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Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, The Pentagon Bailout Fraud


Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, The Pentagon Bailout Fraud

Let's start with the money the Bush administration has already thrown at the war in Iraq. According to the June congressional testimony of William Beach, director of the Center for Data Analysis, the war has cost $646 billion so far. The new defense budget for 2009 tacks on another $68.6 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming year. However, military expert Bill Hartung of the New America Foundation puts a conservative estimate of the costs of a single week of the Iraq War at approximately $3.5 billion (or about $180 billion a year).

In other words, the war in Iraq will cost far more in the next year than the Iraq portion of that $68.6 billion Congress is about to pony up in the defense budget, and so will be funded, as has long been true, through supplemental war bills submitted by the Bush administration (and then whatever administration follows). In other words, sometime in 2009 the direct costs of the war the Bush administration once predicted would cost perhaps $50-60 billion in total will stand at more than $800 billion, or $100 billion above the cost (if all goes well, which it won't) of the bailout of the financial system now being proposed in Washington.

Estimates of the true long-term costs of the President's war of choice, including payments of health care and veterans benefits into the distant future, soar into the budgetary stratosphere. They range from the Congressional Budget Office's $1-2 trillion to an estimate by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes of up to $4-5 trillion. So we're talking somewhere between one-and-a-half and seven bailouts-worth of taxpayer dollars flowing into the morass of disaster, corruption, and carnage in Iraq.

And here's another curious bit of information: Just the other day, the website ThinkProgress pointed out a strange glitch in Iraq planning. The Bush administration, deep into negotiations with the Iraqi government, evidently managed to wheedle an extra year's time for the prospective withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq; its negotiators pushed the date from 2010 -- the year suggested by both Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- to 2011. According to Maliki in an interview with an Iraqi TV station, this change came from the administration's concern over the "domestic situation" in the U.S. (that is, the needs of the McCain campaign).

"Actually," said Maliki, "the final date was really the end of 2010 and the period between the end of 2010 and the end of 2011 was for withdrawing the remaining troops from all of Iraq, but they asked for a change [in date] due to political circumstances related to the [U.S] domestic situation so it will not be said to the end of 2010 followed by one year for withdrawal but the end of 2011 as a final date." So we're talking about another perhaps $150-180 billion in 2011 -- or approximately the full suggested initial payout in the Washington bailout plan of at least one key Democrat. This gives the phrase "presidential politics" new meaning. Now, just imagine for a moment the situation we might be in if there had been no Iraq War. We could have bailed ourselves out many times over.

As Chalmers Johnson, author most recently of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, the final volume of his Blowback Trilogy, has pointed out for years, the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, and America's wars are in the process of bankrupting us. How strange then that, as he indicates below, no one in the mainstream even blinks when a staggering new Pentagon budget sails through the House of Representatives and then, by voice vote, through the Senate just as negotiators in Washington are scrambling to find a similar sum to deal with a catastrophic financial meltdown; nor does anyone in the mainstream bother to make any connection between that budget and the funds we don't have available to use elsewhere, or between the looting of Iraq and the looting of our financial system (and, in both cases, of course, the looting of the American taxpayer). Tom

We Have the Money
If Only We Didn't Waste It on the Defense Budget
By Chalmers Johnson

There has been much moaning, air-sucking, and outrage about the $700 billion that the U.S. government is thinking of throwing away on rich New York bankers who have been ripping us off for the past few years and then letting greed drive their businesses into a variety of ditches. In fact, we dole out similar amounts of money every year in the form of payoffs to the armed services, the military-industrial complex, and powerful senators and representatives allied with the Pentagon.

On Wednesday, September 24th, right in the middle of the fight over billions of taxpayer dollars slated to bail out Wall Street, the House of Representatives passed a $612 billion defense authorization bill for 2009 without a murmur of public protest or any meaningful press comment at all. (The New York Times gave the matter only three short paragraphs buried in a story about another appropriations measure.)

The defense bill includes $68.6 billion to pursue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is only a down-payment on the full yearly cost of these wars. (The rest will be raised through future supplementary bills.) It also included a 3.9% pay raise for military personnel, and $5 billion in pork-barrel projects not even requested by the administration or the secretary of defense. It also fully funds the Pentagon's request for a radar site in the Czech Republic, a hare-brained scheme sure to infuriate the Russians just as much as a Russian missile base in Cuba once infuriated us. The whole bill passed by a vote of 392-39 and will fly through the Senate, where a similar bill has already been approved. And no one will even think to mention it in the same breath with the discussion of bailout funds for dying investment banks and the like.

