Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mercenaries or why does the US spend 3 times more on war today than during the Cold War?


He is, as of this time, transporting large groups of foreign mercenaries to complete the work of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun - Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

                      …as they sink

Downward to darkness on extended wings -  Wallace Stevens, “Sunday Morning”

          This post, linked to several previous ones see here and here, will offer a new and broader perspective on the 4 and perhaps 5 wars which the US is actively fighting (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; I leave aside Palestine where it arms Israel and Iran where despite "covert" operations, Obama is so far avoiding the neocon push to bomb Natanz) and how to think about this morally speaking.  Here, I focus on 3 startling statistics, one of which I have given before.  First, the US now spends in official terms $630 billion dollars on war, 2 1/2  times more than it did than at the end of the Cold War (according to Reuters today, Obama's new war budget is $708 billion).  If one adds in extra money for Afghanistan and Iraq and an estimate at the shadowy intelligence budget, the figure would grow to perhaps $1 trillion a year, 4 times the amount the US spent on fighting the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.  

       The second figure is that for a majority mercenary army in Afghanistan: there, Obama is employing 70% contractors and 30% soldiers.  This is new. See here.   In Iraq, it was “only” 1 to 1.

      I have recently been puzzling over why the expense should now be so much more than during the Cold War.  After all, the USSR was a nuclear armed power, and the expenditure on weapons, as Chalmers Johnson argued in Blowback, broke it, as Johnson also imagined such expenditure might soon break the United States of America. Consider the economic collapse, the astonishing war budget and Obama’s State of the Union promise to freeze decent spending but not the Pentagon.  The Reuters article below reveals that the weapons expenditure figure is $112 billion, less than one-sixth of today's war budget.   Johnson also tells the story, worth taking in, of the 800 military bases, "the empire of bases" (chapter 6 of Sorrows of Empire) whereas other powers have almost none (France has 5 in former "French" Africa). 

      But Johnson is partly wrong as to the cause of the escalated expenditure.  The two sister-in-laws of my older son have both married military men.  One is a mechanic, the other a soldier.  He has re-upped because of a sizable bonus and because his wife can live decently on a military base to a raise a new baby.  What other job possibilities did these young men have (ones, for example. where their lives might not be at risk?).  Paul Krugman suggested a few years ago in the Times that the American economy consisted of making weapons and swapping houses.  We no longer swap houses. We might, as Obama again emphasized in the State of the Union, move toward green jobs, but as Krugman and others have rightly noted, Obama has squandered the political enthusiasm that would have projected this much more strongly through an adequate stimulus bill.  Obama initially could have spent enough money to both launch this project, vital to a flourishing U.S. economy, more effectively and drive unemployment down to an official 7 or 8 per cent. 

         The “volunteer” military costs more than the conscripted army, which the United States abandoned after Vietnam.  The government gave up the draft corruptly because citizens, particularly those who might be forced to go, protested so strongly against unjust wars.  The injustice of Vietnam and the lying pales beside the aggression – the sheer criminality and torture – in Iraq.  See Glenn Greenwald’s comparison of the US and British accountability here.* But buying an army – creating a mercenary army – makes it easier to commit war crimes with public distaste (no one likes the war) but without as much militant protest.  A qualification; including in the United States, the biggest movement against a War before it started took place against the criminal enterprise in Iraq.  The sentiments from that movement helped elected an anti-Iraq War candidate, Barack Obama (it was the defining difference with Hilary Clinton).  Those who talk about how the draft simply motivated protest and there isn’t so much now on campus, miss this fundamental and striking point.  Nonetheless, the large anti-war movement sadly lacked the militancy that the anti-Vietnam war movement eventually developed, perhaps because personal survival was not on the line.  Mass nonviolent protest could very likely have stopped the war (the UN turned it down; the American-British aggression nakedly lacked international legitimacy).

         But the elite has come up with a new wrinkle: the privatization or mercenarization of war.  Why pay ordinary soldiers when the government could get all kinds of mercenaries, paying them ten times as much?  These cadillac mercenaries could be immune from war crimes.   They were thus useful along with the CIA in executing torture (the shadowy Steve Stefanowicz of CACI who was not indicted at Abu Ghraib while Lynndie England and Charles Graner took the fall).  Or shooting civilians in Nissour Square (Blackwater/Xe ops are much more likely routinely to use lethal force against civilians than ordinary soldiers).  And Xe turns out to be the bodyguards of Hamid Karzai or American officials in their palatial “embassies” in Kabul and Baghdad.  Xe-ops are right there among the CIA being blown up in Afghanistan.  The US government, has been increasingly eaten by Blackwater and its Christian crusader chief executive, Eric Prince.  Not the government but private companies decide who will do what, and for what there will be penalties (Prince is being charged in court by two Blackwater employees for killing one of their fellows, but the case is likely   – Prince knows too much about American operations – beyond the reach of law).

       Mercenarization drives the multiple inflation of the military budget beyond Cold War levels.  Not weapons, but as Jefferson said of King George once upon a time, mercenaries. But not old style mercenaries, not an adjunct to a regular, even a mercenary army, but a massive modern military budget for cadillac mercenaries, the main force as in Afghanistan, mercenarization on steroids.  If you have seen the company soldiers in the movie Avatar, this fantasy has become an apt symbol for these American imperial wars.   And this horror is kept secret from the public even by Obama, a decent man and an anti-Iraq War Democrat.  If you want to see what America has become – even beyond a state where aggression and torture are the way of the elite and at minimum, even though Obama has (largely) halted torture, no one will be punished, take a look at this eating of the government – now made bipartisan - from within. Obama has done some things to improve American policy – he no longer refers to an irrational “War on Terror,” he tries to address other powers in a civilized way and promote negotiation (accompanied with belligerence).  And yet he extends mercenarization. 

       Except for mass civil disobedience, there seems little way to change this.  My friend Gary Hart this week gave a wonderful talk at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies about thinking in new ways about the security of ordinary Americans in the 21st century.  He had been the leader of the Hart-Rudman commission and fought, unsuccessfully, to get word of the likelihood of 9/11 into the Bush administration as late as September the 6th, 2001, in a meeting with Condi Rice. He is an admirable thinker about these issues.  He makes the point that most politicians and "experts" in the war complex say the same things over and over, are not interested in fresh ideas.   I asked him what we could do about this soaring war budget, this feeding of Blackwater/XE, as destestable as AIG and far less necessary except for the histrionics of fear.  He couldn’t think of anything either.  Practical suggestions from readers are more than welcome.

      As Clinton outdid the Bushes on corrupt trade arrangements – the World Trade Organization which listens only to commercial representatives and overturns national, that is, democratically voted, laws for human rights, environmental protection and the like- so Obama outdoes W., sadly, on the privatization of war (see Michelle Sforza, Whose Trade Organization?). Companies who will do basic public services for the money’s sake alone are now eating government – once again, a common good - from within.    The ratio of mercenaries to soldiers was about 1 to 1 in Bush’s Iraq.  So in Iraq there have been about 260,000 American forces; agents immune from prosecution for war crimes, embody a whole independent direction from seeming or public American policy (they obey Pentagon orders if to their Corporation is forthcoming).  In Afghanistan with Obama’s “surge,” there will be about 220,000 troops.   The need to keep what is really going on in both cases from the American people – the failure to announce publically the real figure the US government is paying for, to include contractors in the public accounting - is a startling sign of public corruption (in ancient Greek terms, corruption means tyrannical service to a particular interest rather than sustaining a common good – see here).  Both Bush and Obama are, in fact, ashamed of this (and should be): hence the silence.  

    The third figure is about unemployment among poor black teenagers.  It used to be around 40%.  But a depression has a way of asserting itself in the poorest working class communities.  According to the New York Times’s editorial December 22, 2009, 

    “According to the analysis, the joblessness rate for teenagers generally is the highest ever since the country began keeping statistics just after World War II. Things are especially bleak for low-income black students: only 4 in 100 found work this fall.”

4 poor black teenagers in 100 - 96% do not find work.  Of course, this is a sharp incentive, as  Daniel P. Moynihan and Robert McNamara used to say, for driving them to become soldiers in an Imperial army.  

       There is also a huge racial divide between the troops who aren’t well paid  and subject to stop-loss (also among Chicanos and rural whites) and highly paid mercenaries led by Eric Prince.  The mercenaries are immune for war crimes and stop-loss.  On a plane ride to visit my daughter in Seattle, I sat next to Valerie, a wonderful young black soldier and former philosophy student at the University of New Orleans,  Valerie who asked me about the post I was writing on Hilary Putnam’s account of how one should morally and politically assess war.  She had studied the idea of just war more intensely than those less concerned.  She spoke to me about how most soldiers hated Bush and think the US army murdered the American hero Pat Tillman (see here). 

