President Donald Trump and his Republican acolytes claim that recent tax cuts, mainly benefiting large corporations and the wealthy, constitute a major accomplishment for his administration. Trump has also increased defense spending, which average middle-class taxpayers will have to pay for.
No one disagrees that we need to be prepared to defend our nation, but taxpayers should demand an accounting of how our tax dollars are spent. It may be hard to believe, but until 2017 there had never been a comprehensive accounting of Defense Department spending.
Several decades ago, noted economist Paul Samuelson made the distinction between defense spending and spending on all domestic programs as a choice between “guns or butter.” The request for more “guns” is seldom questioned, while many domestic programs such as Social Security and Medicare are targeted for budget cuts.
Former president Dwight Eisenhower warned us of the growing danger of a military-industrial complex. This involved military officers in charge of ordering new weapons getting high-paying jobs with the industries they had dealt with after leaving military service. Manufacturers of ships, planes and other military equipment contrived to have components made in a number of states, thus ensuring the support of elected officials from states providing jobs for defense.
In 2011, Congress ordered the first-ever audit of the Department of Defense. The department was given seven years to get ready. Jack Armstrong, then with the office of inspector general of the department, stated, ”all these proposed budgets we’ve been presenting are a bunch of garbage,” in an article in Nation magazine by Dave Lindorff. The November article quotes Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan: “We failed the audit but we never expected to pass it.” Lindorff further observes the department’s financial records for the year 2015 indicate the Army alone lacked support documents for $6.5 trillion in past years’ allocations. Other branches of the service may well show similar shortfalls.
A study done by Balance, a respected personal finance company, examines the current, 2019 defense department budget. The base budget approved by President Donald Trump in August is $617 billion with another $69 billion in contingency funds to combat the Islamic State. Add $83 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $46 billion for Homeland Security and defense-related expenditures by the State Department of $28 billion, and $8.8 billion by the Justice Department. Also credited to our defense must be $22 billion allocated to the Energy Department for nuclear security plus a special allocation to the State Department of $18.7 billion to deal with threats from ISIS. All these expenditures add up to some $890 billion.
We must add one more area critical to our nation’s defense. Called Black Ops, budgets for the CIA and National Security Agency and other related organizations, due to their missions, have secret budget allocations. We can gain some idea of this amount from a Washington Post story in 2013 using data released by Edward Snowden. The story credited nearly $53 billion to fund Black Ops programs. Adding that amount to the above figures results in annual defense expenditures approaching $1 trillion.
Today’s weapons are expensive. Based on information from The Diplomat, a new Navy carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, will cost more than $13 billion. The Nation reported that the Air Force will soon announce its request for 200 new bombers, the B-21 “Raider.” This aircraft will replace the B-1 and B-2 “Stealth.” At an expected $550 million per plane, we can expect the B-21 to be the most costly aircraft ever built. The real workhorse of the Air Force remains the 68-year-old B-52. Seventy-five of the 744 B-52s built are still in service. The current Air Force budget includes funds for new engines for the remaining B-52s. The Air Force plans to keep the modified B-52 in operation until 2050.
The United States is currently involved in the longest war in our history. For more than 17 years, from a high point of some 100,000 troops to the current contingent of just under 10,000 with other forces from our NATO allies, according to Business Insider, we are spending $45 billion annually to support the Afghan government. We are defending a country whose government controls more than half the total area of that landlocked state. Al Jazeera estimates the total number of Taliban fighters currently at 45,000. They have no navy, no air force and their most sophisticated weapons may well be those captured from us. Our main weapon to date has been the individual soldier, sailor and marine.
The Cold War weapons race resulted in the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union. We can only hope that unchallenged defense spending will not see a similar outcome in our country.
Ron Jarvella of Belfast is a retired teacher.