Page 1 of 2 DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA How the Pentagon shapes the world
By Frida Berrigan
A full-fledged cottage industry is already focused on those who eagerly await
the end of the George W Bush administration, offering calendars, magnets and
t-shirts for sale as well as counters and graphics to download onto blogs and
websites. But when the countdown ends and Bush vacates the Oval Office, he will
leave a legacy to contend with. Certainly, he wills to his successor a world
marred by war and battered by deprivation, but perhaps his most enduring legacy
is now deeply embedded in
Washington-area politics - a Pentagon metastasized almost beyond recognition.
The Pentagon's massive bulk-up these past seven years will not be easily
unbuilt, no matter who dons the presidential mantle on January 19, 2009. "The
Pentagon" is now so much more than a five-sided building across the Potomac
from Washington or even the seat of the Department of Defense. In many ways, it
defies description or labeling.
Who, today, even remembers the debate at the end of the Cold War about what
role US military power should play in a "unipolar" world? Was US supremacy so
well established, pundits were then asking, that Washington could rely on
softer economic and cultural power, with military power no more than a backup
(and a domestic "peace dividend" thrown into the bargain)? Or was the US to
strap on the six-guns of a global sheriff and police the world as the
fountainhead of "humanitarian interventions"? Or was it the moment to boldly
declare ourselves the world's sole superpower and wield a high-tech military
comparable to none, actively discouraging any other power or power bloc from
even considering future rivalry?
The attacks of September 11, 2001, decisively ended that debate. The Bush
administration promptly declared total war on every front - against peoples,
ideologies, and, above all, "terrorism" (a tactic of the weak). That very
September, administration officials proudly leaked the information that they
were ready to "target" up to 60 other nations and the terrorist movements
The Pentagon's "footprint" was to be firmly planted, military base by military
base, across the planet, with a special emphasis on its energy heartlands. Top
administration officials began preparing the Pentagon to go anywhere and do
anything, while rewriting, shredding, or ignoring whatever laws, national or
international, stood in the way. In 2002, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld
officially articulated a new US military posture that, in conception, was
little short of revolutionary. It was called - in classic Pentagon shorthand -
the 1-4-2-1 Defense Strategy (replacing the Bill Clinton administration's
already none-too-modest plan to be prepared to fight two major wars - in the
Middle East and Northeast Asia - simultaneously).
Theoretically, this strategy meant that the Pentagon was to prepare to defend
the United States, while building forces capable of deterring aggression and
coercion in four "critical regions" (Europe, Northeast Asia, East Asia, and the
Middle East). It would be able to defeat aggression in two of these regions
simultaneously and "win decisively" in one of those conflicts "at a time and
place of our choosing." Hence 1-4-2-1.
And that was just going to be the beginning. We had, by then, already entered
the new age of the mega-Pentagon. Almost six years later, the scale of that
institution's expansion has yet to be fully grasped, so let's look at just
seven of the major ways in which the Pentagon has experienced mission creep -
and leap - dwarfing other institutions of government in the process.
1. The budget-busting Pentagon: The Pentagon's core budget -
already a staggering US$300 billion when Bush took the presidency - has almost
doubled while he's been parked behind the big desk in the Oval Office. For
fiscal year 2009, the regular Pentagon budget will total roughly $541 billion
(including work on nuclear warheads and naval reactors at the Department of
The Bush administration has presided over one of the largest military buildups
in the history of the United States. And that's before we even count "war
spending". If the direct costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as
the global "war on terror", are factored in, "defense" spending has essentially
As of February 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office, lawmakers
have appropriated $752 billion for the Iraq war and occupation, ongoing
military operations in Afghanistan, and other activities associated with the
"war on terror". The Pentagon estimates that it will need another $170 billion
for fiscal 2009, which means, at $922 billion, that direct war spending since
2001 would be at the edge of the trillion-dollar mark.
As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has pointed out, if a stack of bills
roughly six inches high is worth $1 million; then, a $1 billion stack would be
as tall as the Washington Monument, and a $1 trillion stack would be 160
kilometers high. And note that none of these war-fighting funds are even
counted as part of the annual military budget, but are raised from Congress in
the form of "emergency supplementals" a few times a year.
With the war added to the Pentagon's core budget, the United States now spends
nearly as much on military matters as the rest of the world combined. Military
spending also throws all other parts of the federal budget into shadow,
representing 58 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government on
"discretionary programs" (those that Congress gets to vote up or down on an
The total Pentagon budget represents more than our combined spending on
education, environmental protection, justice administration, veteran's
benefits, housing assistance, transportation, job training, agriculture,
energy, and economic development. No wonder, then, that, as it collects ever
more money, the Pentagon is taking on (or taking over) ever more functions and
2. The Pentagon as diplomat: The Bush administration has
repeatedly exhibited its disdain for discussion and compromise, treaties and
agreements, and an equally deep admiration for what can be won by threat and
force. No surprise, then, that the White House's foreign policy agenda has
increasingly been directed through the military. With a military budget more
than 30 times that of all State Department operations and non-military foreign
aid put together, the Pentagon has marched into State's two traditional
strongholds - diplomacy and development - duplicating or replacing much of its
work, often by refocusing Washington's diplomacy around military-to-military,
rather than diplomat-to-diplomat, relations.
Since the late 18th century, the US ambassador in any country has been
considered the president's personal representative, responsible for ensuring
that foreign policy goals are met. As one ambassador explained, "The rule is:
if you're in country, you work for the ambassador. If you don't work for the
ambassador, you don't get country clearance."
