Hope and Change Fade, but War Endures—Seven Reasons Why We Can’t Stop Making War

— by William J. Astore

imageIf one quality characterizes our wars today, it’s their endurance.  They never seem to end.  Though war itself may not be an American inevitability, these days many factors combine to make constant war an American near certainty.  Put metaphorically, our nation’s pursuit of war taps so many wellsprings of our behavior that a concerted effort to cap it would dwarf BP’s efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our political leaders, the media, and the military interpret enduring war as a measure of our national fitness, our global power, our grit in the face of eternal danger, and our seriousness.  A desire to de-escalate and withdraw, on the other hand, is invariably seen as cut-and-run appeasement and discounted as weakness.  Withdrawal options are, in a pet phrase of Washington elites, invariably “off the table” when global policy is at stake, as was true during the Obama administration’s full-scale reconsideration of the Afghan war in the fall of 2009.  Viewed in this light, the president’s ultimate decision to surge in Afghanistan was not only predictable, but the only course considered suitable for an American war leader.  Rather than the tough choice, it was the path of least resistance.

Why do our elites so readily and regularly give war, not peace, a chance?  What exactly are the wellsprings of Washington’s (and America’s) behavior when it comes to war and preparations for more of the same?

Consider these seven:

  1. We wage war because we think we’re good at it — and because, at a gut level, we’ve come to believe that American wars can bring good to others (hence our feel-good names for them, like Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom). Most Americans are not only convinced we have the best troops, the best training, and the most advanced weapons, but also the purest motives.  Unlike the bad guys and the barbarians out there in the global marketplace of death, our warriors and warfighters are seen as gift-givers and freedom-bringers, not as death-dealers and resource-exploiters.  Our illusions about the military we “support” serve as catalyst for, and apology for, the persistent war-making we condone.
  2. We wage war because we’ve already devoted so many of our resources to it.  It’s what we’re most prepared to do.  More than half of discretionary federal spending goes to fund our military and its war making or war preparations.  The military-industrial complex is a well-oiled, extremely profitable machine and the armed forces, our favorite child, the one we’ve lavished the most resources and praise upon.  It’s natural to give your favorite child free rein.
  3. We’ve managed to isolate war’s physical and emotional costs, leaving them on the shoulders of a tiny minority of Americans.  By eliminating the draft and relying ever more on for-profit private military contractors, we’ve made war a distant abstraction for most Americans, who can choose to consume it as spectacle or simply tune it out as so much background noise.
  4. While war and its costs have, to date, been kept at arm’s length, American society has been militarizing fast.  Our media outlets, intelligence agencies, politicians, foreign policy establishment, and “homeland security” bureaucracy are so intertwined with military priorities and agendas as to be inseparable from them.  In militarized America, griping about soft-hearted tactics or the outspokenness of a certain general may be tolerated, but forceful criticism of our military or our wars is still treated as deviant and “un-American.”
  5. Our profligate, high-tech approach to war, including those Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles, has served to limit American casualties — and so has limited the anger over, and harsh questioning of, our wars that might go with them.  While the U.S. has had more than 1,000 troops killed in Afghanistan, over a similar period in Vietnam we lost more than 58,000 troops.  Improved medical evacuation and trauma care, greater reliance on standoff precision weaponry and similar “force multipliers,” stronger emphasis on “force protection” within American military units: all these and more have helped tamp down concern about the immeasurable and soaring costs of our wars.
  6. As we incessantly develop those force-multiplying weapons to give us our “edge” (though never an edge that leads to victory), it’s hardly surprising that the U.S. has come to dominate, if not quite monopolize, the global arms trade.  In these years, as American jobs were outsourced or simply disappeared in the Great Recession, armaments have been one of our few growth industries.  Endless war has proven endlessly profitable — not perhaps for all of us, but certainly for those in the business of war.
  7. And don’t forget the seductive power of beyond-worse-case, doomsday scenarios, of the prophecies of pundits and so-called experts, who regularly tell us that, bad as our wars may be, doing anything to end them would be far worse.  A typical scenario goes like this: If we withdraw from Afghanistan, the government of Hamid Karzai will collapse, the Taliban will surge to victory, al-Qaeda will pour into Afghan safe havens, and Pakistan will be further destabilized, its atomic bombs falling into the hands of terrorists out to destroy Peoria and Orlando.

Such fevered nightmares, impossible to disprove, may be conjured at any moment to scare critics into silence.  They are a convenient bogeyman, leaving us cowering as we send our superman military out to save us (and the world as well), while preserving our right to visit the mall and travel to Disney World without being nuked.

The truth is that no one really knows what would happen if the U.S. disengaged from Afghanistan.  But we do know what’s happening now, with us fully engaged: we’re pursuing a war that’s costing us nearly $7 billion a month that we’re not winning (and that’s arguably unwinnable), a war that may be increasing the chances of another 9/11, rather than decreasing them.

Capping the Wellsprings of War

Each one of these seven wellsprings feeding our enduring wars must be capped.  So here are seven suggestions for the sort of “caps” — hopefully more effective than BP’s flailing improvisations — we need to install:

  1. Let’s reject the idea that war is either admirable or good — and in the process, remind ourselves that others often see us as “the foreign fighters” and profligate war consumers who kill innocents (despite our efforts to apply deadly force in surgically precise ways reflecting “courageous restraint”).
  2. Let’s cut defense spending now, and reduce the global “mission” that goes with it.  Set a reasonable goal — a 6-8% reduction annually for the next 10 years, until levels of defense spending are at least back to where they were before 9/11 — and then stick to it.
  3. Let’s stop privatizing war.  Creating ever more profitable incentives for war was always a ludicrous idea.  It’s time to make war a non-profit, last-resort activity.  And let’s revive national service (including elective military service) for all young adults.  What we need is a revived civilian conservation corps, not a new civilian “expeditionary” force.
  4. Let’s reverse the militarization of so many dimensions of our society.  To cite one example, it’s time to empower truly independent (non-embedded) journalists to cover our wars, and stop relying on retired generals and admirals who led our previous wars to be our media guides.  Men who are beholden to their former service branch or the current defense contractor who employs them can hardly be trusted to be critical and unbiased guides to future conflicts.
  5. Let’s recognize that expensive high-tech weapons systems are not war-winners.  They’ve kept us in the game without yielding decisive results — unless you measure “results” in terms of cost overruns and burgeoning federal budget deficits.
  6. Let’s retool our economy and reinvest our money, moving it out of the military-industrial complex and into strengthening our anemic system of mass transit, our crumbling infrastructure, and alternative energy technology.  We need high-speed rail, safer roads and bridges, and more wind turbines, not more overpriced jet fighters.
  7. Finally, let’s banish nightmare scenarios from our minds.  The world is scary enough without forever imagining smoking guns morphing into mushroom clouds.

There you have it: my seven “caps” to contain our gushing support for permanent war.  No one said it would be easy.  Just ask BP how easy it is to cap one out-of-control gusher.

Nonetheless, if we as a society aren’t willing to work hard for actual change — indeed, to demand it — we’ll be on that military escalatory curve until we implode.  And that way madness lies.


William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular.  He has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School and currently teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.  He may be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.

Copyright ©2010 William J. Astore

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More Outright Lies Directly from the Mouth of Eric Cantor

“The president said we do not need a bigger government, but a smarter government, and I agree. But actions speak louder than words,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “For four years, we have seen record deficits and mountains of debt heaped on our children and grandchildren. And for four years we have seen little to no action from President Obama or his Democratic colleagues in the Senate to take our spending problem seriously,” Cantor added.

Really?  If that were the case, one would expect to see bar charts, on one web page after another, exploding ever upward.  But that’s absolutely NOT the case.  In fact, the opposite is true.  The Federal Budget Deficit is dropping!

Deficit-chart-02-06-13

Yes, I recognize there is a difference between “deficits” and “debt”.  Yes, the deficits are declining, but because there is still a “deficit” … that means that debt is still rising.  The federal budget deficit in 2013 is projected to be $845 billion, the first time the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has forecast a deficit below $1 trillion under President Obama.

That reduction in the budget deficit comes after Congress finally approved higher tax rates on households with annual income above $450,000.

Mr. Cantor would like you to believe that cuts in spending are the ONLY remedy our nation needs to bring down the deficit.  He’s about to be proved absolutely and definitively WRONG.  You see, the sequester is now hanging out there ready to cut the living bejesus out of government spendin.  And, the Republicans want you to believe it’s Obama’s-quester —thus any bad effects are all his fault.  But, that’s simply NOT the case.  The GOP leadership in their stubborn stance failing to consider any form of compromise actually helped design the sequester’s inflexible and arbitrary across-the-board deep cuts. And, they were thrilled with that result.

Don’t believe me … then let’s go to tape … and listen to Boehner himself  declare just how happy he was with the resultant agreement:

The GOP’s hands are not only stained with the sequester’s nastiness, but they voted en masse to ensure its passage—after all, they thought of it as a means to get their way.  They should have been more mindful about what they wished for, because in 2 weeks, those draconian sequestration cuts are slated to take effect.

Apparently, they couldn’t care less.  By their actions, they’ve communicated that they view this as nothing more than some big game of “bluff” and they intent to see who’s gonna blink first. Why else would they be recessing Congress and heading home like their job was done?  They see absolutely nothing critical on the agenda — so they’re just gonna head home, put their feet up on the foot rest and swill down a few mint juleps during Marti Gras season.

These guys designed the sequester’s series of sudden, deep cuts in military and domestic spending to be so destabilizing and unthinkable that it would force Washington to work together on an alternative budget.  That clearly has NOT been the case.  And, the GOP’s disregard for the seriousness of our economic predicament is astounding.

Sequestration can only be avoided if Congress passes legislation that undoes the legal requirement in the Budget Control Act (BCA) and President Obama signs that legislation before March 1, 2013. So, what are they doing?  They’re headed out on RECESS like a bunch of 6 year olds in grade school.

Based on the across-the-board draconian cuts they designed into the sequester,  the American economy is poised to lose, at a minimum, 750,000 jobs, and that’s just this year alone.  $44B in cuts to federal outlays are set to start on March 1.  In simple terms, that’s an 8% cut for defense-spending and a 6% cut for non-entitlement, non-defense spending.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that, if no legislation originating from the deficit reduction committee was enacted, the automatic enforcement process (sequestration) specified in the BCA would mandate the following spending cuts between 2013 and 2021:

  • Reductions ranging from 10.0 percent (in 2013) to 8.5 percent (in 2021) in the caps on new discretionary appropriations for defense programs, yielding total outlay savings of $454 billion.
  • Reductions ranging from 7.8 percent (in 2013) to 5.5 percent (in 2021) in the caps on new discretionary appropriations for non-defense programs, resulting in outlay savings of $294 billion.
  • Reductions ranging from 10.0 percent (in 2013) to 8.5 percent (in 2021) in mandatory budgetary resources for nonexempt defense programs, generating savings of about $0.1 billion.
  • Reductions of 2.0 percent each year in most Medicare spending because of the application of a special rule that applies to that program, producing savings of $123 billion, and reductions ranging from 7.8 percent (in 2013) to 5.5 percent (in 2021) in mandatory budgetary resources for other nonexempt non-defense programs and activities, yielding savings of $47 billion. Thus, savings in non-defense mandatory spending would total $170 billion.
  • About $31 billion in outlays stemming from the reductions in premiums for Part B of Medicare and other changes in spending that would result from the sequestration actions.
  • An estimated reduction of $169 billion in debt-service costs.

Those deep spending cuts come at the expense of something.  They’ll come at the expense of public employee jobs, jobs of those with whom our government has contracted to provide services, and those who make goods sold for those government contractors to consume in providing goods/services directly to the government.  Thus, job losses will be incurred both directly and indirectly, as well publicly and privately, throughout our economy.  And, because those cuts are going to affect both Defense and Non-Defense spending, that also means that folks like teachers, fire-fighters, healthcare workers, et.al., all across our nation, are going to be impacted as well.