      Ordinary soldiers are not under the influence of “big money,” but are demoralized by the treatment of Cadillac mercenaries.   Yet Obama is now trying to surround them with or deluge them in such mercenaries.  This is a divided and I suspect increasingly unstable “army,” sent far from home to occupy and dominate hostile, nonwhite peoples or to kill through the blind use of drones (we don’t know who we firing at and General Stanley McChrystal’s warnings notwithstanding, do not exercise much care). Once again, this is military service for sale, the transfiguring role of Cadillac mercenaries…

        I find all of this, particularly in the Obama era which seemed initially hopeful, frightening.  Though starting or escalating two new wars in Pakistan and Yemen, Obama’s words (having dropped the war on terror and the scary rhetoric about Iran and Palestine – I follow Obama here in referring to the occupied territories) still holds out some hope.  But these are three dimensions of a novelly decadent Imperial era whose trajectory for ordinary Americans and others (all of us) is startlingly downward.

      In addition, in Democratic Individuality and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy, I  have referred to American regime as an oligarchy with parliamentary forms.  In the latter,  I also used a longer phrase drawn from Hans Monganthau’s addition of an academic-political complex to President Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex and added media to it (today one might also speak of think tank experts rather than academics most of whom opposed the Iraq war).  As a short hand for military-industrial-think tank "expert"-political-media complex, I call this the war complex.  But given these thoughts about the miliary budget, one might speak especially now of a mercenary war complex.  Like a slow powerful parasite, the private has eaten the governmental and only the colorful but corpselike outer sheath remains.  I am not sure any of us - certainly not me – have understood the full impact of what is happening. But perhaps it may help to give it a true name.

       On the latest American aggression in Yemen, Joe Lieberman, who is the voice of the war complex as of the medical anti-"insurance" companies (they drop the insured when they are sick), proclaimed “preemption in Yemen.”  As Patrick Cockburn who has actually been to Yemen  (Lieberman has done some flybys to Iraq with McCain), reports strikingly in the Guardian, the US, invading country after country, blowing up 50 women and children at a Yemeni wedding party for instance, makes ever new enemies for Americans.  This would not be offset even by the benefit of killing bin Laden (getting the leader of Al-Qaida would be a great political triumph in the United States for Obama, but the rest of the policy would exacerbate the specter which Bin Laden incarnates).  That Obama, an intelligent and decent man, continues this mindless and counterproductive activity of aggression – we shoot off drones because we can, if Yemeni women and children are killed, what does the big bad CIA care? – is a sign of the self-undermining power of the war complex.  This is hubris, driven by money.   Obama does it because he always wanted to be President (he could have been a great president unlike most who have come to the office, but under constant attack from Republican authoritarians and pressure from the war complex and other corporations, he has mainly settled for being President…).    

        As Cockburn suggests,

       It is extraordinary to see the US begin to make the same mistakes in Yemen as it previously made in Afghanistan and Iraq. What it is doing is much to al-Qa'ida's advantage. The real strength of al-Qa'ida is not that it can ‘train’ a fanatical Nigerian student to sew explosives into his underpants, but that it can provoke an exaggerated US response to every botched attack. Al-Qa'ida leaders openly admitted at the time of 9/11 that the aim of such operations is to provoke the US into direct military intervention in Muslim countries."

          “In Yemen the US is walking into the al-Qa'ida trap. Once there it will face the same dilemma it faces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It became impossible to exit these conflicts because the loss of face would be too great. Just as Washington saved banks and insurance giants from bankruptcy in 2008 because they were ‘too big to fail,’ so these wars become too important to lose because to do so would damage the US claim to be the sole superpower.”

         “In Iraq the US is getting out more easily than seemed likely at one stage because Washington has persuaded Americans that they won a non-existent success. The ultimate US exit from Afghanistan may eventually be along very similar lines. But the danger of claiming spurious victories is that such distortions of history make it impossible for the US to learn from past mistakes and instead it repeats them by fresh interventions in countries like Yemen.”

