FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Obama-Gates Scam on Military Spending

Last week Barack Obama announced that he wants to cut $400 billion in military spending and said he would work with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs on a “fundamental review” of U.S. “military missions, capabilities and our role in a changing world” before making a decision.

Spokesman Geoff Morrell responded by hinting that Gates was displeased with having to cut that much from his spending plan.  Gates “has been clear that further significant defense cuts cannot be accomplished without future cuts in force structure and military capability,” said Morrell, who volunteered that the Secretary not been informed about the Obama decision until the day before.

But it is difficult to believe that open display of tension between Obama and Gates was not scripted.  In the background of those moves is a larger political maneuver on which the two of them have been collaborating since last year in which they gave the Pentagon a huge increase in funding for the next decade and then started to take credit for small or nonexistent reductions from that increase.

The original Obama-Gates base military spending plan – spending excluding the costs of the current wars – for FY 2011 through 2020, called for spending $5.8 trillion, or $580 billion annually, as former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb noted last January.  That would have represented a 25 per cent real increase over the average annual level of military spending, excluding war costs, by the George W. Bush administration.

Even more dramatic, the Obama-Gates plan was 45 per cent higher than the annual average of military spending level in the 1992-2001 decade, as reflected in official DOD data.

The Obama FY 2012 budget submission reduced the total increase only slightly – by $162 billion over the four years from 2017 to 2020, according to the careful research of the Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA).  That left an annual average base military spending level of $564 billion – 23 per cent higher than Bush’s annual average and 40 percent above the level of the 1990s.

Central to last week’s chapter in the larger game was Obama’s assertion that Gates had already saved $400 billion in his administration.  “Over the last two years,” he said, “Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again.”

The $400 billion figure is based primarily on the $330 billion Gates claimed he had saved by stopping, reducing or otherwise changing plans for 31 weapons programs.  But contrary to the impression left by Obama, that figure does not reflect any cut in projected DOD spending.  All of it was used to increase spending on operations and investment in the military budget.

The figure was concocted, moreover, by using tricky accounting methods verging on chicanery.  It was based on arbitrary assumptions about how much all 31 programs would have cost over their entire lifetimes stretching decades into the future, assuming they would all reach completion.  That methodology offered endless possibilities for inflated claims of savings.

The PDA points out that yet another $100 billion that Gates announced in January as cost-cutting by the military services was also used to increase spending on operations and new weapons program that the services wanted.  That leaves another $78 billion in cuts over five years also announced by Gates in January, but most of that may have been added to the military budget for “overseas contingency operations” rather than contributed to deficit reduction, according to the PDA.

Even if the $400 billion in ostensible cuts that Obama is seeking were genuine, the Pentagon would be still be sitting on total projected increase of 14 per cent above the level of military spending of the Bush administration. Last week’s White House fact sheet on deficit reduction acknowledged that Obama has the “goal of holding the growth in base security spending below inflation.”
The “fundamental review” that Obama says will be carried out with the Pentagon and military bureaucracies will be yet another chapter in this larger maneuver.  It’s safe bet that, in the end, Gates will reach into his bag of accounting tricks again for most of the desired total.

Despite the inherently deceptive character of Obama’s call for the review, it has a positive side: it gives critics of the national security state an opportunity to point out that such a review should be carried out by a panel of independent military budget analysts who have no financial stake in the outcome – unlike the officials of the national security state.

Such an independent panel could come up with a list of all the military missions and capabilities that don’t make the American people more secure or even make them less secure, as well as those for which funding should be reduced substantially because of technological and other changes.  It could also estimate how much overall projected military spending should be reduced, without regard to what would be acceptable to the Pentagon or a majority in Congress.

The panel would not require White House or Congressional approval.  It could be convened by a private organization or, better yet, by a group of concerned Members of Congress. They could use its data and conclusions as the basis for creating a legislative alternative to existing U.S. national security policy, perhaps in the form of a joint resolution.  That would give millions of Americans who now feel that nothing can be done about endless U.S. wars and the national security state’s grip on budgetary resources something to rally behind.

Three convergent political forces are contributing to the eventual weakening of the national security state: the growing popular opposition to failed wars, public support for shifting spending priorities from the national security sector to the domestic economy and pressure for deficit and debt reduction.  But in the absence of concerted citizen action, it could take several years to see decisive results.  Seizing the opportunity for an independent review of military missions and spending would certainly speed up that process.

GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.

 

 

More articles by:

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
Ron Jacobs
Impeach!
Lawrence Davidson
A Tale of Two Massacres
José Tirado
A World Off Balance
Jonah Raskin
Something Has Gone Very Wrong: An Interview With Ecuadoran Author Gabriela Alemán
J.P. Linstroth
Myths on Race and Invasion of the ‘Caravan Horde’
Dean Baker
Good News, the Stock Market is Plunging: Thoughts on Wealth
David Rosen
It’s Time to Decriminalize Sex Work
Dan Glazebrook
US Calls for a Yemen Ceasefire is a Cynical Piece of Political Theatre
Jérôme Duval
Forced Marriage Between Argentina and the IMF Turns into a Fiasco
Jill Richardson
Getting Past Gingrich
Dave Lindorff
Not a Blue Wave, But Perhaps a Foreshock
Martha Rosenberg
Dangerous, Expensive Drugs Aggressively Pushed? You Have These Medical Conflicts of Interest to Thank
Will Solomon
Not Much of a Wave
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Yemeni War Deaths are Five Times Higher Than You’ve Been Led to Believe
Jim Goodman
We call BS! Now, Will You Please Get Over This Partisanship?
Josh Hoxie
How Aristocracies are Born
Faisal Khan
The Weaponization of Social Media
James Munson
The Left Has Better Things to Do Than Watch Liberals Scratch Their Heads
Kenneth Culton
The Political Is Personal
Graham Peebles
Fracking in the UK
Alycee Lane
The Colonial Logic of Geoengineering’s “Last Resort”
Kevin Basl
How Veterans Changed the Military and Rebuilt the Middle Class
Thomas Knapp
Election 2018: The More Things Don’t Change, the More They Stay the Same
Gary Leupp
Europe and Secondary Iran Sanctions: Where Do We Go Now?
Saurav Sarkar
An Honest Look at Poverty in the Heartland
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail