It is sometimes said that laughter is the best medicine, and in these days of unhinged demonic tomfoolery in the White House it is advisable to laugh rather than weep. The unintentional humor generated by some recent events connected with US military spending is as good a tonic as we might expect from any announcements in Washington.
Ten days before the US House of Representatives approved the National Defense Authorization Act that is to cost the country’s taxpayers 716 billion dollars next year, once it goes through the Senate, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction produced a report stating that some $15.5 billion of US taxpayers’ money had been lost over 11 years — but says even that figure is “likely only a portion of the total waste, fraud, abuse, and failed efforts.” Looking further down the money drain, he noted that “we have reported for years that almost $7.3 billion spent by the United States in Afghanistan on counter-narcotics programs appears to have done very little to stem the production and exportation of illicit drugs.”
But 22 billion dollars of US taxpayers’ money wasted in Afghanistan is only a drop in the bucket where overall wastage is concerned, and nobody knows what will be revealed when the first-ever audit of the Pentagon’s financial shenanigans is produced in November.
We should reflect on the fact that on September 10, 2001, the day before the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, director of the Iraq War catastrophe, admitted that “according to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions,” which, as CBS News pointed out, is “$8,000 for every man, woman and child in America.” Naturally, the Washington Establishment leapt to defend the Defense Department, with one pundit pointing out that “The money is not missing, just not tracked up to expected accounting standards,” which had at least the merit of giving us all another laugh, albeit a rather hollow one.
The farcical pantomime has continued, and two years ago Reuters reported that “the Defense Department’s Inspector General, in a June report, said the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year. Yet the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up.”
“Simply made them up.” — These are the people who, according to the Defense Department in its budget statement, are responsible for implementing “the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy goals to Protect the American people, the Homeland, and the American way of life; Promote American prosperity; Preserve peace through strength; and Advance American influence.” Exactly how they can promote American prosperity by making wrongful adjustments involving trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money is not explained.
Yet someone must be making money. After all, the trillions of dollars must go somewhere. So who benefits directly from the vast sums spent on military equipment?
This is where the Pentagon’s military budget for 2019 becomes most interesting, because following along the money trail reveals some intriguing byways in the maze of expenditure. One of these leads to the patriotic Republican Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas who declared on July 26 that the National Defense Authorization Act (the money, in other words) “takes a major step toward rebuilding our military . . . and better preparing this nation for the national security challenges of today and tomorrow. The bill takes actions directly related to the aggressive behavior of Russia and China.” It also leads to actions directly related to the financial and political circumstances of Representative Mac Thornberry and very many other politicians.
Congressman Thornberry is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and is therefore a most influential person, money-wise. In the 2018 election cycle his Campaign Committee received several generous donations aimed at furthering his political career, and it is hardly coincidental that the most substantial of these came from defense industries BAE Systems ($27,750), General Atomics ($25,650), Raytheon Co ($16,800) and Northrop Grumman ($16,000).
Then there is Democrat Joe Courtney of Connecticut, who heads the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. Mr Courtney’s patriotic fervor led him to declare on July 26 that “my committee has heard the relentless drumbeat of anxiety and concern about the looming shortfall in our attack submarine fleet. Without timely action by Congress, the Trump administration, and the Navy, the fleet will fall to just 42 submarines within the next decade. At that reduced capacity, our military commanders will be left without the undersea capabilities they have made clear that they desperately need.”
US Navy attack submarines are built in Groton, Connecticut, the Congressional District of Mr Courtney who is co-chairman of the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus. The yard is owned by General Dynamics Electric Boat which local media indicates “will reportedly grow its workforce by nearly 1,900 by 2034, and undertake capital investments of greater than $800 million over the next 17 years.”
In the 2017-2018 election cycle Representative Joe Courtney has so far received $35,150 from General Dynamics, and $12,000 from Northrop Grumman.
Then there’s the Republican Representative Rob Wittman who declared on July 24 that “As Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee . . . I am proud of [the National Defense Authorization Act] as I believe it provides the authorities and resources for our men and women of the Armed Forces to do the job we’ve asked them to do. This conference report provides the right capabilities to support our warfighters, including the 13 ships I have been fighting for that would support the Navy and reach our national policy of 355 ships.” He is much admired by the Shipbuilders Council of America which presented him with its Maritime Leadership Award for “exceptional leadership, dedication and support to the shipbuilding and repair industry.”
So it’s no surprise that so far in the current election season Congressman Wittman has received $24,150 from Huntington Ingalls Industries, which describes itself as “an American Fortune 500 shipbuilding company formed on March 31, 2011 as a spin-off of Northrop Grumman. It is the largest military shipbuilder in the United States, with its main shipyard located in Newport News,” which is in the neighboring Congressional District to that of Mr Wittman whose other military production bounty included $19,500 from Northrop Grumman, $15,200 from General Dynamics, and $12,000 from Lockheed Martin. It obviously pays to make such pronouncements as “we must now provide the funding necessary to ensure we can defeat our adversaries and keep America safe.”
These representatives of the American people may believe, or have persuaded themselves to think they believe, that the military posture of the United States and its vastly increased military budget will have the effect of “reversing the erosion of the US military advantage in relation to China and Russia” even if they do not — cannot — ever acknowledge that, as recorded by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “Russia’s military spending in constant 2016 US dollars was $69.2 billion in 2016 and $55.3 billion in 2017 — a real-terms annual decrease of 20 per cent.”
No matter what might be claimed by the Pentagon, Congress and the US media there is simply no possibility that Russia could present a military threat to the United States or any NATO country, as pointed out by no less a figure than the Secretry General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, whi declared that “we don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally”
The hundreds of billions of dollars being spent and about to be spent on weapons by Washington do result in expansion of the Pentagon’s already enormous arsenal — but the beneficiaries, the profit-makers, are the manufacturers of weapons, who make sure the contracts keep coming by paying off Members of Congress and Senators who will obediently vote for ever further expansion of a bulging cornucopia of weaponry.
If a US legislator receives an election campaign contribution of $19,500 from arms’ manufacturer Northrop Grumman it is unlikely that he or she is going to even consider voting against purchase of a weapon made by Northrop Grumman, which so far this election season has given $4,653,398 to candidates and their action committees.
The beneficiaries of the Trump-inspired and Congress-enhanced surge in US spending on weapons are largely those Senators and Members of the House of Representatives who are prepared to vote for massive increases in military expenditure because that is a sure way to campaign contributions and re-election. Literally hundreds of candidates take money from the military-industrial complex.
In other words, they’re a bunch of humbugs who spout patriotic garbage and rake in the money so that they can stay in power. The problem is that their embrace of the surge in US military spending helps to increase tension and confrontation around the world.
A version of this piece appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on August 5.