Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, The Pentagon Takes Over

Here are words to pin to the Bush years like a wilting corsage: "We don't know what we paid for." That's a quote from Mary Ugone, the Defense Department's deputy inspector general for auditing, concerning massive Pentagon payments made during the occupation and war in Iraq for which there is no existing (or grossly inadequate) documentation. In fact, according to the inspector general for the Defense Department, "the Pentagon cannot account for almost $15 billion worth of goods and services ranging from trucks, bottled water and mattresses to rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns that were bought from contractors in the Iraq reconstruction effort." An internal audit of $8 billion that the Pentagon paid out to U.S. and Iraqi private contractors found that "nearly every transaction failed to comply with federal laws or regulations aimed at preventing fraud, in some cases lacking even basic invoices explaining how the money was spent."

Entrenched, Embedded, and Here to Stay
The Pentagon's Expansion Will Be Bush's Lasting Legacy
By Frida Berrigan
The attacks of September 11, 2001 decisively ended that debate. The Bush administration promptly declared total war on every front — against peoples, ideologies, and, above all, "terrorism" (a tactic of the weak). That very September, administration officials proudly leaked the information that they were ready to "target" up to 60 other nations and the terrorist movements within them.

The Pentagon's "footprint" was to be firmly planted, military base by military base, across the planet, with a special emphasis on its energy heartlands. Top administration officials began preparing the Pentagon to go anywhere and do anything, while rewriting, shredding, or ignoring whatever laws, national or international, stood in the way. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld officially articulated a new U.S. military posture that, in conception, was little short of revolutionary. It was called — in classic Pentagon shorthand — the 1-4-2-1 Defense Strategy (replacing the Clinton administration's already none-too-modest plan to be prepared to fight two major wars — in the Middle East and Northeast Asia — simultaneously).

Theoretically, this strategy meant that the Pentagon was to prepare to defend the United States, while building forces capable of deterring aggression and coercion in four "critical regions" (Europe, Northeast Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East). It would be able to defeat aggression in two of these regions simultaneously and "win decisively" in one of those conflicts "at a time and place of our choosing." Hence 1-4-2-1.

And that was just going to be the beginning. We had, by then, already entered the new age of the Mega-Pentagon. Almost six years later, the scale of that institution's expansion has yet to be fully grasped, so let's look at just seven of the major ways in which the Pentagon has experienced mission creep — and leap — dwarfing other institutions of government in the process.

1. The Budget-busting Pentagon: The Pentagon's core budget — already a staggering $300 billion when George W. Bush took the presidency — has almost doubled while he's been parked behind the big desk in the Oval Office. For fiscal year 2009, the regular Pentagon budget will total roughly $541 billion (including work on nuclear warheads and naval reactors at the Department of Energy).

The Bush administration has presided over one of the largest military buildups in the history of the United States. And that's before we even count "war spending." If the direct costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Global War on Terror, are factored in, "defense" spending has essentially tripled.
With the war added to the Pentagon's core budget, the United States now spends nearly as much on military matters as the rest of the world combined. Military spending also throws all other parts of the federal budget into shadow, representing 58 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government on "discretionary programs" (those that Congress gets to vote up or down on an annual basis).

The total Pentagon budget represents more than our combined spending on education, environmental protection, justice administration, veteran's benefits, housing assistance, transportation, job training, agriculture, energy, and economic development. No wonder, then, that, as it collects ever more money, the Pentagon is taking on (or taking over) ever more functions and roles.

2. The Pentagon as Diplomat: The Bush administration has repeatedly exhibited its disdain for discussion and compromise, treaties and agreements, and an equally deep admiration for what can be won by threat and force. No surprise, then, that the White House's foreign policy agenda has increasingly been directed through the military. With a military budget more than 30 times that of all State Department operations and non-military foreign aid put together, the Pentagon has marched into State's two traditional strongholds — diplomacy and development — duplicating or replacing much of its work, often by refocusing Washington's diplomacy around military-to-military, rather than diplomat-to-diplomat, relations.
3. The Pentagon as Arms Dealer: In the Bush years, the Pentagon has aggressively increased its role as the planet's foremost arms dealer, pumping up its weapons sales everywhere it can — and so seeding the future with war and conflict.

By 2006 (the last year for which full data is available), the United States alone accounted for more than half the world's trade in arms with $14 billion in sales. Noteworthy were a $5 billion deal for F-16s to Pakistan and a $5.8 billion agreement to completely reequip Saudi Arabia's internal security force. U.S. arms sales for 2006 came in at roughly twice the level of any previous year of the Bush administration.
4. The Pentagon as Intelligence Analyst and Spy: In the area of "intelligence," the Pentagon's expansion — the commandeering of information and analysis roles — has been swift, clumsy, and catastrophic.

Tracing the Pentagon's take-over of intelligence is no easy task. For one thing, there are dozens of Pentagon agencies and offices that now collect and analyze information using everything from "humint" (human intelligence) to wiretaps and satellites. The task is only made tougher by the secrecy that surrounds U.S. intelligence operations and the "black budgets" into which so much intelligence money disappears.

But the end results are clear enough. The Pentagon's takeover of intelligence has meant fewer intelligence analysts who speak Arabic, Farsi, or Pashto and more dog-and-pony shows like those four-star generals and three-stripe admirals mouthing administration-approved talking points on cable news and the Sunday morning talk shows.

Intelligence budgets are secret, so what we know about them is not comprehensive — but the glimpses analysts have gotten suggest that total intelligence spending was about $26 billion a decade ago. After 9/11, Congress pumped a lot of new money into intelligence so that by 2003, the total intelligence budget had already climbed to more than $40 billion.
...according to Tim Shorrock, investigative journalist and author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, the Pentagon now controls more than 80% of U.S. intelligence spending, which he estimated at about $60 billion in 2007. As Mel Goodman, former CIA official and now an analyst at the Center for International Policy, observed, "The Pentagon has been the big bureaucratic winner in all of this."
In one of his now infamous memos, labeled "snowflakes" by a staff that watched them regularly flutter down from on high, he asserted that, if the War on Terror was going to stretch far into the future, he did not want to continue the Pentagon's "near total dependence on the CIA." And so Rumsfeld set up a new, directly competitive organization, the Pentagon's Strategic Support Branch, which put the intelligence gathering components of the U.S. Special Forces under one roof reporting directly to him. (Many in the intelligence community saw the office as illegitimate, but Rumsfeld was riding high and they were helpless to do anything.)
In the rush to invade Iraq, the civilians running the Pentagon also fused the administration's propaganda machine with military intelligence. In 2002, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith established the Office of Special Plans (OSP) in the Pentagon to provide "actionable information" to White House policymakers. Using existing intelligence reports "scrubbed" of qualifiers like "probably" or "may," or sometimes simply fabricated ones, the office was able to turn worst-case scenarios about Saddam Hussein's supposed programs to develop weapons of mass destruction into fact, and then, through leaks, use the news media to validate them.
5. The Pentagon as Domestic Disaster Manager: When the deciders in Washington start seeing the Pentagon as the world's problem solver, strange things happen. In fact, in the Bush years, the Pentagon has become the official first responder of last resort in case of just about any disaster — from tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods to civil unrest, potential outbreaks of disease, or possible biological or chemical attacks. In 2002, in a telltale sign of Pentagon mission creep, President Bush established the first domestic military command since the civil war, the U.S. Northern Command (Northcom). Its mission: the "preparation for, prevention of, deterrence of, preemption of, defense against, and response to threats and aggression directed towards U.S. territory, sovereignty, domestic population, and infrastructure; as well as crisis management, consequence management, and other domestic civil support."
More than anything else, Northcom has provided the Pentagon with the opening it needed to move forcefully into domestic disaster areas previously handled by national, state and local civilian authorities.
For example, Northcom's deputy director, Brigadier General Robert Felderman, boasts that the command is now the United States's "global synchronizer — the global coordinator — for pandemic influenza across the combatant commands." Similarly, Northcom is now hosting annual hurricane preparation conferences and assuring anyone who will listen that it is "prepared to fully engage" in future Katrina-like situations "in order to save lives, reduce suffering and protect infrastructure."