Have you figured out where I’m going yet?  You know how the GOP has been saying how they’re all about JOBS, JOBS, JOBS?  Well, most Americans thought the GOP meant they were all about “job creation.”  Surprise!  Not so!  Through their actions (and in-actions), it should now be ever more clear, the GOP is NOT about “job creation” … but they are seriously into job destruction and elimination.

Based on the sequestration cuts, the Congressional Research Services (CRS) looked at the overall economy and says we can expect much larger reductions in employment.  Considering both direct and indirect losses throughout the U.S. economy, they expect the losses on the order of 2.1 million jobs in FY2013:

  • 746,000 were direct jobs (277,000 federal civilian jobs and 469,000 prime contractor jobs),
  • 433,000 indirect jobs at suppliers and other firms that depend on prime contractors for business, and
  • 959,000 will be related to “induced jobs” (i.e., jobs throughout the economy supported by workers in direct and indirect jobs spending a portion of their paychecks).

Already, the Air Force, Army, and Navy have implemented immediate hiring freezes on civilian employees. The Pentagon not only has begun to lay off many of its 46,000 temporary employees and contractors, but also is expected submit a request to Congress to authorize furloughing its 800,000 civilian employees.

So where is all this leading?  Since 2.1 million people will no longer be “working” — those 2.1 million workers will not be paying taxes.  Hence, revenues necessary to fund government and our insatiable need to wage war throughout the world will be insufficient to cover the costs.  That means the GOP will once again mount their soapbox and rail as loudly as they can, how we need to make even deeper cuts!  It will be come an ever deeply spiraling circle bringing about our nation’s demise.

So, here’s my question.  While your Congressman/woman is home on recess (vacation), have you made your plans yet to bend his or her ear and try to convince them of the errs of their ways?  Or, are you content to just let everything go on as usual and let them destroy our nation?

References and related posts:

Fraudulent Defense Contractors Paid $1 Trillion

— by Sen. Bernie Sanders 

Hundreds of defense contractors that defrauded the U.S. military received more than $1.1 trillion in Pentagon contracts during the past decade, according to a Department of Defense report prepared for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sanders (I-Vt.) called the report “shocking.” He said aggressive steps must be taken to ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted.

“The ugly truth is that virtually all of the major defense contractors in this country for years have been engaged in systemic fraudulent behavior, while receiving hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money,” said Sanders. “With the country running a nearly $15 trillion national debt, my goal is to provide as much transparency as possible about what is happening with taxpayer money.”

The report detailed how the Pentagon paid $573.7 billion during the past 10 years to more than 300 contractors involved in civil fraud cases that resulted in judgments of more than $1 million, $398 billion of which was awarded after settlement or judgment for fraud.  When awards to “parent” companies are counted, the Pentagon paid more than $1.1 trillion during the past 10 years just to the 37 top companies engaged in fraud.

Another $255 million went to 54 contractors convicted of hard-core criminal fraud in the same period. Of that total, $33 million was paid to companies after they were convicted of crimes.

Some of the nation’s biggest defense contractors were involved.

For example, Lockheed Martin in 2008 paid $10.5 million to settle charges that it defrauded the government by submitting false invoices on a multi-billion dollar contract connected to the Titan IV space launch vehicle program.  That didn’t seem to sour the relationship between Lockheed and the Defense Department, which gave Lockheed $30.2 billion in contracts in fiscal year 2009, more than ever before.

In another case, Northrop Grumman paid $62 million in 2005 to settle charges that it “engaged in a fraud scheme by routinely submitting false contract proposals,” and “concealed basic problems in its handling of inventory, scrap and attrition.”  Despite the serious charges of pervasive and repeated fraud, Northrop Grumman received $12.9 billion in contracts the next year, 16 percent more than the year before.

A Sanders provision in a defense spending bill required the report and directed the Department of Defense to recommend ways to punish fraudulent contractors. The Pentagon said sanctions already are in place. “It is not clear, however, that these remedies are sufficient … to deter and punish fraud when it is detected.” That tone was different than what the Pentagon said in a preliminary report last January, which declared that ‘the department believes that existing remedies with respect to contractor wrongdoing are sufficient.”

