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Business as Usual in Obama's Pentagon: Navy Case Study

The Enduring Nature of Budget Combat in Versailles on the Potomac

by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY

The U.S. Navy: Troubled Waters  is Part 1 of a three part series appearing in Time Magazine’s Battleland blog, written by my good friend Winslow Wheeler.  It shows the US Navy is up to its old tricks to impregnate Mr. Obama’s defense budget  by front loading today’s budget to ensure irresistible pressure to grow its future budgets.  Think of this as an emerging right to life issue, because, for reasons explained by Winslow, abortion is out of the question, even when a miscarriage is inevitable.

Any one who doubts this, or thinks it is accidental, need only recall the braggadocio of Ronald Reagan’s chief navy stud, Navy Secretary John Lehman, when he told a seminar in January 1983 at the Brookings Institution, that it was “too late” to stop the buildup to a 600 ship navy. “We’ve already accomplished it,” he continued, “because we front-loaded (emphasis added) the budget.” Predictably, Lehman’ 600 ship navy subsequently miscarried in the 2nd half of the 1980s in terms of fleet size, if not money (Defense Power Games, pgs. 18-19).

Like a strutting peacock showing feathers in a sexual game to attract a mate, Lehman’s 600 ship Navy, and Mitt Romney’s 350 ship Navy (guess what? Lehman was a senior defense advisor to Romney), was simply fluff to hype its courtship with Congress, the media, and the taxpayers — a courtship aimed at ejaculating the flow of money into the coffers of the Navy faction of the MICC* via a front-loading penetration that would then be locked open by political engineers trained in the seductive arts of quickly spreading dollars, jobs, and profits to as many congressional districts as possible.  This kind of intercourse guarantees a pregnancy wherein unit costs always grow faster than budgets (or equivalently where some cells grow faster than the body), no matter how fast budgets grow, as they did in the 1980s and after 1997.  The relationship of cost growth > budget growth guarantees that combat forces shrink in size and weapons gets older (resulting in the inevitable miscarriage, as I explained here, and here). As Winslow shows  in Attachment 1, the impregnation is well under way as America approaches the fiscal cliff.

Anyone who thinks the Navy’s (really DoD’s) game ended when Romney predictably lost to Mr. Obama is whistling Dixie.

Mr “Change You Can Believe In” has signaled the defense budget is now off the butcher’s block in the emerging grand bargain on taxes and social spending that will heave what is left of the middle class off the fiscal cliff.  We must protect the Defense budget, Mr. Obama’s Pentagon says, because the rising threat posed by China requires us to to pivot strategically toward the Pacific and East Asia (think of this threat inflation as another display of “peacock feathers” in a courtship strategy).  Of course, the pivot really means the Pentagon’s big scoop shovel is being moved into position to dump money on the Navy and the AF, once again at the expense of the poor old Army.  If there is one thing we now know about Mr. Obama when it comes to the Pentagon, it is that he does what he is told to do by his defense advisors, who are card carrying members of the  MICC.*  Which brings us the to the writing of another good friend, Andrew Cockburn, who wonders in the LA Times, if the perks and peccadilloes of our generals will keep “we the people” distracted from the real game?

Such is the enduring nature of budget combat in Versailles on the Potomac, which always stays the same, even when the Soviet Union evaporates or when we liquidate Osama bin Laden.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

Notes.

* MICC = Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex