The headline announcing the lead story on the front page of Monday’s Washington Post reads, “Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste.”
To put this amount into perspective, President Obama’s proposed 2016 total spending budget for science was a mere $31.1 billion. Spending for energy and the environment was $52.1 billion, for education $78.9 billion, for housing and community $92.7, and for transportation $107.8 billion. These sums pale in comparison with the amount the military (and therefore, the federal government) could save over a 5-year period according to the Pentagon’s own internal study by cutting out a whole range of wasteful and unnecessary spending outlays.
Let’s be clear. Properly understood, this story is not about an evil or corrupt military establishment. Our men and women in uniform deserve our support. Most are good and honorable people.
The problem is endemic and it is political. It’s about greed and avarice, ego and self-promotion. Most military officers really don’t fit this description.
The problem resides elsewhere:
1) in a Congress that is way too easily corrupted, a Congress comprised of too many (not all, but a majority) of career politicians who have built lucrative and secure political sinecures out of the illicit practice of selling their votes on specific issues — in this case, defense spending — and;
2) in complacent constituents (voters and taxpayers) who distrust “politicians” but trust the incumbents they continue to re-elect and return to Washington often for decades on end.
If you throw hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars at any government department there will inevitably be waste and duplication. Add to that the annual federal budget cycle based on a rigid use-or-lose-it rule and you have an in-built formula for fiscal irresponsibility. The bigger the sums, the greater the value that ultimately gets flushed into the Potomac where it flows out to sea and becomes invisible and untraceable.
And, of course, when that happens, neither the top brass nor the Congress nor the President want to call the public’s attention to it. So the internal investigation and resulting report is classified. In other words, it is “buried”.
Even the most carefully researched studies of global of military spending vary somewhat but all agree that the US spends far, far more than any other country in the world – more than three times that of China, the second biggest economy (not counting the EU) and second biggest military spender. In 2015, a year in which worldwide military expenditures totaled an estimated $1.6 trillion, the US alone accounted for at least 37% of the total.
In fact, the real cost of our ongoing wars, globe-girdling navy, foreign military bases, troop deployments, arms procurements, and overall military preparedness is considerably higher than the defense budget alone would indicate. That’s because many expenditures directly and indirectly related to national security are, in effect, hidden elsewhere in the federal budget, and thus not counted as “defense spending”. The extent to which the US devotes a disproportionate piece of the pie to defense is evident in the fact that Washington spends as much as the next seven biggest military spenders combined year.
President-elect Trump speaking at a big “Thank you” rally in North Carolina Tuesday night promised to make our military forces great again. He said our army, navy, and air force have been “depleted”. He used the word “depleted” repeatedly. If that’s true, folks, there’s been a whole lot more waste than the buried Pentagon self-study unearthed.
But is it true? Is our military depleted in spite of all the largesse Congress lavished on defense and national security for decades during the Cold War and then doubled down after 9-11? If so, who or what is to blame? Is it not be the Congress that sets the federal budget each year? The very Congress that oversees the bureaucracy and alone has the power to conduct hearings aimed at holding the various parts of the Executive Branch, including the Defense Department, accountable? A Congress under the control of a Republican party whose leaders vociferously claim to be driven by nothing so much as vigilance against our enemies and a robust patriotism.
Depleting the Truth
The real problem we face has nothing to do with military weakness or depletion or under-spending on national security. No, the real problem is that the value of truth, integrity, and decency in public life has been depleted to a point where it now appears quaint or naïve or – in the most extraordinary semantic inversion of all – elitist.
The politicians in Washington have become so wedded to propaganda and gimmickry – and people who depend on the mainstream media for news and information so inured to vicious finger-pointing – that “fake news” is believable. Hearsay and hyperbole have an impact greater – and a half-life longer – than real news.
That was true before the 2016 election. And then came Donald Trump.