Said Sanders: “It is clear that DOD’s current approach is not working and we need far more vigorous enforcement to protect taxpayers from massive fraud.”

Under another Sanders provision in a separate law, a government-wide federal contractor fraud database was opened to the public earlier this year.  Access to the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System had been limited to federal acquisition officials and certain members of Congress.  The DOD promises to ramp up monitoring of this database to ensure its contractors’ fraudulent actions are accurately and fully disclosed.

To read the Pentagon report and the tables, click here and here.

Related Posts:

What cuts would do the most to address the deficit?

Congress, the Fiscal Cliff and Tee-ing Off at Taxpayer Expense

Congress has adjourned until after the November election, but much is left on the table. Perhaps most notable are the “fiscal cliff” and Sequestration. In addition, they’ve done nothing yet wit the Farm bill which expired on Sept. 30, eliminating certain farm policies.

The Fiscal Cliff
Reports are coming in that Congress will attempt a long-term fix for the “fiscal cliff” during the lame duck session, establishing a framework for large reforms to be discussed in 2012. The “fiscal cliff” refers to the combined effects of the expiring Bush tax cuts and the mandatory Sequestration — both of which take effect in January 2013 if Congress takes no action. (The Job Protection and Recession Prevention Act, HR 8, lays out the House Republican proposal for tax reform negotiations.)

One tax break set to expire at the end of the year is the temporary payroll tax reduction (reducing rates from 6.2% to 4.2%), which was put in place as part of the ARRA (Stimulus package) and extended in December 2011. (See bill report for HR 3630.)

The Farm Bill
The 2008 farm bill officially expired on Sept. 30, eliminating certain farm and dairy policies. While the Senate passed its version of the 2012 farm bill (S 3240), the House did not pass their version, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM Act, HR 6083) before they adjourned.

Sequestration

In August 2011, bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate passed the Budget Control Act, which established “Sequestration” — automatic, across-the-board cuts to federal spending to take effect on January 2, 2013 — if Congress does not act on further deficit reduction. The Sequestration requires $109 billion annually in federal spending cuts, resulting in a 9.4% reduction in defense discretionary funding and an 8.2% reduction in nondefense discretionary funding.

As far as I’m personally concerned, defense can use a serious haircut. Congress will scream and hollar about not being able to cut military spending for our troups, but believe me, there’s a lot more waste, fraud and abuse going on in the military complex that steals resources away from our troops that needs to end.

It’s time to stop maintaining things like championship golf courses on a large number of those bases as well as stop funding golf tournaments on those courses. It’s time to end the practice of high government officials and military elites being able to tee-off worldwide at taxpayer expense. They may only be spending “millions” ($15M) not “billions” with which to support their habits, but you and I know that when you’re out of work, a mere $15 can make a big difference in your life.  If the GOP is so gung-ho on privatizing things … hey, why don’t they sell those assets, apply those monies toward debt reduction, and privatize the courses.

The supply chains for the military services need some serious re-organization efforts.  Each “supply” division in each services suffers from some very serious waste, fraud and ineffectively-managed cost over-runs on contracts for goods and services.  Why do we have separate supply organizations for each service?  Why do we not have one over-arching supply division with subdivisions for each service to better take advantage of efficiencies? Why do they keep awarding contracts to suppliers who continually experience cost over-runs or time-delays, or who provide inferior products (body armor)?

It’s time to close an inordinately large number of overseas bases that were set up for “cold war” defense … well … the cold war ended under Reagan.  Why do we continue to send large amounts of taxpayer money beyond our shore to enrich private base contractors, like corruption-plagued former Halliburton subsidiary KBR?

“Why” have we never closed a huge number of overseas bases, and for “what purpose” are we still staffing and maintaining them?  Are they truly for our nation’s defense?  Or, are they merely for the protection of the interests of the multi-national corporations?  If their sole purpose is to protect the interests of the multi-national corporations, that’s another candidate for the GOP’s favorite activity: privatization.  As far as I’m concerted, they should closed and the multi-national corporations, that believe they should pay NO taxes, should pay for their own security.