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Tomgram: William Hartung, Trump for the Defense

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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 we enter the grim Age of Trump, a lot of good places will undoubtedly be looking for help. This website is one of them. In that light, I just wanted to remind you that, in return for a donation of $100 or more ($125 if you live outside the United States), you can go to the TomDispatch donation page and find quite an impressive range of books, including ones by Nick Turse and myself. Whichever one you decide on, the author will send you a signed, personalized copy of it. We can always use the help, of course, and I guarantee you that you won't regret the reading!

The next TD piece will be posted on Sunday, November 27th. Tom]

It couldn't be stranger when you think about it (which few here care to do). In the latter part of the twentieth century and the first years of this one, Washington did what no power in history had ever done. It garrisoned the globe with a staggering number of military bases in a remarkably blanket fashion (China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and a few similar places aside). In these years, it just built and built and built. At one point, there were something like 1,000 installations in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, from bases large enough to be small American towns to tiny combat outposts. In 2015, there were at least 800 significant U.S. bases in foreign countries (and more small camps and places where U.S. military equipment was pre-positioned for future use). No great power, not even Britain at its imperial height, had ever had such a global military "footprint," such an "empire of bases," and yet in this country it was as if no one noticed, as if it were of no importance at all. The media rarely even acknowledged the existence of such bases. They were never considered news. They played no part in American politics. They went largely unmentioned in "the homeland," despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of American military personnel, their families, private contractors, and others cycled through them annually.

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Particularly in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, those bases reflected a growing belief in Washington that it might indeed be possible for a single nation, the planet's "sole superpower," to militarily dominate the planet, lock, stock, and barrel. As a result, investment in the U.S. military proceeded apace and the urge for it to be everywhere only spread. At one point in recent years, the Pentagon's budget was larger than those of the next 10 countries combined, including a number of allies; and as Nick Turse has reported, by 2015, the Pentagon had created a vast secret military, its Special Operations forces, which played a role in 147 countries, a figure for the record books. Meanwhile, new drone bases (on which we have no count) were being built in significant numbers to ensure that a Hellfire missile could be delivered to anyplace in the Greater Middle East, much of the rest of Eurasia, or northern Africa on more or less a moment's notice. Nor did Washington's efforts stop there. In these last years, the U.S. has conducted bombing campaigns and other kinds of military activities in no less than seven countries.

And yet here's what's notable: unlike other imperial powers with such garrisons in their heyday -- the Romans, the French, the British, the Soviets -- the U.S. managed to dominate next to nothing, to impose its will on no place militarily. Instead, in the post-9/11 era, under military pressure from Washington, country after country, area after area passed into a state of chaos, not order, and it seemed to make no difference what form that pressure took.

Neither this tale of failure nor the costs of such militaristic fantasies to the American taxpayer have yet been fully grasped here. As we enter the new era of Donald Trump, amid a welter of conflicting signals, only one thing seems clear when it comes to the U.S. military. Whatever extreme figures end up in key posts in the Trump version of the national security state, as TomDispatch regular William Hartung indicates today, yet more money will be sent swirling down the Pentagon's drain. It's like going into hock to finance your own imperial decline. Tom

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A Pentagon Rising
Is a Trump Presidency Good News for the Military-Industrial Complex?
By William D. Hartung

As with so much of what Donald Trump has said in recent months, his positions on Pentagon spending are, to be polite, a bundle of contradictions. Early signs suggest, however, that those contradictions are likely to resolve themselves in favor of the usual suspects: the arms industry and its various supporters and hangers-on in the government, as well as Washington's labyrinthine world of think-tank policymakers and lobbyists. Of course, to quote a voice of sanity at this strange moment: it ain't over till it's over. Eager as The Donald may be to pump vast sums into a Pentagon already spending your tax dollars at a near-record pace, there will be significant real-world obstacles to any such plans.

Let's start with a baseline look at the Pentagon's finances at this moment. At $600 billion-plus per year, the government is already spending more money on the Pentagon than it did at the peak of the massive military buildup President Ronald Reagan initiated in the 1980s. In fact, despite what you might imagine, the Obama administration has pumped more tax dollars into the military in its two terms than did George W. Bush. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the U.S. currently spends four times what China does and 10 times what the Russians sink into their military.

So pay no attention to those cries of poverty emanating from the Pentagon. There's already plenty of money available for "defense." Instead, the problems lie in Washington's overly ambitious, thoroughly counterproductive global military strategy and in the Pentagon's penchant for squandering tax dollars as if they were in endless supply. Supposedly, the job of the president and Congress is to rein in that department's notoriously voracious appetite. Instead, they regularly end up as a team of enablers for its obvious spending addiction.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump. He's on the record against regime-change-style wars like Bush's intervention in Iraq and Obama's in Libya. He also wants our allies to pay more for their own defense. And he swears that, once in office, he'll eliminate waste and drive down the costs of weapons systems. Taken at face value, such a set of policies would certainly set the stage for reductions in Pentagon spending, not massive increases. But those are just the views of one Donald Trump.

Don't forget the other one, the presidential candidate who termed our military a "disaster" and insisted that huge spending increases were needed to bring it back up to par. A window into this Trump's thinking can be found in a speech he gave in Philadelphia in early September. Drawing heavily on a military spending blueprint created by Washington's right-wing Heritage Foundation, Trump called for tens of thousands of additional troops, a Navy of 350 ships (the current goal is 308), a significantly larger Air Force, an anti-missile, space-based Star Wars-style program of Reaganesque proportions, and an acceleration of the Pentagon's $1 trillion "modernization" program for the nuclear arsenal (now considered a three-decade-long project).

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Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that, if Trump faithfully follows the Heritage Foundation's proposal, he could add more than $900 billion to the Pentagon's budget over the next decade. Trump asserts that he would counterbalance this spending splurge with corresponding cuts in government waste but has as yet offered no credible plan for doing so (because, of course, there isn't one).

You won't be surprised to learn, then, that the defense industry, always sensitive to the vibes of presidential candidates, has been popping the champagne corks in the wake of Trump's victory. The prospects are clear: a new Pentagon spending binge is on the horizon.

Veteran defense analyst David Isenberg has convincingly argued that the "military-industrial-congressional-complex," not the white working class, will be the real winner of the 2016 presidential election. The Forbes headline for a column Loren Thompson, an industry consultant (whose think tank is heavily funded by weapons contractors), recently wrote says it all: "For the Defense Industry, Trump's Win Means Happy Days are Here Again." The stocks of industry giants Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman rose sharply upon news of his election and the biggest winner of all may be Huntington Ingalls, a Virginia-based manufacturer of aircraft carriers and nuclear attack submarines that would be a primary beneficiary of Trump's proposed naval buildup.

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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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