Going Nuclear on Military SpendingRoundup
tags: Pentagon, militarism, military industrial complex
William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, is a TomDispatch regular and a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of critical veteran military and national security professionals. His personal blog is Bracing Views.
Where are you going to get the money? That question haunts congressional proposals to help the poor, the unhoused, and those struggling to pay the mortgage or rent or medical bills, among so many other critical domestic matters. And yet — big surprise! — there’s always plenty of money for the Pentagon. In fiscal year 2022, in fact, Congress is being especially generous with $778 billion in funding, roughly $25 billion more than the Biden administration initially asked for. Even that staggering sum seriously undercounts government funding for America’s vast national security state, which, since it gobbles up more than half of federal discretionary spending, is truly this country’s primary, if unofficial, fourth branch of government.
Final approval of the latest military budget, formally known as the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, may slip into January as Congress wrangles over various side issues. Unlike so much crucial funding for the direct care of Americans, however, don’t for a second imagine it won’t pass with supermajorities. (Yes, the government could indeed be shut down one of these days, but not — never! — the U.S. military.)
Some favorites of mine among “defense” budget side issues now being wrangled over include whether military members should be able to refuse Covid-19 vaccines without being punished, whether young women should be required to register for the selective service system when they turn 18 (even though this country hasn’t had a draft in almost half a century and isn’t likely to have one in the foreseeable future), or whether the Iraq War AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force), passed by Congress to disastrous effect in 2002, should be repealed after nearly two decades of calamity and futility.
As debates over these and similar issues, predictably partisan, grab headlines, the biggest issue of all eludes serious coverage: Why, despite decades of disastrous wars, do Pentagon budgets continue to grow, year after year, like ever-expanding nuclear mushroom clouds? In other words, as voices are raised and arms waved in Congress about vaccine tyranny or a hypothetical future draft of your 18-year-old daughter, truly critical issues involving your money (hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of taxpayer dollars) go largely uncovered.
What are some of those issues that we should be, but aren’t, looking at? I’m so glad you asked!
Seven Questions with “Throw-Weight”
Back in my Air Force days, while working in Cheyenne Mountain (the ultimate bomb shelter of the Cold War era), we talked about nuclear missiles in terms of their “throw-weight.” The bigger their throw-weight, the bigger the warhead. In that spirit, I’d like to lob seven throw-weighty questions — some with multiple “warheads” — in the general direction of the Pentagon budget. It’s an exercise worth doing largely because, despite its sheer size, that budget generally seems impervious to serious oversight, no less real questions of any sort.
So, here goes and hold on tight (or, in the nuclear spirit, duck and cover!):
1. Why, with the end of the Afghan War, is the Pentagon budget still mushrooming upward? Even as the U.S. war effort there festered and then collapsed in defeat, the Pentagon, by its own calculation, was burning through almost $4 billion a month or $45 billon a year in that conflict and, according to the Costs of War Project, $2.313 trillion since it began. Now that the madness and the lying are finally over (at least theoretically speaking), after two decades of fraud, waste, and abuses of every sort, shouldn’t the Pentagon budget for 2022 decrease by at least $45 billion? Again, America lost, but shouldn’t we taxpayers now be saving a minimum of $4 billion a month?