollars, close to Cold War levels.
  • . . . for the larger arms-purchasing nations each year:
    Arms procurement is normally 20-30% of their military budgets. The main portion is usually on operations, maintenance and personnel. Some 40 to 50 billion dollars are in actual deliveries, (that is, the delivery of sales, which can be many years after the initial contract is signed). Each year, around 30-35 billion dollars are made in actual sales (agreements, or signing of contracts).
  • The top ten developing nation recipients of arms sales accounted for just over two-thirds of the total developing nations arms market between 2002 and 2005, and as the Grimmet Report noted, there is “continued concentration of major arms purchases by developing nations among a few countries.” These countries were mostly Asian or from the Near East (or Middle East).

How much is a billion? The size of the Pentagon's current proposed budget just to fight our two wars is nearly $100 billion. The first thing Senators and Representatives will have to do is hold exhaustive hearings, unlike the previous congress' supine acceptance of whatever the White House sent over. covered the budget story. To quote from the 12/20 article,

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon wants the White House to seek an additional $99.7 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information provided to The Associated Press.
The military's request, if embraced by President Bush and approved by Congress, would boost this year's budget for those wars to about $170 billion.
Military planners assembled the proposal at a time when Bush is developing new strategies for Iraq, such as sending thousands of more U.S. troops there, although it was put together before the president said the troop surge was under consideration.
Overall, the war in Iraq has cost about $350 billion. Combined with the conflict in Afghanistan and operations against terrorism elsewhere, the cost has topped $500 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The vexing trade-offs present short term band-aid fixes with long-term fighting readiness consequences. The Hill's Megan Scully, who obviously does have a head for figures, analyzes the budget for its balance of operations vs. procurement of weapons. Quoting a portion of Scully's article,
The Pentagon’s $419.3 billion request for 2006 continues a trend of burgeoning defense spending, but the department’s budget — one of only two in the federal government to grow significantly over last year’s request — hints of cuts to come and changing defense priorities.
. . . “This is a pinking-shears approach,” said Gordon Adams, the former associate director of national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget. “You sort of get a jagged line cutting off the edges of the budgetary garment.”
Instead of procurement, the budget focuses largely on operations and maintenance, increasing funding in those accounts to $147.8 billion, or $11 billion more than 2005. The request also sets aside billions to restructure combat and support units across the services.
. . . “We’re not talking about transforming the force here. We’re talking about supporting the global war on terrorism and restructuring the force,” Adams said. “In a way, it’s very old-fashioned.”
He added that it’s a “back-door way of acknowledging you can’t do the global war on terrorism on supplementals alone.”

Many militray thinkers believe that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are too small and that all the services are stretched too thin. The cost of expanding the military will be enormous. USA Today's headline reads, "Cost, effort, time of military expansion plan likely to have 'enormous' impact." Quoting from the story:

Meeting President Bush's goal of a larger Army and Marine Corps will require more time and money to recruit volunteers, retain the officers needed to lead them and outfit new units.
Bush said Wednesday that he asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to quickly come up with a plan for expanding U.S. ground forces, not just for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but for the larger struggle against what he called "extremists and radicals." He pledged to work with Congress "to see that this becomes a reality."
The Pentagon has increased incentives and lowered standards in recent years to keep the military at its current size, particularly as recruiting fell short of goals. Enlarging the military will require more of that, experts say.
. . . Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month that it would take two years to recruit, train and equip a new division. Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Democrats on the House and Senate armed services committees, say the extra 10,000 troops alone would cost the Pentagon about $1.2 billion a year.

Next to the horrible loss of life in war, the other incalculable loss is to the unmet needs of our most vulnerable U.S. citizens. Follow our tax dollars going away by the billions, and it is clear what the current administration's priorities are. The Bush administration's claim that these wars are making us safer does not hold up, in my opinion. It I believed that we are safer, I would be all for the current level of military spending. I and many like me believe we are less safe. In a future post I will compare the increases in military spending with decreases in domestic spending. I will also look at the benefits of high levels of military spending to particular business friends of the administration. Such largesse is at the expense of our brave war fighters and of Afghan and Iraqi development.
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1 comment:

RoseCovered Glasses said...

There are good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armaments”

The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment, budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Administrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the new Sec. Def.Mr. Gates, understand such complexity, particularly if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can’t. Therefore he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is absolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen until it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagen instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.