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More Pentagon Spending

The Associated Press ran a January 12 article leaking some details about a new spending supplemental for the Defense Department in 2010. DOD will get another $33 billion to pay for President Obama’s surge of additional Soldiers and Marines to attempt to rescue the war effort in Afghanistan.

There are a number of things you should know about this additional money request.

We won’t see the details for weeks, maybe months. The budget request will not be officially submitted until we see the new 2011 budget and any other supplementals for 2010 that Obama wants. That will be in the first week of February. And, we may not see the details for this additional war money even then: DOD is notoriously slow at putting together its “justification materials.” Having just been decided upon, there will almost certainly be additional weeks before the bureaucracy can churn out the details of what they really want to money for. But don’t worry about the delay in the paperwork; almost no one in Congress reads those things; certainly not the Members who will give patriotic speeches on the money and then vote for it.

Also, expect the $33 billion supplemental request to be both too small and too large.

It will very probably not include whatever billions Obama wants to spend in Yemen. He will want additional money for more strikes from unmanned drones against targets declared to be al Qaeda leaders (but also including civilians) and for billions in foreign aid to a government that rivals the one in Afghanistan for its corruption, incompetence, and domestic unpopularity. We may see another supplemental, later on.

(There will not be a request to pay for actual US ground forces in Yemen; that will come in the following fiscal years, after the increased drone attacks and the contemptible government we are backing have further infuriated the civilian population and after the foreign aid fails to salve the civilian population – if any of it reaches them rather than Swiss banks.)

Nevertheless, the supplemental will be bloated. The parts of it for Afghanistan will be inflated with various goodies. In virtually every supplemental in the past, DOD has stuffed in additional spending for new aircraft and other hardware and programs that it wants for general uses not really for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama people in the Pentagon said they would end all that. I seriously doubt it; the $33 billion total is far more than they need to support the additional 30,000 troops Obama wants in Afghanistan as soon as he gets them there. Even crediting the cost of the new troops at the outlandishly high cost of $1 million per troop per year, you can’t get to $33 billion: those troops will only begin to arrive in the next few months, well after the fiscal year started last October. (30,000 troops for 6 months would be $15 billion; for 9 months would be about $23 billion, not $33, even assuming the looney $1 million per troop estimate.)

Then, of course, expect Congress to add some junk: still more superfluous C-17 cargo aircraft ($250 million each), some smaller but cost-bloated C-130 cargo aircraft (they used to cost about $20 million, but now they are up to $70 million), some F-18 fighter/bombers (the Navy and Boeing are just nuts for more) and whatever else those paragons of virtue and thrift Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) and Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) at the House and Senate Appropriations Committees can dream up to keep the rest of the pork-crazed Congress happy with their “leadership.”

And don’t forget the big picture. The additional $33 billion will bring the total DOD budget for the current fiscal year up to $708 billion.

That amount is more than we spent on the Pentagon in any year since 1946 – in dollars adjusted for inflation.

It is an amount just under what the entire rest of the world spends for defense.

It is about three times the combined defense budgets of China, Russia, Cuba, North Korea, and Iran.

The Defense Department spends in a few hours more than al Qaeda spends in an entire year.

For this post-World War II high in spending, we get the smallest Army, Navy, and Air Force we have had since 1946.

And, our tanks, ships, and aircraft are, on average, older than they have ever been before.

And, major elements of our forces are getting less training than they did even during the so-called “hollow” years of the Jimmy Carter Pentagon.

Those levels of Pentagon spending do not include what we pay for foreign aid, arms sales and arms control, Veterans, Homeland Security, the Pentagon’s share of interest on the national debt, and more. To tally up our entire national security budget, we can get very cozy with $1 Trillion.

Feeling secure? I’m not.

Feeling President Obama has a handle on things? I don’t.

The only thing more depressing is what the Republicans want to do; they want to make it all worse at even higher cost – including lives.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER spent 31 years working on Capitol Hill with senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office, specializing in national security affairs. Currently, he directs the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington. He is author of The Wastrels of Defense and the editor of a new anthology: ‘America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress’.

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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.

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