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Ryan Alexander

Ryan Alexander is a regular contributer to the Foreign Policy In Focus blog( This post, “Defending Bloated Military Spending,” was re-posted in Nation of Change on October 24, 2011.  Nation of Change publishes daily selections of high quality essays  relative to foreign policy, peace and economics and finance.  To view daily postings, click on the Nation of Change link on the right side of this page.

// Defending Bloated Military Spending

Ryan Alexander

Foreign Policy in Focus / News Analysis

Monday 24 October 2011

The Defense
Department buys more than $1 billion of goods and services every day.
// The As­so­ci­a­tion of the United States Army packed hun­dreds of ex­hibitors
into two halls the size of foot­ball fields at its an­nual con­ven­tion. Com­pa­nies
from around the world came to the event, re­cently held at the Wash­ing­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, to sell the Army every­thing from mam­moth tanks to mi­cro-thin wires.
Cor­po­ra­tions such as Raytheon and KBR erected multi-level in­stal­la­tions
nearly big enough to gen­er­ate their own zip code, com­plete with con­fer­ence
rooms and cof­fee bars.

Had the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers tack­ling our bud­get mess vis­ited this spec­ta­cle, they would have got­ten a good les­son on fed­eral spend­ing. The Pen­ta­gon’s bud­get stands
the risk of being sub­jected to a process known as “se­ques­tra­tion,” which
would im­pose $600 bil­lion in de­fense cuts over 10 years if Con­gress doesn’t
ap­prove a $1.2-tril­lion deficit-slash­ing plan that the panel of law­mak­ers
known as the su­per­com­mit­tee will pro­pose later this year. In his ad­dress
to the con­ven­tion, De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon Panetta called this plan a
“dooms­day mech­a­nism.”

Later, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), who rep­re­sents a dis­trict heavy with de­fense con­trac­tors, launched an ini­tia­tive claim­ing that se­ques­tra­tion would “cause sig­nif­i­cant
harm to United States in­ter­ests.” He was echo­ing a re­port re­leased last month by the Re­pub­li­can staff of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that read like a list of cam­paign de­bate talk­ing points. It was light on facts but re­plete with fear-mon­ger­ing claims that re­duc­tions risked “in­creas­ing the threat of nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion,” as well as our abil­ity to “ad­e­quately de­fend al­lies.”

This all clev­erly misses the point. Se­ques­tra­tion was meant to be the scary stick to get Con­gress to take its deficit-cut­ting med­i­cine. What big mil­i­tary bud­get boost­ers
are try­ing to do with this line of rea­son­ing is to pro­tect Pen­ta­gon spend­ing in the su­per­com­mit­tee’s de­lib­er­a­tions. It’s no sur­prise that the Pen­ta­gon would scram­ble to pro­tect its flank in these bud­get-cut­ting times, but the of­fen­sive from Panetta, some mem­bers of Con­gress, and in­dus­try ti­tans is brazenly alarmist — and some­times down­right wrong. Panetta told Con­gress that se­ques­tra­tion would in­crease the coun­try’s un­em­ploy­ment rate by 1 per­cent, de­spite the ab­sence of any ev­i­dence. Sim­i­larly, GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney pledged in a speech to “re­verse
Obama’s mas­sive de­fense cuts.” But under Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, mil­i­tary
spend­ing has ac­tu­ally in­creased by bil­lions of dol­lars.

Let’s re­view some more facts. First of all, the $450 bil­lion in Pen­ta­gon cuts that the
debt ceil­ing deal en­acted would only lower the rate of in­crease in mil­i­tary
spend­ing, a rate that has gone through the roof in the last decade. In other
words, it isn’t ac­tu­ally a “cut” at all. Even that so-called “dooms­day mech­a­nism”
would only shrink the Pen­ta­gon’s bud­get back down to where it stood in 2007.

Sec­ond, with our coun­try fac­ing a $1.3-tril­lion deficit, every­thing must be on the
table. Con­se­quently, as the con­sumer of the largest piece of our dis­cre­tionary
bud­get pie, the Pen­ta­gon must be part of the bud­get-cut­ting plan. There’s
cer­tainly plenty of fat to cut. The De­fense De­part­ment buys more than $1
bil­lion of goods and ser­vices every day. It em­ploys some three mil­lion peo­ple
glob­ally, more than the world’s largest cor­po­ra­tion. Its head­quar­ters,
the Pen­ta­gon, is the world’s largest of­fice build­ing. If that doesn’t epit­o­mize
Big Gov­ern­ment, what does?

Fi­nally, the chances of se­ques­tra­tion com­ing to pass are slim to none, and Rep. Forbes and his al­lies know it. The su­per­com­mit­tee will pro­duce a plan and the
broader Con­gress is bound to adopt the rec­om­men­da­tions or come up with
some of its own.

This full-court press on be­half of Pen­ta­gon spend­ing looks like an at­tempt to dis­suade the su­per­com­mit­tee from mak­ing any mil­i­tary cuts at all, or to pre­pare
for the bat­tle soon to take place in Con­gress. Ex­ploit­ing tax­pay­ers’ anx­i­eties
about jobs and safety is a cyn­i­cal way to avoid mak­ing tough de­ci­sions
that will af­fect our se­cu­rity

  1. David Mates permalink

    I read pieces like this week after week, year after year, in newspapers, magazines and now on the internet. I always imagine that the writer believes they are exposing something new. Don’t look now but this process has been going on for years and it is safe to say it will continue to go on.

    I doubt there is a way to stop it because who are we going to turn to? Do you think that you’re going to get any action out of all those self-serving career politicians? How about the ruling elite that control all of the aforementioned.

    I don’t care who you have sitting in the Oval Office, who controls the Senate, Legislature or any other branch of government it will keep on keeping on.

    Nice essay though, well written,

    David Mates

    • Thanks for your comment, Dave. It is not difficult to feel frustrated and come to the conclusion that the sitiuation is hopeless. But our Constitution still exists despite the fact that it has been violated and ignored lately. As long as it does exist, there is reason for hope, even if some tyrant comes along who wants to suspend it.

      The two major political parties are hopelessly corrupted at this point. The Constitution, by the way, says nothing about a “Two Party System,” that seems to dominate the Conventional Wisdom. President Washington adamantly opposed formation of political parties but there was no practical way to prevent the people from affiliating with them.

      I take renewed hope in the Occupy Wall Street movement. They hold the potential for a powerful third party movement that could turn this mess completely upside down. And I don’t discount the Tea Party, which after all began as a reaction to the TARP bailouts. I understand there is a strong Libertarian wing of the TP’s and many are supporters of Ron Paul whose main platform is to end the Federal Reserve and establish a hard currency system, as well as to end foreign aid and the American Military Empire. It’s time for both disatisfied groups to find their common ground and affect genuine change.

      There are three main problems, apathy and a weakness for consumerism on the part of the average American voter. The Big Money Boys control the major news media and you’d better believe they know how to control our buying habits. The growth of social media has been a gold mine in this regard. We don’t have to get our news from the talking heads!

      The second is that the Big Money has morphed into the Humonguous Money thanks to the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision. This will probably take a Constitutional Amendment and that takes us back to the political situation to put it into perpective.

      The third is the Military-Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned of. This will not be as difficult as it might appear. Americans are sick of these perpetual wars. Our WWII adversaries need to start paying for their own defense along with the rest of the world. Tea Partyers take note; the M-I Complex is the Biggest Big Government Program of all.

      Take heart, Dave, the solution is in the ballot box. Use it before we lose it!

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