In the Bush era, the Pentagon has overturned this model. According to a 2006
Congressional report by Senator Richard Lugar, embassies as command posts in
the anti-terror campaign, civilian personnel in many embassies now feel
occupied by, outnumbered by, and subordinated to military personnel. They see
themselves as the second team when it comes to decision-making.
Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates is aware of the problem, noting as he did
last November that there are "only about 6,600 professional foreign service
officers - less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group". But,
typically, he added that, while the State Department might need more resources,
"Don't get me wrong, I'll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year."
Another ambassador lamented that his foreign counterparts are "following the
money" and developing relationships with US military personnel rather than
cultivating contacts with their State Department counterparts.
The Pentagon invariably couches its bureaucratic imperialism in terms of
"interagency cooperation". For example, last year US Southern Command
(Southcom) released Command Strategy 2016, a document which identified poverty,
crime and corruption as key "security" problems in Latin America. It suggested
that Southcom, a security command, should, in fact, be the "central actor in
addressing ... regional problems" previously the concern of civilian agencies.
It then touted itself as the future focus of a "joint interagency security
command ... in support of security, stability and prosperity in the region."
As Southcom head Admiral James Stavridis vividly put the matter, the command
now likes to see itself as "a big Velcro cube that these other agencies can
hook to so we can collectively do what needs to be done in this region".
The Pentagon has generally followed this pattern globally since 2001. But what
does "cooperation" mean when one entity dwarfs all others in personnel,
resources, and access to decision-makers, while increasingly controlling the
very definition of the "threats" to be dealt with.
3. The Pentagon as arms dealer: In the Bush years, the Pentagon
has aggressively increased its role as the planet's foremost arms dealer,
pumping up its weapons sales everywhere it can - and so seeding the future with
war and conflict.
By 2006 (the last year for which full data is available), the United States
alone accounted for more than half the world's trade in arms with $14 billion
in sales. Noteworthy were a $5 billion deal for F-16s to Pakistan and a $5.8
billion agreement to completely re-equip Saudi Arabia's internal security
force. U.S. arms sales for 2006 came in at roughly twice the level of any
previous year of the Bush administration.
Number two arms dealer, Russia, registered a comparatively paltry $5.8 billion
in deliveries, just over a third of the US arms totals. Ally Great Britain was
third at $3.3 billion - and those three countries account for a whopping 85% of
the weaponry sold that year, more than 70% of which went to the developing
Great at selling weapons, the Pentagon is slow to report its sales. Arms sales
notifications issued by the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency
(DISC) do, however, offer one crude way to the take the Department of Defense's
pulse; and, while not all reported deals are finalized, that pulse is clearly
racing. Through May of 2008, DISC had already issued more than $9.1 billion in
arms sales notifications including smart bomb kits for Saudi Arabia, TOW
missiles for Kuwait, F-16 combat aircraft for Romania and Chinook helicopters
To maintain market advantage, the Pentagon never stops its high-pressure
campaigns to peddle weapons abroad. That's why, despite a broken shoulder,
Gates took to the skies in February, to push weapons systems on countries like
India and Indonesia, key growing markets for Pentagon arms dealers.
4. The Pentagon as intelligence analyst and spy: In the area of
"intelligence", the Pentagon's expansion - the commandeering of information and
analysis roles - has been swift, clumsy, and catastrophic.
Tracing the Pentagon's takeover of intelligence is no easy task. For one thing,
there are dozens of Pentagon agencies and offices that now collect and analyze
information using everything from "humint" (human intelligence) to wiretaps and
satellites. The task is only made tougher by the secrecy that surrounds US
intelligence operations and the "black budgets" into which so much intelligence
But the end results are clear enough. The Pentagon's takeover of intelligence
has meant fewer intelligence analysts who speak Arabic, Farsi or Pashto and
more dog-and-pony shows like those four-star generals and three-stripe admirals
mouthing administration-approved talking points on cable news and the Sunday
morning talk shows.
Intelligence budgets are secret, so what we know about them is not
comprehensive - but the glimpses analysts have gotten suggest that total
intelligence spending was about $26 billion a decade ago. After 9/11, Congress
pumped a lot of new money into intelligence so that by 2003, the total
intelligence budget had already climbed to more than $40 billion.
In 2004, the 9-11 Commission highlighted the intelligence failures of the
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)and others in the alphabet soup of the US
intelligence community charged with collecting and analyzing information on
threats to the country. Congress then passed an intelligence "reform" bill,
establishing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, designed to
manage intelligence operations. Thanks to stiff resistance from pro-military
lawmakers, the National Intelligence Directorate never assumed that role,
however, and the Pentagon kept control of three key collection agencies - the
National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the
National Reconnaissance Agency.
As a result, according to Tim Shorrock, investigative journalist and author of Spies
for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, the Pentagon
now controls more than 80% of US intelligence spending, which he estimated at
about $60 billion in 2007. As Mel Goodman, former CIA official and now an
analyst at the Center for International Policy, observed, "The Pentagon has
been the big bureaucratic winner in all of this."
It is such a big winner that CIA director Michael Hayden now controls only the
budget for the CIA itself - about $4 or 5 billion a year and no longer even
gives the president his daily helping of intelligence.
The Pentagon's intelligence shadow looms large well beyond the corridors of
Washington's bureaucracies. It stretches across the mountains of Afghanistan as
well. After the US invaded that country in 2001, Rumsfeld recognized that,
unless the Pentagon controlled information-gathering and took the lead in
carrying out covert operations, it would remain dependent on - and therefore
subordinate to - the CIA with its grasp of "on-the-ground" intelligence.
In one of his now infamous memos, labeled "snowflakes" by a staff that watched
them regularly flutter down from on high, he