WASHINGTON - Despite a shrinking national economy and a record defense budget,
United States neo-conservatives and other right-wing hawks are mounting a
spirited - if misleading - campaign to persuade Congress that the military
should get a bigger slice.
They are calling on Congress and President Barack Obama to boost military
spending next year even beyond the projections made by the administration of
former president George W Bush as to what would be needed.
They are also arguing for devoting tens of billions of dollars of the nearly
US$1 trillion economic stimulus package Obama is trying
to push through Congress by mid-February to defense spending, insisting that
increased orders for largely US-based military contractors will translate
quickly into more jobs at a time when official unemployment rate is moving
quickly toward double digits.
"These kinds of expenditures not only make economic good sense, but would help
close the large and long-standing gap between US strategy and military
resources," wrote Tom Donnelly, a military analyst at the American Enterprise
Institute (AEI), a predominantly neo-conservative think-tank, last month.
"If bridges need fixing, so too do the tools with which our military fights,"
he argued, adding that Congress should increase defense spending by at least
$20 billion a year. "A critical element in any recovery will be strengthening
the foundations of a global economy, built upon US worldwide security
The campaign, which coincides with increased spending by major defense
contractors for lobbying activities, comes at a critical moment for the new
administration, which is focused more on getting the stimulus package passed
quickly than on its precise content and on getting its key appointees confirmed
and in place in the sprawling bureaucracies that make up the government.
The administration is also still putting together its fiscal year (FY) 2010
budget and is not expected to release details until next month, less than seven
months before the fiscal year begins.
For now, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is insisting
that the Pentagon's budget's be set at $527 billion for next year, consistent
with the Bush administration's estimates as to its needs for FY 2010, an 8%
increase over the current year's military budget.
That amount, which does not include the roughly $170 billion Washington is
spending this year on ongoing military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and
elsewhere in what the Bush administration called the "global war on terror",
already makes up more than 40% of the world's total military expenditure.
But, as pointed out this week by the influential Congressional Quarterly, the
Pentagon's bureaucracy and hawks in think-tanks and Congress are insisting that
OMB's request actually amounts to a 10% cut to the $584 billion recommendation
which was submitted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff last autumn in an apparent
attempt to pressure the incoming president into a major increase.
On January 30, the far-right broadcast outlet, Fox News, quoted what it called
a senior defense official as saying that the administration was demanding a $55
billion cut in defense spending.
At that point, other voices jumped in. Max Boot, a neo-conservative military
analyst at the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), asserted that
Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, had opposed the OMB's ceiling and warned that if
Obama did not overrule it, "he could be doing terrible damage not only to our
armed forces but also to his carefully cultivated image of moderation."
The following day, Robert Kagan, a leading neo-conservative ideologue at the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, joined the outcry in his monthly
column in the Washington Post, offering five reasons why a "10% cut in defense
spending" could have disastrous geopolitical implications by signaling to US
enemies that "the American retreat has begun".
"At a time when people talk of trillion-dollar stimulus packages, cutting 10%
from the defense budget is a pittance, especially given the high price we will
pay in America's global position," he wrote. "... [T]his is not the time to
start weakening the armed forces."
"It's pretty remarkable," said William Hartung, director of the Arms and
Security Initiative at the New America Foundation (NAF). "Obama agrees to
Bush's [defense budget] increase, and the neo-cons are running around saying,
'Oh, he's gutting the military'."
Hartung and other defense analysts see this latest maneuver as part of a larger
campaign by the Pentagon bureaucracy and the defense industry, which
anticipated growing pressure on the defense budget even before the outbreak of
the current financial crisis in September. They are seeking to protect their
interests even at a time when the Pentagon's political leadership recognizes
that huge increases in military spending they enjoyed during the Bush era are
Overall, military spending increased by about 60% since Bush took office in
2001, not including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to the apparent disinformation about the alleged "cut" in defense
spending, the Pentagon's allies in the media have been pushing hard for
increased military spending to be made a part of the stimulus package.
That campaign was launched in late December when Martin Feldstein, former
president Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser and an AEI fellow, argued in
the Wall Street Journal for at least $30 billion to expand military
procurement, research and recruitment. Such an expansion could create some
330,000 jobs, he estimated in an article entitled "Defense Spending Would Be
"Military procurement has the further advantage that almost all of the
equipment and supplies that the military buys is made in the United States ...
" he noted. "Because of the current very high and rising unemployment rates
among young men and women ... now is also a good time for the military to
increase recruiting and training."
Frank Gaffney Jr, president of the far-right Center for Security Policy,
quickly echoed that message in his weekly Washington Times column. "I have long
believed it is mistake to use the defense budget as a jobs program. We should
buy military hardware because it is needed for our security, not to boost
employment," he wrote.
"That said, where increased employment follows from making necessary
investments in our armed forces' capabilities to fight today's wars - and, no
less important, tomorrow's - it would be absurd not to include the Pentagon in
an economic stimulus package."
Meanwhile, the major military contractors have stepped up their lobbying
efforts. According to the Wall Street Journal, three of the biggest companies -
Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and Northrop-Grunman - boosted their
multi-million-dollar lobbying budgets by between 54% and 90% beginning in 2008
as it became clear that the Bush spending binge was nearing an end.
According to Hartung and other Pentagon critics, now is the critical moment for
a reformist administration to begin cutting the defense budget, notably by
canceling expensive conventional-weapons systems, such as the F-22 fighter jets
and the V-22 Osprey aircraft that have proved both hugely expensive and of
"They have a chance to stop the train and start moving back in the right
direction," he told Inter Press Service. "If they don't take it now, it'll just
get harder down the road."
"The problem they're not getting huge public pressure to cut, whereas they are
getting a lot of pressure to spend more," he said.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.