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David Vine: The True Costs of Empire

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$682 million for counternarcotics, humanitarian, and environmental programs.

The Pentagon tally of the price of occupying the planet also ignores the costs of secret bases and classified programs overseas. Out of a total Pentagon classified budget of $51 billion for 2012, I conservatively use only the estimated overseas portion of operations and maintenance spending, which adds $2.4 billion. Then there's the $15.7 billion Military Intelligence Program. Given that U.S. law generally bars the military from engaging in domestic spying, I estimate that half this spending, $7.9 billion, took place overseas.

Next, we have to add in the CIA's paramilitary budget, funding activities including secret bases in places like Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East, and its drone assassination program, which has grown precipitously since the onset of the war on terror. With thousands dead (including hundreds of civilians), how can we not consider these military costs? In an email, John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, told me that "possibly a third" of the CIA's estimated budget of $10 billion may now go to paramilitary costs, yielding:

$13.6 billion for classified programs, military intelligence, and CIA paramilitary activities.

Last but certainly not least comes the real biggie: the costs of the 550 bases the U.S. built in Afghanistan, as well as the last three months of life for our bases in Iraq, which once numbered 505 before the U.S. pullout from that country (that is, the first three months of fiscal year 2012). While the Pentagon and Congress exclude these costs, that's like calculating the New York Yankees' payroll while excluding salaries for each year's huge free agent signings.

Conservatively following the OCS methodology used for other countries, but including costs for health care, military pay in the base budget, rent, and "other programs," we add an estimated:

$104.9 billion for bases and military presence in Afghanistan and other war zones.

Having started with the OCS figure of $22.1 billion, the grand total now has reached:

$168 billion ($169,963,153,283 to be exact).

That's nearly an extra $150 billion. Even if you exclude war costs -- and I think the Yankees show why that's a bad idea -- the total still reaches $65.1 billion, or nearly three times the Pentagon's calculation.

But don't for a second think that that's the end of our garrisoning costs. In addition to spending likely hidden in the nooks and crannies of its budget, there are other irregularities in the Pentagon's accounting. Costs for 16 countries hosting U.S. bases but left out of the OCS entirely, including Colombia, El Salvador, and Norway, may total more than $350 million. The costs of the military presence in Colombia alone could reach into the tens of millions in the context of more than $8.5 billion in Plan Colombia funding since 2000. The Pentagon also reports costs of less than $5 million each for Yemen, Israel, Uganda, and the Seychelles Islands, which seems unlikely and could add millions more.

When it comes to the general U.S. presence abroad, other costs are too difficult to estimate reliably, including the price of Pentagon offices in the United States, embassies, and other government agencies that support bases and troops overseas. So, too, U.S. training facilities, depots, hospitals, and even cemeteries allow overseas bases to function. Other spending includes currency-exchange costs, attorneys' fees and damages won in lawsuits against military personnel abroad, short-term "temporary duty assignments," U.S.-based troops participating in exercises overseas, and perhaps even some of NASA's military functions, space-based weapons, a percentage of recruiting costs required to staff bases abroad, interest paid on the debt attributable to the past costs of overseas bases, and Veterans Administration costs and other retirement spending for military personnel who served abroad.

Beyond my conservative estimate, the true bill for garrisoning the planet might be closer to $200 billion a year.

"Spillover Costs"

Those, by the way, are just the costs in the U.S. government's budget. The total economic costs to the U.S. economy are higher still. Consider where the taxpayer-funded salaries of the troops at those bases go when they eat or drink at a local restaurant or bar, shop for clothing, rent a local home, or pay local sales taxes in Germany, Italy, or Japan. These are what economists call "spillover" or "multiplier effects." When I visited Okinawa in 2010, for example, Marine Corps representatives bragged about how their presence contributes $1.9 billion annually to the local economy through base contracts, jobs, local purchases, and other spending. Although the figures may be overstated, it's no wonder members of Congress like Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison have called for a new "Build in America" policy to protect "the fiscal health of our nation."

And the costs are still broader when one considers the trade-offs, or opportunity costs, involved. Military spending creates fewer jobs per million dollars expended than the same million invested in education, health care, or energy efficiency -- barely half as many as investing in schools. Even worse, while military spending clearly provides direct benefits to the Lockheed Martins and KBRs of the military-industrial complex, these investments don't, as economist James Heintz says, boost the "long-run productivity of the rest of the private sector" the way infrastructure investments do.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)
 

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I know I'm nitpicking one tiny sentence and zeroin... by Sister Begonia on Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012 at 1:48:16 PM