An F/A 18E Super Hornet from the United States Navy fighter squadron VFA-115 (Getty/Ian Hitchcock)

Our poor, struggling military-industrial complex: How will it survive on $750 billion?

Mainstream media decries "inadequate" U.S. military budget, which roughly matches rest of the world combined


Alan MacLeod
December 23, 2018 11:00AM (UTC)
This article originally appeared at FAIR.org. Used by permission.

It is a sign of our times that our media attempt to decipher future government policy by analyzing the president’s tweets, like some bizarre game of telephone. Throughout November, there was speculation of a coming reduction in military spending, and when Donald Trump took to Twitter to describe the $716 billion budget as “crazy,” media took this as confirmation.

The prospect of a cut to the military elicited a storm of condemnation across the media landscape. The National Review wrote that “cutting the resources available to the Pentagon is a bad idea,” noting that, “for decades, America has short-changed defense” meaning “America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt.” In a Wall Street Journal article headlined “Don’t Cut Military Spending Mr. President,” Senate and House Armed Services committee chairs James Inhofe and Mac Thornberry claimed the military is in “crisis” after “inadequate budgets for nearly a decade,” and that “any cut in the Defense budget would be a senseless step backward.”

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US military spending more than next seven countries (source: Peterson Foundation)

More centrist outlets concurred. Forbes Magazine began its article with the words, “The security and well-being of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades,” recommending a “sensible and consistent increase” to the budget. Bloomberg recommended a consistent increase in military spending of 3 percent above inflation for five to 10 years, while Reuters noted the increased “risk” of a lower military budget.

WaPo: The United States is losing the ability to defend itself

Max Boot (Washington Post12/12/18) argues that the US needs to both raise taxes and cut Social Security and Medicare in order to ensure its military’s ability to invade Lithuania.

What exactly was this “risk” that media were so worried about? Max Boot, neo-con fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations — who apparently still supports the Iraq War and demanded ones in Syria and Libya, while arguing that America should become a world empirearticulated the risk in theWashington Post. Describing a reduction in military spending as “suicide,” and claiming the U.S. is in a “full-blown national security crisis,” he cited the work of a blue-ribbon panel that called for continuous hikes in military spending:

“If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat,” the report warns. "These two nations possess precision-strike capabilities, integrated air defenses, cruise and ballistic missiles, advanced cyberwarfare and anti-satellite capabilities, significant air and naval forces, and nuclear weapons — a suite of advanced capabilities heretofore possessed only by the United States.” … So we’re in deep trouble. We are losing the military edge that has underpinned our security and prosperity since 1945.

Thus, the crisis is that the U.S. could not be assured of destroying the Russian military in a Baltic war or the Chinese in the South China Sea. It is important to note that these necessary wars of defense would not be happening in Maine or California, but thousands of miles away, on the doorsteps of our geopolitical rivals. Boot presents these wars on the other side of the world as impossible to avoid — “if the U.S. had to fight” — continuing a tradition of presenting the U.S. as stumbling or being reluctantly dragged into wars against its will, that we at FAIR have cataloged.

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Bloomberg: Putting Some Intelligence Into Military Spending

Bloomberg (19/11/18) suggests giving the Pentagon an additional $1.3 trillion over ten years would “restore sanity to military spending.”

In reality, more than half of all US discretionary spending goes to the military, and its war-related spending is a much larger percentage of its budget than in comparable countries — three to five times as much as Canada, Germany or Japan. In fact, the U.S. spends almost as much on its military as all other countries in the world put together, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and has around 800 (official) foreign military bases, placed on every inhabited continent of the world.

Even these figures do not include military pensions and veterans’ health care, or nuclear weapons, and therefore the true total is possibly greater than all other countries combined. Military spending is approaching the highest in recorded history of any country, and the increase in military spending Trump approved last year alone would be enough to make public colleges and universities across the U.S. free to all.

Considering the problems of unemployment, poverty, climate change and infrastructure in the U.S., perhaps tooling up for an intercontinental war against two nuclear-armed superpowers is not the most effective use of trillions of dollars. That reducing a $716 billion war budget can be presented as a threat to the nation, and that “defense” can refer to wars in Taiwan or the Baltic, illustrates the depth of the media’s imperial mindset, and goes to show President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the power of the military industrial complex went unheeded.

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The media needn’t have worried, as the military industrial complex usually gets its way. President Trump, “with the help of Senator Inhofe and Chairman Thornberry,” according to the Defense Department (London Independent, 12/10/18), agreed to increase the military budget after all, to $750 billion. A lot of people are going to get rich — not least of all Sen. Inhofe, who quietly purchased tens of thousands of dollars in Raytheon stock after he met with Trump. Raytheon is the world’s largest producer of guided missiles, and is sure to reap a huge windfall from the spending boom.

This whole affair illustrates the important and worrying links between the media, “defense” contractors and politicians. But at least the terrible risk to the United States has been avoided. Those defenseless Air Force generals and defense contractors can finally sleep easy at night.


Alan MacLeod

Alan MacLeod is a member of the Glasgow University Media Group. His latest book, "Bad News From Venezuela: 20 Years of Fake News and Misreporting," was published by Routledge in April. Follow him on Twitter: @AlanRMacLeod.

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