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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 3/30/20

Trillions for war, nothing for beds, masks, tests and ventilators: We Have Met the Enemy and It's a Tiny Virus

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USS Theodore Roosevelt - BigStick.
USS Theodore Roosevelt - BigStick.
(Image by (From Wikimedia) U.S. Navy photo by Photograher's Mate 2nd Class (AW) Robert R. McRill . / Official U.S. Navy photograph no. 990915-N-5526M-001 (no more available on the official Navy website). Still available on , Author: See Source)
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By Dave Lindorff

Over the course of just a couple of days last week, the backbone of the US Navy's Pacific fleet was just shut down for the next month. The enemy that managed to cause this sudden surprise unilateral stand-down of the mighty US Navy's Pacific Fleet was not Russian or Chinese cyber hackers or a sneak attack by some foreign enemy. Rather, it was just a tiny virus, COVID-19, that infected one crew member on each of two $13-billion Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carriers.

The USS Reagan and its carrier group of support vessels is now holed up in Japan with at least two infected crew members on board so far and others being quarantined. Meanwhile, the USS Roosevelt, which had been steaming from the its homeport in San Diego armed to the teeth with attack aircraft, bombs other weapons, towards a mission to confront China in the South China Sea, has been urgently rerouted to Guam with an onboard epidemic that has already spread to a total of 36 sailors among it's "Big Stick" crew.

This effective take-down of the US Pacific Fleet's only two carrier groups by some microscopic specks of inanimate RNA protoplasm, offers a perfect metaphor for the absurdity of the decades-long US misallocation of trillions of dollars to the military in the name of national security.

Clearly, the fact that the Navy, deprived of required air cover for its Pacific Fleet vessels for the next month, is in no position to engage in significant military action in the Pacific, doesn't put the US in any jeopardy -- only the crews of its two carrier groups, who are at risk coronavirus infection.

Meanwhile, though, the global pandemic caused by that same virus has infected more than three-quarters of a million people around the globe and over 165,000 here in the US, which has replaced China as the epicenter of the pandemic. The US economy has already been brought to a screeching halt because of a lockdown of the population in most states and urban centers, while hospitals are being overrun with coronavirus patients and their doctors and nurses in desperate need of scarce ventilators, masks, test kits or just empty hospital beds.

Amidst this unprecedented crisis, the Pentagon, Energy Department and other military agencies, are seemingly running on autopilot, continuing to spend over a trillion dollars a year (including $13 billion on yet another new carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, scheduled to be finished and ready for testing later this year), much of it on weapons intended for imagined wars against major powers like Russia and China, or intended for future interventions in countries around the world most Americans cannot even find on a map.

All this spending on arms is happening as it becomes increasingly clear that the biggest threat to the security of the American people is not foreign militaries or terrorist groups, but rather a tiny virus that is completely immune to all the weapons, explosives, cyber defenses, massive surveillance programs, and troops armed to the teeth that the Pentagon can muster.

There is no evidence that either China or Russia, much less any other nation in the world, is remotely likely to attack the US or pose any existential threat to this country. Yet financial documents from the Pentagon's Controller and the Congressional Budget Office show that the US military, which is midway through spending some $300 billion allocated this year just on weapons acquisition and "modernizing" and upgrading the US nuclear arsenal, plans to spend close to $320 billion more this coming fiscal year. Most of the weapons being acquired with all this taxpayer money, like the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber designed to deliver two nuclear bombs in a first-strike on nations with advanced radar (i.e. Russia or China), highly accurate submarine-launched, multi-warhead Trident missiles designed for a first-strike on hardened land-based nuclear missile silos, large numbers of new Navy vessels as part of a planned doubling of the total fleet, new intercontinental hypersonic missiles, President Trump's new Space Force and new smaller "useable" nuclear bomb, frankly have no immediate or probable future use.

Imagine what simply halting those expenditures could do, even if just for the rest of this year and for the coming fiscal year, were the allocated funds to be shifted to domestic use, as the US faces an unprecedented health and economic crisis brought on by this all-too-real attack by COVID-19.

Tens of thousands of respirators, currently produced primarily in China (there is only minimal production capacity in the US), could be purchased and airlifted immediately to the US to address the critical shortage of such life-saving equipment in hospitals across the country. Emergency hospitals, like the one New York State has been creating inside the Javits Convention Center in midtown Manhattan, could be established in similar spaces in cities everywhere as needed. Healthcare coverage could be provided by expanding Medicare or Medicaid to the tens of millions of American workers and their families who are losing their employer-sponsored health insurance along with their jobs because of the lockdowns designed to prevent spread of this virus.

Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, tells ThisCantBeHappening! he agrees that Congress should reduce funding of the Pentagon and other military agencies like the Energy Department for costly major weapons systems and wars of choice and should shift that money to where it's needed, which would be combating the current pandemic and redesigning the US healthcare and social system of the US to be better able to confront future crises like this one.

"The United States military is preparing itself for war as we understood in the 1950s, which was war as it was in the 1940s with the addition of nuclear weaons," this historian, West Point graduate and retired US Army colonel says. "Since then, we have experienced a lot of wars. A couple resembled the Pentagon's preferred model of war, and here I'm thinking of Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91 and the early stages of the Iraq War in 2003. But the majority of those wars have not conformed to that model. Nonetheless the Pentagon clings to that model of war and to a conception of national security that in no way conforms with actual national security challenges or with protecting the safety of the American people."

He adds, "The ongoing pandemic unquestionably drives that point home."

Bacevich is right. The military, with its longstanding virtually unchallenged first claim in Congress on US government revenues, is irrelevant to the issues that challenge Americans' security. We could start to rectify that by at least for the next 12 moths taking away the money from the Pentagon's projects, and using it to instead support the civilian heroes who are struggling to combat this tiny but deadly virus, at least for this year. The money could be used as well to extend Medicaid coverage in full to all those unable to pay for tests, doctors and hospital care, either because the can't affort medical insurance, have been dropped by their employers' plans after they were laid off by the pandemic, or have such crummy Obamacare plans that they end up having to pay all the costs of care out of their deductibles. When the pandemic is over maybe the public and the Congress will start seriously considering, in light of this experience, conducting a serious re-evaluation of US spending priorities when it comes to the military budget.

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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)
 

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