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Tomgram: William Astore, Going Nuclear on Pentagon Spending

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Yes, four-star General Lloyd Austin commanded American forces in Iraq back in 2010 and 2011. In 2013, he took over from General James Mattis (remember him?) as the head of United States Central Command, or CENTCOM, overseeing America's wars in the Greater Middle East and Afghanistan (where he had earlier commanded troops himself). Retiring from the Army in 2016, he promptly joined the board of directors of weapons giant Raytheon Technologies. When he became secretary of defense for President Biden and divested himself of his Raytheon shares, it was estimated that he had made $1.7 million from that company alone and he was then believed to be worth $7 million. As for James Mattis, who had left the U.S. military to become a board member for another major weapons maker, General Dynamics, he was believed to be worth $10 million when he came out of retirement as Donald Trump's secretary of defense.

And all of that turns out to be pretty standard for the losing military commanders of our war-on-terror years. As Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post discovered, having been a commander in one or more of America's failed wars of this century generally proved an all-too-lucrative calling card in the military-industrial complex. "The eight generals who commanded American forces in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2018," he wrote, "have gone on to serve on more than 20 corporate boards." Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw the famed (and disastrous) "surge" in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, was on a record 10 of those (and was known to have been paid a million dollars by just one of them). He would even form the McChrystal Group, which, as Peter Maass pointed out recently at the Intercept, "has more than 50 employees and provides consulting services to corporate and government clients."

Do you remember how, in all those years commanding troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's generals regularly saluted our remarkable progress there and no less regularly insisted that the U.S. military had "turned a corner" in each country? As early as 2004 in Iraq, for instance, Major General Charles Swannack, Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, claimed "that we've turned that corner. I can also tell you that we are on a glide path towards success." In 2010, General McChrystal would similarly claim that the U.S. had "turned the corner" in Helmand Province in the embattled poppy-producing southern heartland of Afghanistan. In 2017, General John Nicholson, then the U.S. commander there, would stare cheerily into the future, saying: "Now, looking ahead to 2018, as [Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani said, he believes we have turned the corner and I agree." And so it went, year after year after year.

As it happened, it was all fantasy. Only when America's generals retired and stepped through that infamous "revolving door" of the military-industrial complex did things change. I think you could say accurately, in fact, that that was the moment when each of them finally "turned a corner" triumphantly. Today, retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore considers a military in which the losses are all on the battlefield and the gains in Congress as well as in that very military-industrial complex which only continues to soar like a missile in a moment when so many other parts of this society are sinking fast. Tom

The U.S. Military Budget as a Mushroom Cloud
Why It's Time to Make Deep Cuts at the Pentagon


Where are you going to get the money? That question haunts congressional proposals to help the poor, the unhoused, and those struggling to pay the mortgage or rent or medical bills, among so many other critical domestic matters. And yet big surprise! there's always plenty of money for the Pentagon. In fiscal year 2022, in fact, Congress is being especially generous with $778 billion in funding, roughly $25 billion more than the Biden administration initially asked for. Even that staggering sum seriously undercounts government funding for America's vast national security state, which, since it gobbles up more than half of federal discretionary spending, is truly this country's primary, if unofficial, fourth branch of government.

Final approval of the latest military budget, formally known as the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, may slip into Januar y as Congress wrangles over various side issues. Unlike so much crucial funding for the direct care of Americans, however, don't for a second imagine it won't pass with supermajorities. (Yes, the government could indeed be shut down one of these days, but not never! the U.S. military.)

Some favorites of mine among "defense" budget side issues now being wrangled over include whether military members should be able to refuse Covid-19 vaccines without being punished, whether young women should be required to register for the selective service system when they turn 18 (even though this country hasn't had a draft in almost half a century and isn't likely to have one in the foreseeable future), or whether the Iraq War AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force), passed by Congress to disastrous effect in 2002, should be repealed after nearly two decades of calamity and futility.

As debates over these and similar issues, predictably partisan, grab headlines, the biggest issue of all eludes serious coverage: Why, despite decades of disastrous wars, do Pentagon budgets continue to grow, year after year, like ever-expanding nuclear mushroom clouds? In other words, as voices are raised and arms waved in Congress about vaccine tyranny or a hypothetical future draft of your 18-year-old daughter, truly critical issues involving your money (hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of taxpayer dollars) go largely uncovered.

What are some of those issues that we should be, but aren't, looking at? I'm so glad you asked!

Seven Questions with "Throw-Weight"

Back in my Air Force days, while working in Cheyenne Mountain (the ultimate bomb shelter of the Cold War era), we talked about nuclear missiles in terms of their "throw-weight." The bigger their throw-weight, the bigger the warhead. In that spirit, I'd like to lob seven throw-weighty questions some with multiple "warheads" in the general direction of the Pentagon budget. It's an exercise worth doing largely because, despite its sheer size, that budget generally seems impervious to serious oversight, no less real questions of any sort.

So, here goes and hold on tight (or, in the nuclear spirit, duck and cover!):

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("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 (more...)

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