Monday, August 06, 2007

Pigs at the trough

Whole Hog
Early Sunday morning after a marathon session, Congress put a blue ribbon on the immense hog known as the defense budget and declared it a winner. Just before going on their August vacation, the House approved the 2008 defense appropriations bill of $459 billion. The vote was 395 to 13. With the nearly full support of the Democrats, the Bush administration is on the verge of pushing through a $40 billion increase in military spending for next year.

Much was made of the battle between Congress and the administration over this bill. After all, the administration's request was actually a few billion dollars more, and the White House has opposed many of the congressional changes. In reality, the House sliced off only the smallest amount of pork -- less than 1 percent of the total -- and redirected it to social programs. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) went after some of the more blatant earmarks and has even challenged pet projects of his Republican colleagues. His amendments were overwhelmingly rejected. (One of those earmarks, inserted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, provides $4 million to a California company to develop a "novel viral biowarfare agent" -- one of those projects of "biodefense" that the United States deceptively argues is permitted under the Biological Weapons Convention).

Over $450 billion: that's some big pig. But wait, as the old TV ads liked to say, that's not all! The appropriations bill doesn't include another nearly $50 billion in defense spending on the Department of Energy's nuclear programs and a few other items. And, of course, there's the almost $150 billion in supplemental spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which will generate considerable debate when Congress returns in September.

At $650 billion, U.S. military spending is the highest since World War II, outstrips what the rest of the world combined spends on defense, and outpaces our putative adversaries by at least 5 to 1. Flake's attempts to torpedo some of the earmarks were commendable. But hey, the earmarks total about $3 billion. That's chump change, Jeff! If you really want to save us from trichinosis, here are some of the larger pieces of pork to cut out and throw away:

Missile Defense -- this is the most expensive weapons system, and it has yet to be proven to work. The Dems cut the tiniest amount from the White House request. Knock out this technofolly and save over $8 billion a year.

Nukes -- we're telling North Korea to get rid of its pathetic arsenal and threatening countries like Iran for even considering a nuclear deterrent, yet we're pouring billions into upgrading our own system. If we sit down with the Russians and cut strategic forces to 1,000 warheads apiece, we can save nearly $15 billion a year.

Cold War weapons systems -- we're spending more than $20 billion a year to build weapons like the V-22 Osprey that a) doesn't work and b) was developed to fight the Soviet Union.

In FPIF's Unified Security Budget, we find $55.9 billion in military spending cuts that should attract bipartisan support. In our more ambitious Just Security framework, we call for a dramatic restructuring of the U.S. approach to the world, which would reduce our overseas military posture. Savings: over $200 billion a year.

So, how exactly did the Bush administration convince the Democratic majority in the House to go along with this nonsense -- and even to feel good about itself for paring off less than 1 percent?

If there were only one factory producing U.S. military armaments located in Rhode Island, there would be a dramatic reduction of congressional support for a rising defense budget. The problem is: virtually all weapons systems have been broken down into a supply chain that turns the 50 states into an assembly line for the military-industrial complex. Almost every member of Congress therefore supports the whole hog in order to bring home some of the bacon to their home district.

So, all you pay-as-you-go Democrats, where exactly are you going to find the funds for a national healthcare plan, a strategy to save our public schools, or a program to rebuild our failing infrastructure? Right now, the Dems are not thinking of the hog. Come 2008, however, there will be no other place to turn. Sharpen those knives!

Throwing the Military at the Problem

If I were a military contractor, the Middle East would look mighty dandy these days. The war in Iraq is a giant advertisement for U.S. weapons systems, even if the war itself is disastrous. The threats of Iran and Syria, trumpeted so frequently by the administration and Congress, are music to the defense industry's ears.

But really, the true gravy train is the arms sales racket. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently unveiled the administration's plan for the Middle East. There was some stirring rhetoric. More importantly, there were plenty of weapons to go around. The United States has a sweet deal -- funding both sides of the conflict. The latest plan is to add $65 billion more to the pot, with most of it going to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

As FPIF contributor Matt Duss writes in Gasoline for the Fire, the arms package "is an admission of failure on several fronts." There's the failure of the Iraq War to produce a more stable Middle East. There's the failure of the "democracy promotion" agenda for the region. "Having upset the balance of power in the region by removing Saddam Hussein, empowering Iran by removing the most significant check on their regional hegemony, and having transformed Iraq into a terrorist training ground, the United States now proposes to supply new weapons to its allies in the region to help them deal with the new security environment which it created," Duss writes.

Aside from lucrative contracts for U.S. arms manufacturers, what will the United States get out these deals? "The United States has had little success in the past using arms sales to buy leverage in the region," writes FPIF contributor Rachel Stohl in The Saudi Arms Deal: Congressional Opposition Building. "And, with no strings attached to the assistance -- no democratic reforms, human rights conditions, or peace-making obligations -- the arms sales do nothing to change the behavior of the authoritarian regimes in the region. Sending more arms to the Middle East may provoke Iran into accelerating its own arms purchases. Russia and China have been all too eager to step in and provide Iran with high technology weapon to offset the balance of power in the region. Although the United States can express its displeasure after the fact, the reality is that once the weapons leave U.S. possession, we have little to no influence on how those weapons are used and by whom."

Foreign Policy in Focus
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