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January 26, 2012

New Pentagon Budget Reflects New American Way of War

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The Pentagon today announced its “lighter” budget, which should more accurately be referred to as its reorganization of the military. It’s hard to call this a smaller budget when you look at this fact sheet. The only reason the budget gets “smaller” is the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The base budget falls a bit, to $525 billion, in FY2013 but then grows every year thereafter, all the way to $567 billion in FY2017. That’s about 6.8% growth over five years. They call this a cut in “real” FY2013 dollars of about 5%. The change they tout is from the estimates in the President’s FY2012 budget, which never got approved. From that you see a reduction of around $260 billion between now and FY2017. But John Arquilla explains that this is really just slower growth.

This is an 8 percent “reduction” in defense spending, but which uses as its baseline annual future outlays that were planned to amount to $5.6 trillion by 2021. The baseline is roughly double the rate of defense expenditures in the decade from 1991 to 2001.

So what we’re really looking at is just a small reduction in a defense budget that has been vastly inflated since 9/11. Under this plan, we’ll still be spending $5.2 trillion on the military over the next decade, a rate of expenditure not seen, in real dollar terms, since World War II [...]

Let us accept Panetta’s 8 percent reduction figure, but apply it – and keep applying it yearly for 10 years to declining principal amounts – using the currently agreed-upon annual defense budget of about $660 billion. A decade from now, annual defense spending would fall to $286.7 billion. This is close to the spending level at the time of the attacks on the United States in 2001.

The total spending reductions over the next 10 years would be $1.33 trillion, roughly triple the $487 billion in savings that Panetta announced. And this “8 percent solution” would save about $300 billion more than the total cuts called for by the congressional supercommittee that Panetta said he strongly opposed.

I don’t see that on the menu. Nevertheless, there will be real-world consequences to these changes, mainly from replacing soldiers with drones.

At a briefing Thursday afternoon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will announce they’re slashing Army troop levels by 80,000 soldiers, or 14 percent of the force, while expanding bases for drones and increasing spending on the types of special forces that killed Osama bin Laden and rescued an American hostage in Somalia this week, according to the Wall Street Journal [...]

Obama’s budget proposal is a mixed bag for progressives—along with drones, notable boondoggles like the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter jet fared well, and war funding isn’t addressed. As Lawrence Korb, a former DOD official and defense analyst for the Center for American Progress, pointed out Thursday, the Obama plan effectively reduces military spending by 8 percent; in his second term, Ronald Reagan managed to cut it by 10 percent.

If you add the cuts to the Marines it’s more like 100,000 troop cuts, while the covert operations tools, from drones to special forces, increase.

This is pretty obvious. During the Obama Presidency we’ve seen the advance of the new American way of war, with covert ops taking precedence over conventional forces. Drones and Navy SEALs are the future; counter-insurgency and its need for large masses of troops may be the past. Basically you’re moving the military from an accountable to an unaccountable position where they have plausible deniability for all their activities.

While many advocates and experts focus on the numbers I think this shift commands a bit more attention.


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