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The Bunker: Closing in on $1 Trillion

This week in The Bunker: Pentagon rolls out a proposed 2025 budget nearing $1 trillion; senators call for probe alleging “war profiteering”; the U.S. finds itself supporting both sides in Gaza fight; and more. 

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This week in The Bunker: Pentagon rolls out a proposed 2025 budget nearing $1 trillion; senators call for probe alleging “war profiteering”; the U.S. finds itself supporting both sides in Gaza fight; and more.

DEFENSE DOLLARS

Military spending remains on auto-pilot

Even as 40% of Americans want the U.S. to step back from solving the world’s conflicts, the Pentagon is marching smartly ahead, seeking a nearly $1 trillion budget for 2025. The Defense Department rolled out next year’s request March 11, proposing $849.8 billion for the Pentagon and $45.5 billion more for military expenditures — like nuclear warheads — handled by other government agencies. That totals $895.2 billion, basically freezing defense spending because of a deal struck last year between the White House and Congress to avoid a government default.

But if history is any guide, Congress will pile on additional tens of billions of dollars using various forms of fiscal flimflammery. The same day the Pentagon unveiled its budget, in fact, the government’s intel chiefs held their annual threatfest on Capitol Hill to justify more spending. Preoccupied and uncertain people, and governments, unsure of their own place in the world, tend to double down on the status quo.

It’s small wonder many Americans feel tuckered out when it comes to the front lines. Just over 20 years ago, President Bush the Younger warned us of dire consequences unless we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Eight trillion dollars, 7,053 U.S. troop lives, and more than 400,000 civilian lives later, there’s scant evidence that the investment was worth it.

This isn’t just a Republican issue. Over the past two years, the Biden administration has allocated $111 billion in military and other aid to Ukraine. In fact, there’s $60 billion more snared on Capitol Hill because of GOP doubts it will make much difference in that war’s bloody stalemate following Russia’s 2022 invasion. The White House also wants $14 billion sent to Israel to help in its war in Gaza. The U.S. provides Israel with about $3.3 billion a year in military aid; since 1946 it has given Israel nearly $300 billion in aid, including more than $200 billion for its military.

The good thing about these two conflicts, jingoistically speaking, is that there are no U.S. combat boots on the ground in either Ukraine or Gaza. The bad news, taxpayer-wise, is that American wallets are Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. And with close to another trillion dollars slated to fuel the U.S. military next year, it’s a safe bet we’re going to get deeper and muddier.

TRUMAN 2.0

Six senators call for panel to probe “war profiteering”

The U.S. keeps spending more on its military and getting less — fewer troops, fewer tanks, fewer ships, and fewer planes. Surely some of that is because the hardware is becoming more complex. But a half-dozen progressive senators say defense-contractor greed is also driving the less-bang-for-the-buck U.S. military.

They cite recent stock buybacks by Lockheed and RTX as evidence that top U.S. defense contractors are being paid too much. “There’s a name for all this: war profiteering,” they said, adding “that defense contractors routinely overcharge the Pentagon by nearly 40% to 50%, lining their pockets at taxpayer expense.” The March 4 letter(PDF) was sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) by Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeffrey Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). They asked him to recreate World War II’s so-called Truman Committee to probe Pentagon contractor profits.

That panel, officially known as the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, was led by then-Senator Harry Truman (D-MO). “Where there has been so much haste in the expenditure of such enormous sums there are bound to be leaks and mistakes of judgment,” Truman said in 1941. “Many people believe in both patriotism and profits, but sometimes, unfortunately, profits come first with them.” Truman estimated his panel, in operation for seven years, cost $1 million and saved taxpayers $15 billion.

That’s nearly $200 billion in today’s dollars.

BOTH SIDES NOW

A Pentagon paradox in the Middle East

As the Defense Department seeks to spend nearly $1 trillion next year (it’s well past that, actually, once you add in the nearly $400 billion spent annually on veterans), it finds itself on the horns of a dilemma. The old saying was that “the U.S. is in an arms race with itself,” seeing as the Pentagon has been pushing for ever-more advanced armaments to leapfrog what it’s already got in its arsenal (along with a sprinkling of bogeyman pixie dust, of course). But the war in Gaza finds the U.S. on both sides of the conflict: bombs for the Israelis, and box lunches for those they’re bombing.

Washington has quietly approved more than 100 weapons sales to Israel since it invaded Gaza, largely financed by the more than $3 billion in annual aid the U.S. gives to Israel. At the same time, the U.S. is airdropping tens of thousands of meals to feed starving Palestinians in the Gaza strip and plans to build a temporary port to try to avert a famine. “We are airdropping food to famine-stricken Gaza today and supplying bombs for Israel to drop on devastated Gaza tomorrow,” Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) said March 5. Hamas attacked Israel last October, killing more than 1,100 Israelis. Israel has responded with barrages that Hamas health authorities say have killed more than 30,000 Gazans, despite repeated pleas from the Biden administration that Israel do more to protect civilians in Gaza.

This is what happens when you have too much money. The Pentagon’s post-9/11 cash gusher “hasn’t forced us to make the hard choices,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in 2011. “It hasn’t forced us to limit ourselves and get to a point or deciding, in a very turbulent world, what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do.” Thirteen years later, unfortunately, the U.S. has yet to sit itself down and have that discussion.

WHAT WE’RE READING

Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently

Catch-22

The U.S. Army is “an incredibly hierarchical and byzantine organization” where “those with the power to mandate change do not necessarily have the power to execute it,” Abdul Subhani wrote March 11 on West Point’s Modern War Institute website.

Fallout

Seventy years ago, the U.S. detonated an H-bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, 1,000 times bigger than the A-bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The U.S. still needs to help the handful of survivors exposed to that radiation, Walter Pincus wrote March 5 in the Washington Post.

Snowblind

A man who drove his speeding snowmobile into a darkened and camouflaged Black Hawk helicopter parked on a rarely used Massachusetts airfield at dusk in 2019 is suing the federal government for the serious injuries he suffered in the crash, Michael Casey of the Associated Press reported March 6.

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