Of course, at present, the Pentagon is the part of the government gobbling up the funds that might otherwise be spent shoring up America's Depression-era public works, ensuring that the Pentagon will have failure aplenty to respond to in the future.
6. The Pentagon as Humanitarian Caregiver Abroad: The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have traditionally been tasked with responding to disaster abroad; but, from Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged shores to Myanmar after the recent cyclone, natural catastrophe has become another presidential opportunity to "send in the Marines" (so to speak). The Pentagon has increasingly taken up humanitarian planning, gaining an ever larger share of U.S. humanitarian missions abroad.

From Kenya to Afghanistan, from the Philippines to Peru, the U.S. military is also now regularly the one building schools and dental clinics, repairing roads and shoring up bridges, tending to sick children and doling out much needed cash and food stuffs, all civilian responsibilities once upon a time.

The Center for Global Development finds that the Pentagon's share of "official development assistance" — think "winning hearts and minds" or "nation-building" – has increased from 6% to 22% between 2002 and 2005. The Pentagon is fast taking over development from both the NGO-community and civilian agencies, slapping a smiley face on military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond.
In fact, the Pentagon doesn't do humanitarian work very well. In Afghanistan, for instance, food packets dropped by U.S. planes were the same color as the cluster munitions also dropped by U.S. planes, while schools and clinics built by U.S. forces often became targets before they could even be put into use. In Iraq, money doled out to the Pentagon's sectarian-group-of-the-week for wells and generators turned out to be just as easily spent on explosives and AK-47s.

7. The Pentagon as Global Viceroy and Ruler of the Heavens: In the Bush years, the Pentagon finished dividing the globe into military "commands," which are functionally viceroyalties. True, even before 9/11, it was hard to imagine a place on the globe where the United States military was not, but until recently, the continent of Africa largely qualified.

Along with the creation of Northcom, however, the establishment of the U.S. Africa Command (Africom) in 2008 officially filled in the last Pentagon empty spot on the map. A key military document, the 2006 National Security Strategy for the United States, signaled the move, asserting that "Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high-priority of this administration." (Think: oil and other key raw materials.)

In the meantime, funding for Africa under the largest U.S. military aid program, Foreign Military Financing, doubled from $10 to $20 million between 2000 and 2006, and the number of recipient nations grew from two to 14. Military training funding increased by 35% in that same period (rising from $8.1 million to $11 million). Now, the militaries of 47 African nations receive U.S. training.

In Pentagon planning terms, Africom has unified the continent for the first time. (Only Egypt remains under the aegis of the U.S. Central Command.)
Meanwhile, should the Earth not be enough, there are always the heavens to control. In August 2006, building on earlier documents like the 1998 U.S. Space Command's Vision for 2020 (which called for a policy of "full spectrum dominance"), the Bush administration unveiled its "national space policy." It advocated establishing, defending, and enlarging U.S. control over space resources and argued for "unhindered" rights in space — unhindered, that is, by international agreements preventing the weaponization of space. The document also asserted that "freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power."

As the document put it, "In the new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not." (The leaders of China, Russia, and other major states undoubtedly heard the loud slap of a gauntlet being thrown down.) At the moment, the Bush administration's rhetoric and plans outstrip the resources being devoted to space weapons technology, but in the recently announced budget, the President allocated nearly a billion dollars to space-based weapons programs.

Of all the frontiers of expansion, perhaps none is more striking than the Pentagon's sorties into the future. Does the Department of Transportation offer a Vision for 2030? Does the Environmental Protection Agency develop plans for the next fifty years? Does the Department of Health and Human Services have a team of power-point professionals working up dynamic graphics for what services for the elderly will look like in 2050?


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  • Tom Usher

    About Tom Usher

    Employment: 2008 - present, website developer and writer. 2015 - present, insurance broker. Education: Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science in Political Science. City University of Seattle, graduate studies in Public Administration. Volunteerism: 2007 - present, president of the Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project.
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