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     May 31, 2008
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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 within them.

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 Energy).

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 tripled.

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 annual basis).

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 roles.

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 world.

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 for Canada.

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 money disappears.

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 

Continued 1 2 

The US: Your masters of the universe (May 9, '08)

1. Bush 'plans Iran air strike by August'

2. Now it's a blockade against Iran

3. A giant backward step on Iran

4. Europe's Asian love misplaced

5. US-made oil disaster has mileage

6. Russian think-tank rattles US

7. Pawning for the payroll

8. China presence in Cambodia grows

9. Medvedev reaches out to China

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, May 29, 2008)


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