The Expanding Military Blob

On August 13, President Trump signed the Fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.  The act bumps the already massive military budget to a staggering $715 billion for the 2019 fiscal year.  With a military budget that’s already larger than the next seven countries combined, one has to ask if such an increase is really needed.

Proponents of the bill will say that it is needed to replace aging equipment.  They will also point to the pay bump that was given to the troops.  This argument lacks merit as most of the budget is used for expenditures other than payroll.  The budget is littered with expensive pet projects like the F-35, which has become the most expensive defense procurement program in history.  The aircraft is plagued with deficiencies and takes up $7.6 billion of the new budget.  The budget is replacing the tried and tested equipment with faulty pricier equipment.  This is fiscal insanity wrapped in the guise of modernization.

One would think that with increasing defense spending our military would become more efficient and we would be using these funds to defeat our enemies.  More money to kill enemies should mean there are fewer enemies, right?  Sadly, that isn’t the case at all.  Total defense spending grew from $437 billion in 2003 to $818 billion in 2017, during which time our enemies only seem to have increased.  Military operations expanded from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya, Yemen, and beyond.  As of 2017, there are combat troops in fifteen countries and airstrikes in seven countries.  As our spending expands so do our military operations in an ever-growing list of conflicts.  The new bill authorizes $5.2 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces and another $850 million for Iraqi security forces. These two drawn-out conflicts have become a bottomless pit for money.  One estimate already puts the cost of these wars at $5.6 trillion dollars.  Taxpayer money continues to flow into these conflicts with little reward.  Not only is there little reward but there is a much larger backlash.  A 2006 intelligence assessment found that the Iraq War created a new generation of terrorists and fueled more support for jihadist movements.  So not only is the money not defeating terrorism, but it very well be helping to fuel it.  The military-industrial complex serves as a sort of self-licking ice cream cone in which money is pumped into the Middle East to supposedly defeat extremism, which in turn fuels more extremism that requires more money to defeat.  The cycle continues, and the taxpayer keeps paying.

The military isn’t just expensive, it’s downright terrible with managing money.  A prime example of military spending involves a purchase of helicopter gears for $8,123.50 which should have cost $445.  This type of poor money management is rampant at the Department of Defense,  so rampant that the Pentagon tried to bury an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste.  Outside studies have also found gross mishandling of money as a 2016 audit found that the Department of Defense misplaced $800 million.  It gets worse.  A 2016 report by the Department of Defense’s Inspector General found that the Army had made $6.5 trillion in wrongful adjustment accounting entries in 2015.  There’s not only a pattern of mishandling money but a pattern of trying to cover it up.  The Department of Defense has grown fat on an inflated budget and is willing to hide the truth to continue its reckless spending and fiscal gluttony.

We don’t need a bigger military budget, we need fiscal restraint.  Everyone wants to take care of veterans but that’s not what the vast majority of the military budget is used for.  For years our politicians have pumped up the military budget without any sense of fiscal responsibility and have sold it to the public as patriotism.  It’s not patriotic to unquestioningly send money to a department that wastes it or to fund wars that only beget more wars.  It’s not patriotism, it’s insanity.  It’s time to hold the Department of Defense to the same fiscal scrutiny that we do with the rest of the government, and maybe it’s time to employ the all too logical concept of using the Department of Defense simply for defense.  This would not only save money, but it would ultimately make the world a safer place.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan