Recently, the Pentagon's top Asia official, Randall Schriver, told senators that the Afghan war would cost this country's taxpayers $45 billion in 2018, including $5 billion for the Afghan security forces, $13 billion for U.S. forces in that country, and $780 million in economic aid. How the other $26 billion would be spent is unclear and, given the Pentagon's record in these years, Schriver's estimate could prove a low-ball figure. All in all, it's just another year in this country's endless war there. Still, if Schriver is on the mark, in Afghanistan alone the American taxpayer will spend more than a fifth of the $200 billion the Trump administration is urging Congress to put up for the rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure. (The estimated cost of the full war on terror in President Trump's proposed 2018 budget, according to the Costs of War Project, is approximately... yep, you guessed it: $200 billion.) And, of course, all of that is next to nothing when compared to the $5.6 trillion the Costs of War Project estimates the war on terror has already cost us (with certain future expenses added in).
Under the circumstances, isn't it remarkable that the government has sent so many taxpayer dollars tumbling down the rabbit hole of its failed wars and the "reconstruction" scams in Afghanistan and Iraq that once passed for "nation-building"? (By 2014, the U.S. had already sunk more money into "reconstructing" Afghanistan than it had once put into the Marshall Plan to rebuild all of Western Europe -- and compare the results of each of those investments!) More remarkable still, for all the bitter political disputes in these years about how government money should be spent, there has never been real disagreement here, no less significant protest, over the decision to put such staggering sums into America's wars. Imagine for a moment anything like the same amount of money being spent on this country's crumbling infrastructure or just about anything else domestically and you know that there would have been protests of every imaginable sort and such decisions would have become the heart and soul of endless election campaigns.
Instead, in 2018, Congress has, in a thoroughly bipartisan fashion, agreed to shovel yet more dollars into the U.S. military and its wars with hardly a complaint from the American public. Keep the strangeness of this in mind as you read U.S. Army major and TomDispatch regular Danny Sjursen's account of how, via one key document, the Pentagon is preparing the way for the next bipartisan flood of dollars into those wars and the military-industrial complex. Someday, this may seem like one of the true scandals of our age, but if so, that day has yet to come. In the meantime, the lack of opposition to such spending should be considered a great mystery of our era. Tom
Trump's National Defense Strategy
Something for Everyone (in the Military-Industrial Complex)
By Danny Sjursen
Think of it as the chicken-or-the-egg question for the ages: Do very real threats to the United States inadvertently benefit the military-industrial complex or does the national security state, by its very nature, conjure up inflated threats to feed that defense machine?
Back in 2008, some of us placed our faith, naively enough, in the hands of mainstream Democrats -- specifically, those of a young senator named Barack Obama. He would reverse the war policies of George W. Bush, deescalate the unbridled Global War on Terror, and right the ship of state. How'd that turn out?
In retrospect, though couched in a far more sophisticated and peaceable rhetoric than Bush's, his moves would prove largely cosmetic when it came to this country's forever wars: a significant reduction in the use of conventional ground troops, but more drones, more commandos, and yet more acts of ill-advised regime change. Don't get me wrong: as a veteran of two of Washington's wars, I was glad when "no-drama" Obama decreased the number of boots on the ground in the Middle East. It's now obvious, however, that he left the basic infrastructure of eternal war firmly in place.
Enter The Donald.
For all his half-baked tweets, insults, and boasts, as well as his refusal to read anything of substance on issues of war and peace, some of candidate Trump's foreign policy ideas seemed far saner than those of just about any other politician around or the previous two presidents. I mean, the Iraq War was dumb, and maybe it wasn't the craziest idea for America's allies to start thinking about defending themselves, and maybe Washington ought to put some time and diplomatic effort into avoiding a possibly catastrophic clash or set of clashes with Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Unfortunately, the White House version of all this proved oh-so-familiar. President Trump's decision, for instance, to double down on a losing bet in Afghanistan in spite of his "instincts" (and on similar bets in Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere) and his recently published National Defense Strategy (NDS) leave little doubt that he's surrendered to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, the mainstream interventionists in his administration.
In truth, no one should be surprised. A hyper-interventionist, highly militarized foreign policy has defined Washington since at least the days of President Harry Truman -- the first in a long line of hawks to take the White House. In this context, an ever-expanding national security state has always put special effort into meeting the imagined needs (or rather desires) of its various component parts. The result: bloated budgets for which exaggerated threats, if not actual war, remain a necessity.
Without the threat of communism in the previous century and terrorism (as well as once again ascendant great powers) in this one, such bloated budgets would be hard to explain. And then, how would the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines get all the weaponized toys they desired? How would Congressional representatives in a post-industrial economy get all those attractive "defense" jobs for their districts and how would the weapons makers get the government cash they crave?
The 2-2-1 Threat Picture
With that in mind, let's take a look at the newly released National Defense Strategy document. It offers a striking sense of how, magically enough, the Pentagon's vision of future global policy manages to provide something for each of its services and their corporate backers.
Start with this: the NDS is to government documents what A Nightmare on Elm Street is to family films; it's meant, that is, to scare the hell out of the casual reader. It makes the claim, for instance, that the global "security environment" has become "more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory." In other words, be afraid, very afraid. But is it true? Is the world really more volatile now than it was when two nuclear superpowers with enough missiles to destroy the planet several times over faced off in a not-so-Cold War?