This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com
China just launched a refitted Ukrainian aircraft carrier from the 1990s on its first test run -- and that's what the only projected "great power" enemy of the U.S. has to offer for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the U.S. Navy has 11 aircraft carrier task forces to cruise the seven seas and plans to keep that many through 2045. Like so much else, when it comes to the American military, all comparisons are ludicrous. In any normal sense, the United States stands alone in military terms. Its expenditures make up almost 50% of global military spending; it dominates the global arms market; and it has countless more bases, pilotless drones, military bands, and almost anything else military you'd care to mention than does any other power.
In other words, comparisons can't be made. The minute you try, you're off the charts. And yet, in purely practical terms, when you take a shot at measuring what the overwhelming investment of American treasure in the military, the U.S. intelligence community, the Department of Homeland Security, and the rest of our national security establishment has actually bought us, you come up with a series of wars and conflicts headed nowhere and a series of post-9/11 terror attacks generally so inept it hardly mattered whether they were foiled or not.
Still, when it comes to cutting the U.S. national security budget, none of this seems to matter. The Pentagon "cuts" presently being discussed in Washington are largely in projected future growth, not in real funds (which continue to rise) -- and even then, the Pentagon and its many boosters in Washington are already crying bloody murder. Give some credit for all this to the giant weapons makers and to the military itself: both have so carefully tied military-related jobs into so many state economies that few congressional representatives could afford to vote for the sorts of real cutbacks that would bring perhaps the most profligate institution on the planet to heel and yet still leave the country as the globe's military giant. You want, for instance, to cut back on that absolutely crucial Navy acrobatic flying team, the Blue Angels. (What would we all do without dramatic military flyovers at our major and minor sporting events?) Count on it, hotel keepers in Florida will be on the phone immediately! Add in the veneration of American soldiers and you have a fatal brew when it comes to serious budget cutting.
How Safe Are You?
What Almost $8 Trillion in National Security Spending Bought You
By Chris Hellman
The killing of Osama Bin Laden did not put cuts in national security spending on the table, but the debt-ceiling debate finally did. And mild as those projected cuts might have been, last week newly minted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was already digging in his heels and decrying the modest potential cost-cutting plans as a "doomsday mechanism" for the military. Pentagon allies on Capitol Hill were similarly raising the alarm as they moved forward with this year's even larger military budget.
None of this should surprise you. As with all addictions, once you're hooked on massive military spending, it's hard to think realistically or ask the obvious questions. So, at a moment when discussion about cutting military spending is actually on the rise for the first time in years, let me offer some little known basics about the spending spree this country has been on since September 11, 2001, and raise just a few simple questions about what all that money has actually bought Americans.
Consider this my contribution to a future 12-step program for national security sobriety.
Let's start with the three basic post-9/11 numbers that Washington's addicts need to know:
1. $5.9 trillion: That's the sum of taxpayer dollars that's gone into the Pentagon's annual "base budget," from 2000 to today. Note that the base budget includes nuclear weapons activities, even though they are overseen by the Department of Energy, but -- and this is crucial -- not the cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nonetheless, even without those war costs, the Pentagon budget managed to grow from $302.9 billion in 2000, to $545.1 billion in 2011. That's a dollar increase of $242.2 billion or an 80% jump ($163.6 billion and 44% if you adjust for inflation). It's enough to make your head swim, and we're barely started.
2. $1.36 trillion: That's the total cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars by this September 30th, the end of the current fiscal year, including all moneys spent for those wars by the Pentagon, the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other federal agencies. Of this, $869 billion will have been for Iraq, $487.6 billion for Afghanistan.
Add up our first two key national security spending numbers and you're already at $7.2 trillion since the September 11th attacks. And even that staggering figure doesn't catch the full extent of Washington spending in these years. So onward to our third number:
3. $636 billion: Most people usually ignore this part of the national security budget and we seldom see any figures for it, but it's the amount, adjusted for inflation, that the U.S. government has spent so far on "homeland security." This isn't an easy figure to arrive at because homeland-security funding flows through literally dozens of federal agencies and not just the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). A mere $16 billion was requested for homeland security in 2001. For 2012, the figure is $71.6 billion, only $37 billion of which will go through DHS. A substantial part, $18.1 billion, will be funneled through -- don't be surprised -- the Department of Defense, while other agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services ($4.6 billion) and the Department of Justice ($4.1 billion) pick up the slack.
Add those three figures together and you're at the edge of $8 trillion in national security spending for the last decade-plus and perhaps wondering where the nearest group for compulsive-spending addiction meets.
Now, for a few of those questions I mentioned, just to bring reality further into focus: