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Tomgram: William Hartung, Investing in the Military (and Little Else)

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: As you may have noticed, in the era of Donald Trump and "alternative facts," a wave of old dystopian novels headed by George Orwell's 1984 has hit the bestseller list. It's a striking phenomenon. At Dispatch Books, our own publishing line, we sensed that this might be coming and recently put out TomDispatch regular John Feffer's stunning dystopian novel, Splinterlands. Unlike the older ones, from Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World , it reads as if you had stumbled upon the work of a journalist on a shattered planet in the very near future. If you're in a dystopian mood, get yourself a copy as soon as possible (and lend us a little helping hand at the same time). Alternatively, if you go to the TomDispatch donation page and contribute $100 ($125 if you live outside the USA), Feffer will send you a signed, personalized copy of the book. Either way, it's the perfect reading for our dystopian moment. Tom]

Last Friday, Donald Trump made his first visit to the Pentagon where he spoke of signing an order to begin "a great rebuilding of the armed services of the United States," something he's been advocating for quite a while. As TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung indicates today, this will mean a massive surge in federal dollars pouring into the abyss of the Pentagon, which has shown itself quite capable of absorbing such moneys in the past and seems to lack the slightest ability to account for what's done with them. (The Pentagon has never even managed to pass an audit.) We already know that this will mean more troops, more ships, more planes, and as a draft executive order for the new president put it, "a desire to invest in a host of military capabilities, including Special Operations forces and nuclear weapons."

These are two areas in which "build up" is already the operative phrase. At approximately 70,000 personnel, the elite Special Operations forces are now an enormous, secretive military -- larger than the armies of some sizable countries -- cocooned inside the regular armed forces. Special ops types are now dispatched annually to about 70% of the nations on the planet. As for those nuclear forces, under President Obama who won a Nobel Peace Prize in part for his abolitionist sentiments, they were already launched on a trillion dollar, three-decade "modernization" program, involving the creation of new delivery systems and "smart nukes" as well. If each of these forces is now to be expanded even more rapidly and expensively, that's a genuine upping of the military ante on the planet.

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As former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who, with President Ronald Reagan, came remarkably close to negotiating nuclear weapons out of existence, pointed out recently in Time magazine, "it looks as if the world is preparing for war... Today,... the nuclear threat once again seems real. Relations between the great powers have been going from bad to worse for several years now. The advocates for arms build-up and the military-industrial complex are rubbing their hands."

Indeed, at the dawn of the Trump era, it's worth remembering that, despite the obvious power of the United States, this is no longer a one-way planet. Take the new "nationalism" of the president (and his close adviser Steve Bannon). As the guiding principle of American foreign policy, nationalism will prove a distinctly two-way street, as is already the case in Mexico where Trump's wall, his immigration policies, and his tax threats against Mexican products may only stoke Mexican nationalism, uniting an otherwise riven country in a fierce spirit of anti-Americanism.

And don't expect a staggering American military build-up to be a one-way phenomenon either, especially on the nuclear front. Before he's done, Donald Trump, who has a yearning for the 1950s, could well put the planet on the kind of military footing that hasn't been seen since at least the height of the Cold War. He could well spark a potentially out of control three-way arms race that would include China and Russia, while heightening increasingly pugnacious nationalist feelings across the planet. Worse yet, as Hartung points out today, if your money is going to head massively into the military (while civilian spending is slashed), when problems or crises arrive, as they will on such a planet, it's obvious where you're most likely to turn. At this point, only two weeks into his presidency, the Earth looks like a distinctly more dangerous place. No wonder the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has just moved its Doomsday Clock 30 seconds "closer to catastrophe" at 2 minutes to midnight. Tom

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What Happens When All We Have Left Is The Pentagon?
Trump's Vision of a Militarized America
By William D. Hartung

At over $600 billion a year and counting, the Pentagon already receives significantly more than its fair share of federal funds. If President Donald Trump has his way, though, that will prove a sum for pikers and misers. He and his team are now promising that spending on defense and homeland security will increase dramatically in the years to come, even as domestic programs are slashed and entire civilian agencies shuttered.

The new administration is reportedly considering a plan -- modeled on proposals from the military-industrial-complex-backed Heritage Foundation -- that would cut a staggering $10.5 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. The Departments of Energy, Commerce, Transportation, and State might see their budgets slashed to the bone; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized; and (though the money involved would amount to chicken feed) the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities would be eliminated altogether. In the meantime, the ranks of the Army and Marines would be expanded, a huge naval buildup would be launched, and a new Star Wars-style missile defense system would be developed -- all at a combined cost of up to $1 trillion beyond the already munificent current Pentagon plans for that same decade.

The specifics won't be known until Trump's first budget becomes public in perhaps April or May, but as we wait for it, Republican Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain has just taken the unusual step of releasing his own spending blueprint for the military. It suggests that a key senator and the president and his team are on the same page when it comes to military funding. At an extra $430 billion over the next five years, the numbers in McCain's plan are similar to the potential Trump buildup.

One thing is already clear: this drastic tilt toward yet more Pentagon spending and away from investment in diplomacy abroad and civilian needs at home will only further militarize American society, accelerate inequality, and distort the country's already highly questionable foreign policy. After all, if your military is the only well-funded, well-stocked arm of the government, it's obvious whom you're going to turn to in any crisis.

This process was already visibly underway even before Donald Trump took the oath of office. His gut decision to entrust national security policymaking only to military figures was particularly troubling. From National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to Secretary of Defense James Mattis to head of the Department of Homeland Security John Kelly, retired generals and other ex-military types now abound in his administration. Defense analyst and former White House budget official Gordon Adams summed up the risks of this approach recently in this way:

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"Putting military officers in charge of the entire architecture of national security reinforces the trend toward militarizing policy and risks cementing in place 'the military-industrial complex' that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of. To borrow the psychologist Abraham H. Maslow's words, if all the men around President Trump are hammers, the temptation will be 'to treat everything as if it were a nail.'"

How the Military Came to Dominate Foreign Policy

President Trump won't, of course, be starting from scratch in his urge to further elevate the military in foreign and domestic affairs. He's building on a process that's already well under way. In the Obama years, for instance, there were a record number of drone strikes, especially outside official U.S. war zones -- 10 times the number launched by the Bush administration. Similarly, the Obama administration paved the way for various Trumpian urges by waging wars on multiple fronts and instituting a historic crackdown on whistleblowers in the military and the intelligence communities. It also approved record levels of U.S. arms sales abroad, $278 billion worth of them, or more than double those of the Bush years. (In Trumpian terms: jobs!)

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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 (more...)
 

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