       Cockburn is mistaken here.  The sands are already running through the hour glass on our five wars and economic collapse.  Each new atrocity against civilians by drones or Blackwater/Xe breeds new enemies and makes the policy more and more counterproductive over time. Cockburn also shows how our or our subordinates’s policies of punishing the decency of ordinary Arabs – most of them won’t be bought to serve our corrupt purposes – have led to poverty and anger among Yemenis:

       “One of the reasons the country is so miserably poor, with almost half its 22 million people trying to live on $2 a day, is that in 1990 Yemen refused to join the war against Iraq and Saudi Arabia consequently expelled 850,000 Yemeni workers.”    

         If you want to know what other people think of us, consider those occupying armies and 3 new aggressions (we have probably continued “covert action” in Iran so perhaps 4 more) fueled with murders of civilians by drones.  Even though Obama has cut out torture, it is hard to believe that rampant use of drones, justified in America by constantly mentioning Al-Qaida but largely slaughtering civilians as everyone else sees, will help very long.  The use of drones because CIA can, comparable to the CIA torture program which Ali Soufan and the FBI warned repeatedly against – see What the torturer knew here – is, on the face of it, a moral and foreign policy disaster.  For every “terrorist” we occasionally kill, we make myriad new enemies, very likely, generations of enemies, those who will grow up to hate us,  through the killing of innocents.  The privatized war complex does not slow down   I should note: it is better to speak of these wars as colonial or Imperial, recalling Lenin, rather than the term of art neocolonial.  Yes, the U.S. wants to dominate without hanging on directly – in the form of aid and weapons sales to national armies, what Nixon once called “Vietnamization,” so one might today speak of “Iraqization,” “Afghanization.” “Yemenization,” “Pakistanization.” But the presence of permanent American military bases as in Iraq (despite equivocation in the State of the Union, Obama plans to leave some 50,000 "non-combat" troops in Iraq just in case.  "Globalization" is the American elite's desire – but in the Bush-Cheney and Obama periods, our leaders have been suckered by Bin Laden.  The aggressions, occupations and surges pursued by Republicans and Democrats are bringing America down more swiftly than anyone could have imagined at the end of the Clinton period in 2000.  Obama's untouchable mercenary budget – 3 times the war budget during the Cold War – while he conjures the sufferings of the ordinary people who need jobs, the middle classes that are vanishing into the poor, the older people whose illness makes them bankrupt is the sign, even with the most decent President we are likely to see, of these priorities.  Even Obama who is a dangerous leader for America from Bin Laden’s standpoint in that he has set out to diminish tensions, to treat Arabs decently, to try to negotiate solutions, and who does not have a swelled head, has been forced by the mercenary war complex and the right-wing two step in American politics, to stumble blindly downward… 


Published on Wednesday, December 23, 2009 by Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF)

Obama and the Permanent War Budget

by William Hartung

It's been a good decade for the Pentagon. The most recent numbers from Capitol Hill indicate that Pentagon spending (counting Iraq and Afghanistan) will reach over $630 billion in 2010. And that doesn't even include the billions set aside for building new military facilities and sustaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

But even without counting the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense budget has been moving relentlessly upward since 2001. Pentagon budget authority has jumped from $296 billion in 2001 to $513 billion in 2009, a 73% increase. And again, that's not even counting the over $1 trillion in taxpayer money that has been thrown at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if those wars had never happened, the Pentagon would still be racking up huge increases year after year after year.

And perhaps most disturbing of all, the Pentagon budget increased for every year of the first decade of the 21st century, an unprecedented run that didn't even happen in the World War II era, much less during Korea or Vietnam. And if the government's current plans are carried out, there will be yearly increases in military spending for at least another decade.

We have a permanent war budget, and most of it isn't even being used to fight wars - it's mostly a giveaway to the Pentagon and its favorite contractors.

What Can Be Done?

For starters, the Pentagon needs to cut unnecessary weapons systems that were designed to meet Cold War threats that no longer exist. A good place to look for these kinds of cuts is in the Unified Security Budget, an analysis provided annually by a taskforce organized by Foreign Policy In Focus. Its most recent recommendations call for over $55 billion in cuts in everything from unneeded combat aircraft to anti-missile programs to nuclear weapons spending.

To their credit, President Obama and his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have sought to eliminate eight such programs, from the F-22 combat aircraft to the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (a leftover from the old "Star Wars" program). An analysis recently produced by Taxpayers for Common Sense indicated that six of the eight proposed program cuts stuck. This is an impressive record, given the need to fight the weapons contractors and their pork-barreling allies in Congress to get the job done. But as the analysis also notes, additional spending on other programs added up to $1 billion more than the amount saved by the cuts.

