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    Middle East
     Jun 7, 2007
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Financing the imperial armed forces

By Robert Dreyfuss

War critics are rightly disappointed over the inability of Democrats in the US Congress to mount an effective challenge to President George W Bush's Iraq adventure. What began as a frontal assault on the war, with tough talk about deadlines and timetables, has settled into something like a guerrilla-style campaign to chip away at war policy until the edifice crumbles.

Still, Democratic criticism of Bush administration policy in Iraq looks muscle-bound when compared with the party's readiness to

go along with the president's massive military buildup, domestically and globally. Nothing underlines the tacit alliance between so-called foreign-policy realists and hardline exponents of neo-conservative-style empire-building more than the Washington consensus that the United States needs to expand the defense budget without end, while increasing the size of the armed forces.

In addition, spending on the 16 agencies and other organizations that make up the official US "intelligence community" - including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - and on homeland security is going through the roof.

The numbers are astonishing and, except for a hardy band of progressives in the House of Representatives, Democrats willing to call for shrinking the bloated Pentagon or intelligence budgets are in essence non-existent. Among presidential candidates, only Congressman Dennis Kucinich and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson even mention the possibility of cutting the defense budget.

Indeed, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, at present, competing with each other in their calls for expanding the US Armed Forces. Both are supporting manpower increases in the range of 80,000-100,000 troops, mostly for the US Army and US Marine Corps. (The current, Bush-backed authorization for fiscal year 2008 calls for the addition of 65,000 more army recruits and 27,000 marines by 2012.)

How astonishing are the budgetary numbers? Consider the trajectory of US defense spending over the past nearly two decades. From the end of the Cold War into the mid-1990s, defense spending actually fell significantly. In constant 1996 dollars, the Pentagon's budget dropped from a peacetime high of $376 billion, at the end of president Ronald Reagan's military buildup in 1989, to a low of $265 billion in 1996. That compares with post-World War II wartime highs of $437 billion (corrected) in 1953, during the Korean War, and $388 billion in 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War.

After the Soviet empire peacefully disintegrated, the 1990s decline wasn't exactly the hoped-for "peace dividend", but it wasn't peanuts, either. However, since September 12, 2001, defense spending has exploded.

For 2008, the Bush administration is requesting a staggering $650 billion, compared with the already staggering $400 billion the Pentagon collected in 2001. Even subtracting the costs of the ongoing "global war on terrorism" - which is what the White House likes to call its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - for fiscal 2008, the Pentagon will still spend $510 billion.

In other words, even without Bush's two wars, defense spending will have nearly doubled since the mid-1990s. Given that the United States has literally no significant enemy state to fight anywhere on the planet, this represents a remarkable, if perverse, achievement. As a famous Democratic politician once asked: Where is the outrage?

Neo-cons, war profiteers, and hardliners of all stripes still argue that the "enemy" the US faces is a non-existent bugaboo called "Islamofascism". It's easy to imagine them laughing into their sleeves while they continue to claim that the way to battle low-tech, rag-tag bands of leftover al-Qaeda crazies is by spending billions of dollars on massively expensive, massively powerful, futuristic weapons systems.

As always, a significant part of the US defense bill is eaten up by these big-ticket items. According to the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, there are at least 28 pricey weapons systems that, just by themselves, will rack up a whopping $44 billion in 2008. The projected cost of these 28 systems - which include fighter jets, the B-2 bomber, the V-22 Osprey, various advanced naval vessels, cruise-missile systems, and the ultra-expensive aircraft carriers the US Navy always demands - will, in the end, be more than $1 trillion. And that's not even including the Star Wars missile-defense system, which at the moment soaks up about $11 billion a year.

By one count, US defense spending in 2008 will amount to 29 times the combined military spending of all six so-called rogue states: Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. The

Continued 1 2 

How the US Army's being worn down in Iraq (Feb 7, '07)

US scatters bases to control Eurasia (Mar 30, '05)

1. Yes, Rambo, you get to win this time 

2. Turkish threat echoes across Iraq

3India caught in a ring of fire

4. Outdated status quo in the Taiwan Strait

5. Iran's practical nationalism

6. Anger builds in besieged Fallujah

7. The new Great Wall - in the Pacific

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, June 5)


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