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General News    H3'ed 2/11/16

Tomgram: William Astore, Spoiling The Pentagon

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Here's my little joke of the month: How do you spell Pentagon? M-O-R-E.

Whether it's funny or not, it couldn't be more accurate. And that urge for more is fed endlessly by an American military that has increasingly become the only "option" on that mythical "table" in Washington where all options are supposedly kept. Recently, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter previewed the proposed new Pentagon budget for 2017, and one thing is evident: war is in the money. The Obama administration wants to double the funding for the war against the Islamic Stateis $7 billion, money to be ponied up by a Congress that refuses to declare war on the Islamic State.

At the same time, the proposed budget calls for a quadrupling to $3.4 billion of what might be considered next-war funding. Think of it as financing for a prospective future European face-off against Vladimir Putin & Co. Yes, Russia, a rickety energy state facing plunging oil prices and rising discontent, turns out, according to Carter, to be America's latest looming enemy du jour. The defense secretary is planning to use that $3.4 billion to "stockpile heavy weapons, armored vehicles, and other military equipment" across Central and Eastern Europe, station "a full armored combat brigade" (4,000 or more troops) in the region, and "construct or refurbish maintenance facilities, airfields, and training ranges in seven European countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania." (All of them, except half of Germany, were once part of the Soviet bloc.)

Leaving the money aside for a moment, consider how perfectly this latest announcement caps the varying strategies of the Obama administration and the Pentagon over the last half-decade. If you remember, way back in 2011 the Iraq War officially ended and U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan were winding down. At that moment, the Obama administration proclaimed a new global strategy. Washington, which had been bogged down in the Greater Middle East for the previous decade, was going to turn the page and shift its emphasis to the planet's rising power, China. Who doubted, after all, that the U.S. had a military duty to confront, deal with, and contain that country?

This new militarized strategy was called a "pivot to Asia." Of course, Washington had never left Asia. Still, troops and new weaponry were to be moved into the region, a policy the Obama administration initiated with the highly publicized deployment of, or sale of, major weapons systems to places like Singapore and Indonesia and the highly publicized stationing of new U.S. troops (in relatively small numbers) in Australia. All this had barely begun, however, when, from Afghanistan to Iraq, not to speak of Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, things began to go awry. And soon enough, Washington would find itself pivoting back to the Greater Middle East big time (though without stopping its slow build-up in Asia).

Meanwhile, the U.S. military had also begun pivoting to a place where it had been largely absent in the past: Africa. In the last few years, as Nick Turse has reported at this site, it has acquired a network of 60 small bases, outposts, and access points across that continent; American drones are now in African skies and its drone bases there multiplying; and U.S. special operations teams seem to be training proxy forces everywhere on the continent. Although this has been happening largely under the media radar, there can be little question that a "pivot to Africa" is underway.

Which brings us back to that proposed 2017 Pentagon budget. The skyrocketing funding to move new U.S. troops and equipment into the former Soviet areas of Europe and build (or build up) yet more "facilities" there means that, in 2016, we may be witnessing a "pivot to Europe" as well. You could think of it all collectively as the Pentagon's pivot to more or less everywhere, or just spell it out as M-O-R-E and be done with it.

In the spirit of all this, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore accompanies the Pentagon to its yearly medical checkup and returns with a diagnosis. Tom

The U.S. Military Suffers from Affluenza
Showering the Pentagon with Money and Praise
By William J. Astore

The word "affluenza" is much in vogue. Lately, it's been linked to a Texas teenager, Ethan Couch, who in 2013 killed four people in a car accident while driving drunk. During the trial, a defense witness argued that Couch should not be held responsible for his destructive acts. His parents had showered him with so much money and praise that he was completely self-centered; he was, in other words, a victim of affluenza, overwhelmed by a sense of entitlement that rendered him incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. Indeed, the judge at his trial sentenced him only to probation, not jail, despite the deaths of those four innocents.

Experts quickly dismissed "affluenza" as a false diagnosis, a form of quackery, and indeed the condition is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Yet the word caught on big time, perhaps because it speaks to something in the human condition, and it got me to thinking. During Ethan Couch's destructive lifetime, has there been an American institution similarly showered with money and praise that has been responsible for the deaths of innocents and inadequately called to account? Is there one that suffers from the institutional version of affluenza (however fuzzy or imprecise that word may be) so much that it has had immense difficulty shouldering the blame for its failures and wrongdoing?

The answer is hidden in plain sight: the U.S. military. Unlike Couch, however, that military has never faced trial or probation; it hasn't felt the need to abscond to Mexico or been forcibly returned to the homeland to face the music.

Spoiling the Pentagon

First, a caveat. When I talk about spoiling the Pentagon, I'm not talking about your brother or daughter or best friend who serves honorably. Anyone who's braving enemy fire while humping mountains in Afghanistan or choking on sand in Iraq is not spoiled.

I'm talking about the U.S. military as an institution. Think of the Pentagon and the top brass; think of Dwight Eisenhower's military-industrial complex; think of the national security state with all its tentacles of power. Focus on those and maybe you'll come to agree with my affluenza diagnosis.

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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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