FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pentagon Chit-Chat With Leon and Hillary

by WINSLOW T. WHEELER

The invitation came to me from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s public affairs office to attend a “conversation” with Panetta and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the prestigious National Defense University in Washington. Although I knew it wasn’t me they wanted to talk to, I sat in the audience to hear Panetta and Clinton in action, especially on the subject of my prime interest: the defense budget.

The “conversation,” it turns out, was with Frank Sesno, the former CNN personality and currently director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. Sesno took the “conversation” assignment seriously; although he boldly said that it was important to “ask the tough questions” – just like a journalist – he did no such thing. Lofting over shallow dinner-talk queries, Sesno chummed it up with Panetta and Clinton and permitted them to say anything they wanted without fear of challenge.

Clinton tended toward impromptu speeches on whatever she was asked about; well articulated and forceful, much like she did as a senator at hearings where, rather than conduct oversight asking informed questions and following up, she would express her political points and neither seek nor reveal any new or deeper information.

Panetta was more subtle and single-minded. Although he comes from the same political background – White House insider and Congress – his answers were shorter and more softly stated, but they were directed at one and only one objective: defending the Pentagon’s budget.

Sesno started the “discussion” asking about budget cuts beyond the $350 billion the Pentagon has already committed to over the next 10 years, saying “What’s really at stake?” Panetta whacked the softball question hard: “Very simply, it would result in hollowing out the force,” and, “It would break faith with the troops and with their families,” and, finally, “It would literally undercut our ability to provide for the national defense.”

The bureaucratic moguls at the Pentagon, who currently preside over the largest defense or non-defense agency budget since the end of World War II, must have been delighted. After four years of sometime tough-guy Robert Gates, who fired senior officials for not toeing his line, DoD’s high spenders must be elated to have at the top someone who has leaped so quickly and with such eagerness to defending their agenda.

The $850 billion cut that Sesno was referring to does sound like a lot – if you are ignorant about the background and budget history. He offered no pushback and did nothing to probe Panetta’s budget preserving agenda, to question Panetta’s assumptions, and or even seek the data behind them.

Things didn’t get any better when Sesno allowed the audience a grand total of one question on DoD budget issues. The individual Sesno selected asked about funding for foreign language training. Panetta dutifully said it was important and that he wanted to look for “creative ways” to protect it. Clinton gave a speech about it, and the remaining 99.9 percent of the national security budget went unaddressed.

Instead of this feather-stroking chitchat, consider the following:

If the Pentagon’s “base” (non-war) budget were to be cut $850 billion, or so, over ten years, it would go down to about $472 billion annually, the approximate level of the base DOD budget in 2007. (This, not coincidentally, is about the same level of a new round of defense budget cutting hysteria circulating in Washington in response to a just released memo from OMB Director Jack Lew.)

Using the Pentagon’s “constant” dollars that adjust for the effects of inflation, that $472 billion level would be more than $70 billion higher than DOD spending was in 2000, just before the wars. Over ten years, base Defense Department spending would be almost three quarters of a trillion dollars above the levels extant in 2000. And, none of the additional monies to be spent on the wars would be eliminated.

At $472 billion per year, the Pentagon budget would be almost $40 billion more than we averaged, in inflation-adjusted “constant” dollars, during the Cold War when we faced an intimidating super-power, the Soviet Union, its Warsaw Pact allies and a hostile, dogmatically communist China.

At the 2007, 472 billion, level, our defense budget would remain more than twice the defense spending of China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Cuba and any other potential adversary – combined.

The problem is not money. Under this so-called worst case scenario, the Pentagon would be left quite flush with money, plenty of it in historical terms.

The problem is that the Pentagon, as it exists under its current leadership, is incapable of surviving with less money. They quite literally do not understand how to face a future where the DoD budget exceeds any and all potential enemies by a multiple of only two.

Many – including Obama’s bipartisan 2010 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a task force put together by congressmen Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), yet another commission headed by former budget leaders Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and OMB Director Alice Rivlin, and two alternative budget proposals from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) – have itemized how to save about $900 billion from the national defense budget. The political landscape is littered with competent recommendations to remove many of the thick layers of hydrogenated fat from the Pentagon.

These proposals hit on many of the same soft spots in the DoD budget, such as the unaffordable, underperforming, years behind schedule F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The implied consensus on such ideas and on the approximate amount (roughly $900 billion) suggest that the slightly lesser $850 billion in Pentagon savings is not “doomsday” (Panetta’s word) but quite endurable-and would actually leave DoD quite flush with cash.

But, it is unthinkable to Secretary Panetta, as it is to those who perform the enabling chitchat.

Winslow T. Wheeler is director of the Straus Military Reform Project and editor of “The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It.

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail