The skewed priorities in Trump’s latest budget proposal are fueled in part by the administration’s decision to embrace the Pentagon increases Congress agreed to last month, while tossing that body’s latest decisions on non-military spending out the window.
By William Hartung Tom Dispatch
February 27, 2018
Introduction by Tom Engelhardt
What company gets the most money from the U.S. government? The answer: the weapons maker Lockheed Martin. As the Washington Post recently reported, of its $51 billion in sales in 2017, Lockheed took in $35.2 billion from the government, or close to what the Trump administration is proposing for the 2019 State Department budget. And which company is in second place when it comes to raking in the taxpayer dollars? The answer: Boeing with a mere $26.5 billion. And mind you, that’s before the good times even truly begin to roll, as TomDispatch regular and weapons industry expert William Hartung makes clear today in a deep dive into the (ir)realities of the Pentagon budget. When it comes to the Department of Defense, though, perhaps we should retire the term “budget” altogether, given its connotation of restraint. Can’t we find another word entirely? Like the Pentagon cornucopia?
Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that perfectly sober reportage about Pentagon funding issues isn’t satire in the style of the New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz. Take, for instance, a recent report in the Washington Examiner that Army Secretary Mark Esper and other Pentagon officials are now urging Congress to release them from a September 30th deadline for fully dispersing their operation and maintenance funds (about 40% of the department’s budget). In translation, they’re telling Congress that they have more money than even they can spend in the time allotted.
It’s hard to be forced to spend vast sums in a rush when, for instance, you’re launching a nuclear arms “race” of one by “modernizing” what’s already the most advanced arsenal on the planet over the next 30 years for a mere trillion-plus dollars (a sum that, given the history of Pentagon budgeting, is sure to rise precipitously). In that context, let Hartung usher you into the wondrous world of what, in the age of The Donald, might be thought of (with alliteration in mind) as the Plutocratic Pentagon. —Tom
How the Pentagon Devours the Budget:
Normalizing Budgetary Bloat
By William D. Hartung
Imagine for a moment a scheme in which American taxpayers were taken to the cleaners to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and there was barely a hint of criticism or outrage. Imagine as well that the White House and a majority of the politicians in Washington, no matter the party, acquiesced in the arrangement. In fact, the annual quest to boost Pentagon spending into the stratosphere regularly follows that very scenario, assisted by predictions of imminent doom from industry-funded hawks with a vested interest in increased military outlays.
Most Americans are probably aware that the Pentagon spends a lot of money, but it’s unlikely they grasp just how huge those sums really are. All too often, astonishingly lavish military budgets are treated as if they were part of the natural order, like death or taxes.
The figures contained in the recent budget deal that kept Congress open, as well as in President Trump’s budget proposal for 2019, are a case in point: $700 billion for the Pentagon and related programs in 2018 and $716 billion the following year. Remarkably, such numbers far exceeded even the Pentagon’s own expansive expectations. According to Donald Trump, admittedly not the most reliable source in all cases, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reportedly said, “Wow, I can’t believe we got everything we wanted” — a rare admission from the head of an organization whose only response to virtually any budget proposal is to ask for more.
The public reaction to such staggering Pentagon budget hikes was muted, to put it mildly. Unlike last year’s tax giveaway to the rich, throwing near-record amounts of tax dollars at the Department of Defense generated no visible public outrage. Yet those tax cuts and Pentagon increases are closely related. The Trump administration’s pairing of the two mimics the failed approach of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s — only more so. It’s a phenomenon I’ve termed “Reaganomics on steroids.” Reagan’s approach yielded oceans of red ink and a severe weakening of the social safety net. It also provoked such a strong pushback that he later backtracked by raising taxes and set the stage for sharp reductions in nuclear weapons.
Donald Trump’s retrograde policies on immigration, women’s rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, and economic inequality have spawned an impressive and growing resistance. It remains to be seen whether his generous treatment of the Pentagon at the expense of basic human needs will spur a similar backlash.
Of course, it’s hard to even get a bead on what’s being lavished on the Pentagon when much of the media coverage failed to drive home just how enormous these sums actually are. A rare exception was an Associated Press story headlined “Congress, Trump Give the Pentagon a Budget the Likes of Which It Has Never Seen.” This was certainly far closer to the truth than claims like that of Mackenzie Eaglen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which over the years has housed such uber-hawks as Dick Cheney and John Bolton. She described the new budget as a “modest year-on-year increase.” If that’s the case, one shudders to think what an immodest increase might look like.
The Pentagon Wins Big
So let’s look at the money.
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Editor’s Note: “The ‘apocalyptic’ chess game between the superpowers that is, between those that move on the highest plane of our civilization, is being played according to the rule ‘if either “wins” it is the end of both’; it is a game that bears no resemblance to whatever war games preceded it. Its ‘rational’ goal is deterrence, not victory, and the arms race, no longer a preparation for war, can now be justified only on the grounds that more and more deterrence is the best guarantee of peace. To the question how shall we ever be able to extricate ourselves from the obvious insanity of this position, there is no answer.” — Hannah Arendt