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Military Industrial Circus: What I’ve learned covering the military for 40 years

resident Donald J. Trump passes through the ceremonial rainbow sideboys upon his departure from the aircraft carrier Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford

It turns out that my spending four years on an amusement-park midway trying to separate marks from their money was basic training for the nearly 40 years I spent reporting on the U.S. military. Both involve suckers and suckees. One just costs a lot more money, and could risk the future of United States instead of a teddy bear.

But after 15 years of covering U.S. defense for daily newspapers in Washington, and 23 more for Time magazine until last December, it’s time to share what I’ve learned. I’m gratified that the good folks at the nonpartisan Project On Government Oversight, through their Straus Military Reform Project, are providing me this weekly soapbox to comment on what I’ve come to see as the military-industrial circus.

As ringmaster, I can only say: Boy, are we being taken to the cleaners. And it’s not so much about money as it is about value. Too much of today’s U.S. fighting forces look like it came from Tiffany’s, with Walmart accounting for much of the rest. There’s too little Costco, or Amazon Prime.

There was a chance, however slight, that President Trump would blaze a new trail on U.S. national security. Instead, he has simply doubled down.

For too long, the two political parties have had Pavlovian responses when it comes to funding the U.S. military (and make no mistake about it: military funding has trumped military strategy for decades). Democrats have long favored shrinking military spending as a share of the federal budget, while Republicans yearn for the days when it accounted for a huge chunk of U.S. government spending. Neither is the right approach. Instead of seeing the Pentagon as the way to defend against all threats, there needs to be a fresh, long-overdue accounting of what the real threats are, and which of those are best addressed by military means.

Click here to read the rest of the Military Industrial Circus column.

By: Mark Thompson
National Security Analyst, POGO

Photo of Mark Thompson Mark Thompson writes for the Center for Defense Information at POGO.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Straus Military Reform Project

Authors: Mark Thompson

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