This is pure waste. Our annual spending on "national security" -- meaning the defense budget plus all military expenditures hidden in the budgets for the departments of Energy, State, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, the CIA, and numerous other places in the executive branch -- already exceeds a trillion dollars, an amount larger than that of all other national defense budgets combined. Not only was there no significant media coverage of this latest appropriation, there have been no signs of even the slightest urge to inquire into the relationship between our bloated military, our staggering weapons expenditures, our extravagantly expensive failed wars abroad, and the financial catastrophe on Wall Street.

The only Congressional "commentary" on the size of our military outlay was the usual pompous drivel about how a failure to vote for the defense authorization bill would betray our troops. The aged Senator John Warner (R-Va), former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, implored his Republican colleagues to vote for the bill "out of respect for military personnel." He seems to be unaware that these troops are actually volunteers, not draftees, and that they joined the armed forces as a matter of career choice, rather than because the nation demanded such a sacrifice from them.

We would better respect our armed forces by bringing the futile and misbegotten wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end. A relative degree of peace and order has returned to Iraq not because of President Bush's belated reinforcement of our expeditionary army there (the so-called surge), but thanks to shifting internal dynamics within Iraq and in the Middle East region generally. Such shifts include a growing awareness among Iraq's Sunni population of the need to restore law and order, a growing confidence among Iraqi Shiites of their nearly unassailable position of political influence in the country, and a growing awareness among Sunni nations that the ill-informed war of aggression the Bush administration waged against Iraq has vastly increased the influence of Shiism and Iran in the region.

The continued presence of American troops and their heavily reinforced bases in Iraq threaten this return to relative stability. The refusal of the Shia government of Iraq to agree to an American Status of Forces Agreement -- much desired by the Bush administration -- that would exempt off-duty American troops from Iraqi law is actually a good sign for the future of Iraq.

In Afghanistan, our historically deaf generals and civilian strategists do not seem to understand that our defeat by the Afghan insurgents is inevitable. Since the time of Alexander the Great, no foreign intruder has ever prevailed over Afghan guerrillas defending their home turf. The first Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842) marked a particularly humiliating defeat of British imperialism at the very height of English military power in the Victorian era. The Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989) resulted in a Russian defeat so demoralizing that it contributed significantly to the disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991. We are now on track to repeat virtually all the errors committed by previous invaders of Afghanistan over the centuries.

In the past year, perhaps most disastrously, we have carried our Afghan war into Pakistan, a relatively wealthy and sophisticated nuclear power that has long cooperated with us militarily. Our recent bungling brutality along the Afghan-Pakistan border threatens to radicalize the Pashtuns in both countries and advance the interests of radical Islam throughout the region. The United States is now identified in each country mainly with Hellfire missiles, unmanned drones, special operations raids, and repeated incidents of the killing of innocent bystanders.

The brutal bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, on September 20, 2008, was a powerful indicator of the spreading strength of virulent anti-American sentiment in the area. The hotel was a well-known watering hole for American Marines, Special Forces troops, and CIA agents. Our military activities in Pakistan have been as misguided as the Nixon-Kissinger invasion of Cambodia in 1970. The end result will almost surely be the same.

We should begin our disengagement from Afghanistan at once. We dislike the Taliban's fundamentalist religious values, but the Afghan public, with its desperate desire for a return of law and order and the curbing of corruption, knows that the Taliban is the only political force in the country that has ever brought the opium trade under control. The Pakistanis and their effective army can defend their country from Taliban domination so long as we abandon the activities that are causing both Afghans and Pakistanis to see the Taliban as a lesser evil.

One of America's greatest authorities on the defense budget, Winslow Wheeler, worked for 31 years for Republican members of the Senate and for the General Accounting Office on military expenditures. His conclusion, when it comes to the fiscal sanity of our military spending, is devastating:

"America's defense budget is now larger in inflation-adjusted dollars than at any point since the end of World War II, and yet our Army has fewer combat brigades than at any point in that period; our Navy has fewer combat ships; and the Air Force has fewer combat aircraft. Our major equipment inventories for these major forces are older on average than any point since 1946 -- or in some cases, in our entire history."

This in itself is a national disgrace. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on present and future wars that have nothing to do with our national security is simply obscene. And yet Congress has been corrupted by the military-industrial complex into believing that, by voting for more defense spending, they are supplying "jobs" for the economy. In fact, they are only diverting scarce resources from the desperately needed rebuilding of the American infrastructure and other crucial spending necessities into utterly wasteful munitions. If we cannot cut back our longstanding, ever increasing military spending in a major way, then the bankruptcy of the United States is inevitable. As the current Wall Street meltdown has demonstrated, that is no longer an abstract possibility but a growing likelihood. We do not have much time left.

Chalmers Johnson is the author of three linked books on the crises of American imperialism and militarism. They are Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006). All are available in paperback from Metropolitan Books.

Copyright 2008 Chalmers Johnson

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