This shouldn't be surprising. As a candidate for president, Obama told a rally in Iowa that it might be necessary to "bump up" the military budget beyond the record levels established by the Bush administration. And in announcing the administration's proposed weapons cuts in spring 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made it clear that he was seeking to rearrange priorities within the Pentagon, not reduce its budget. Gates sought more funding for equipment that would support counterinsurgency operations - like unmanned aerial vehicles - and less for systems designed to fight a Soviet threat that no longer exists - like the F-22 combat aircraft. And he got pretty much what he asked for.

Reducing U.S. Reach

Another area for savings would be to cut the size of the armed forces. But Obama campaigned on a promise to carry out a troop increase of 92,000, mirroring proposals made by the Bush administration. And his commitment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan might set the stage for even larger increases in the total U.S. forces at some point down the road.

Finally, any real savings in U.S. military spending would need to be accompanied by a reduction in U.S. "global reach" - in the hundreds of major military facilities it controls in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. But - in parallel to the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan- U.S. overseas-basing arrangements have been on the rise, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan themselves but in bordering nations.

So, barring major public pressure, don't expect the overall Pentagon budget to go down anytime soon. We can certainly still achieve some real reforms, from the elimination of outmoded systems like the F-22, to cracking down on war profiteering, to supporting the Obama administration's indispensable efforts to cut back the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. At least for now, though, making the Pentagon do with less when most communities in the country are suffering from the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression is not in the cards. Not unless large numbers of us make it an issue.

© 2009 Foreign Policy in Focus

William Hartung is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation

'Peace Prize' President Submits Largest War Budget Ever

Obama Seeks Record $708 Billion in Defense Budget

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Monday asked Congress to approve a record $708 billion in defense spending for fiscal year 2011, including a 3.4 percent increase in the Pentagon's base budget and $159 billion to fund U.S. military missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The White House budget request also included $33 billion in additional funding for fiscal 2010 to pay for increasing military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq. That comes on top of $129.6 billion already provided for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30.

The Pentagon's base budget request of $549 billion is up $18 billion from $531 billion in fiscal 2010, and will pay for continued reforms of defense acquisitions, development of a ballistic missile defense system and care of wounded soldiers.

The budget also calls for cancellation of several major weapons programs, including Boeing Co's C-17 transport plane, saving $2.5 billion, and a second engine for the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet, saving $465 million in fiscal 2011 and more than $1 billion longer-term. The White House tried to kill both programs last year, but lawmakers revived them during the budget process.

The second engine is being developed by General Electric Co and Britain's Rolls-Royce as an alternate to the main engine built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

The proposed budget also kills plans for development of a new Navy cruiser, scraps plans to replace the Navy's EP-3 intelligence aircraft and halts work on a missile early-warning satellite, opting instead to upgrade the Space Based Infrared System satellite already being developed by Lockheed.

The budget proposal also calls for a delay in replacing two new Navy command and control shops until after 2015, a move the White House said would save $3.8 billion across the Pentagon's five-year defense plan. The Navy had planned to buy one command ship in 2012, and a second one in 2014.

Procurement of a new amphibious vehicle being built by General Dynamics Corp for the Marine Corps would be delayed by one year, saving $50 million in fiscal 2011 and cutting risk by allowing more time for testing.

The Pentagon also said it would further reduce its use of high-risk contracts in areas that related to time, material and labor hours by 17 percent through the end of 2011.

The budget underscored the administration's commitment to a "robust defense against emerging missile threats," saying it would pay for use of increasingly capable sea- and land-based missile interceptors and a range of sensors in Europe.

The Pentagon's budget continues to fund new weapons already under development, including the F-35 fighter, a new ballistic missile submarine, a new family of ground vehicles and the P-8 surveillance aircraft built by Boeing.

It will also pay for more unmanned planes, helicopters, electronic warfare capabilities and cybersecurity measures.

Overall, the budget includes $112.8 billion for weapons procurement, up from $104.8 billion in fiscal 2010, and $76 billion for research and development, down from $80 billion.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

*The Dutch have rightly declared the war, including their own limited participation in it, a crime.  It makes for a clear head not to have a war complex).



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