Defense Spending: Can you believe it? Okay Tea-Partiers, here’s a challenge!

Today’s Washington Post contains a George Will column on defense spending.  It is not the details of Marine amphibious craft or the individual items that draws my attention but the larger numbers and comparisons coupled with the fact that, despite the law requiring it, the Department of Defense cannot produce auditable financial statements for the appropriate congressional committees to review.  In effect neither it nor the country knows what it spends on defense.

Add to that the Washington Post’s recent revelations of the size of the intelligence community that make it impossible for its heads to say how many people it employs, how many contractors, how many security clearances at each level and the fact that a great deal of its budget is contained in the unauditable defense budget, are you a little queasy about your government being “out of control?”

The wars have other separate financing. Although there is doubtless expenditure overlap, the mammoth’s reason for being so large is not just that it is conducting two wars.  This is astonishing.  There simply must be some means of reviewing what it spends and why, followed by a determination that some things are priorities to be funded and others are perhaps good ideas that are not justified in current circumstances.

I am not committed to small government or less government if the mission of the government department is legitimate and I think defense is one of the primary functions of government.  Having said that, if Will is correct, our mammoth’s expenditures do not keep our equipment up to date and they are not the one’s that pay for our current war efforts.

If the new-comers to congress who are so determined to cut government spending will look critically and intelligently at the Department of Defense for savings (and the Intelligence Community {Do you find it as strange as I do that a function of such importance as intelligence is big enough and diverse enough to be a “community” rather than a department?} they will do us all a great service.  No across the board cuts, no politicking for their locals but genuine concern for the country’s proper defense and a willingness to work with others to reach agreement on cuts (and increases where justified) will serve us all well.

Here is the link to Will’s column:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/11/AR2011021105062.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzhead

Perverse–These are the people making the day to day decisions about defending the country…

Heated as I am over WikiLeaks and our government’s response to it, I have tried to resist taking up this blog with my ire but to read:

“The Air Force is barring its personnel from using work computers to view the Web sites of The New York Times and more than 25 other news organizations and blogs that have posted secret cables obtained by WikiLeaks, Air Force officials said Tuesday.”  Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/15/us/15wiki.html

is more than I can take.  The Department of Defense is pointing out that this did not come from it, distancing itself  from the Air Force leaders who did  it.  The  article concludes as follows:

“Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, a secrecy specialist, said dozens of agencies, as well as branches of the military and government contractors, had issued their own policy instructions based on the Office of Management and Budget memo.

“It’s a self-defeating policy that will leave government employees less informed than they ought to be,” Mr. Aftergood said.”

That Office of Management and Budget memo instructed government employees not to read these documents on websites of newspapers, on either office or home computers.

This means effectively, as Mr. Aftergood says, that government employees will be less informed than they ought to be or than the public.  There is something extraordinarily twisted in the thinking behind such decisions.  The WikiLeaks news stories are interesting and revelatory to me but I am completely outside any context in which the information is useful to me or  to the national defense.  Unless the government calls to active service 67 year-old one time first lieutenants, that is.  Presumably some significant fraction of government employees might actually see the day when something remembered from these stories “clicked” for them and the remainder of government employees should be put at no disadvantage just for being interested in what their government is doing, as I am.

“…becoming a ‘garrison state’ and destroying the very qualities and virtues and principles we originally set about to save.”

From Gary J. Bass’s review of  America’s Path to Permanent War by Andrew J. Bacevich in the New York Times September 3, 2010:

“In 1947, Hanson W. Baldwin, the hawkish military correspondent of this newspaper, warned that the demands of preparing America for a possible war would “wrench and distort and twist the body politic and the body economic . . . prior to war.” He wondered whether America could confront the Soviet Union “without becoming a ‘garrison state’ and destroying the very qualities and virtues and principles we originally set about to save.”

No critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have brighter conservative credentials. He is a blunt-talking Midwesterner, a West Point graduate who served for 23 years in the United States Army, a Vietnam veteran who retired as a colonel, and a sometime contributor to National Review.

Bacevich has two main targets in his sights. The first are the commissars of the national security establishment, who perpetuate these “Washington rules” of global dominance. By Washington, he means not just the federal government, but also a host of satraps who gain power, cash or prestige from this perpetual state of emergency: defense contractors, corporations, big banks, interest groups, think tanks, universities, television networks and The New York Times. He complains that an unthinking Washington consensus on global belligerence is just as strong among mainstream Democrats as among mainstream Republicans. Those who step outside this monolithic view, like Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul, are quickly dismissed as crackpots, Bacevich says. This leaves no serious checks or balances against the overweening national security state.

Bacevich’s second target is the sleepwalking American public. He says that they notice foreign policy only in the depths of a disaster that, like Vietnam or Iraq, is too colossal to ignore. As he puts it, “The citizens of the United States have essentially forfeited any capacity to ask first-order questions about the fundamentals of national security policy.”

Bacevich is singularly withering on American public willingness to ignore those who do their fighting for them. He warns of “the evisceration of civic culture that results when a small praetorian guard shoulders the burden of waging perpetual war, while the great majority of citizens purport to revere its members, even as they ignore or profit from their service.” Here he has a particular right to be heard: on May 13, 2007, his son Andrew J. Bacevich Jr., an Army first lieutenant, was killed on combat patrol in Iraq. Bacevich does not discuss his tragic loss here, but wrote devastatingly about it at the time in The Washington Post: “Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.’s life is priceless. Don’t believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier’s life: I’ve been handed the check.

Bacevich is less interested in foreign policy here (he offers only cursory remarks about the objectives and capabilities of countries like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran) than in the way he thinks militarism has corrupted America.” (My emphasis.)

National security abuses committed during the Vietnam war were exposed, debated and legislation was passed to correct for them in the future as a result of the Church Committee in the Senate and the Pike Committee in the House.  The corruption of our values in the war and those we learned about that were developed in the years intervening to the present day were largely seen as a result of well-intentioned but unreflective policy-makers.  Oliver North was seen by many as having lied to Congress through some misunderstanding on his part of what it really meant to be a patriot.  Admiral Poindexter could later propose a program intruding on people not suspected of anything through an excess of zeal, not as a member of any broadly-held anti-constitutional  set of policy sentiments.

Now we:

1.  Know how hollow were the reasons posed for justifying our going to war in Iraq,

2.  Know the Attorney General (Gonzales) was willing to stonewall Congressional inquiries about national security and torture,

3.  Read the occasional accounts of the comments and behavior of the vice-president and of his chief of staff in support of a close to omnipotent executive,

4.  Heard Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz say that the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Saddam’s control was almost cavalierly adopted as a justification for war,

5.  Saw the Pentagon take on more and more intelligence functions,

6.  Noticed that after the first appointee, only military men have been chosen to be Director of National Intelligence,

7.  Learned that the Obama administration is prepared to support the assassination of an American citizen wherever he may be without any judicial process or determination of his posing an imminent threat.

8.  Have seen that the TSA just adds more costly screening devices to their processes, giving little sense that they actually have a strategy in mind for public safety.  Then they implement their procedures in an often thoroughly public-alienating manner.  How much of a sign of growing public concern should it be (it does not appear to be any) to the authorities that much of this is now commonly referred to as Security Theatre?

9.  Know the government will work with newspapers to redact the names of those who might suffer retaliation for cooperating the US before publication of WikiLeaks documents but it won’t work with WikiLeaks when offered that chance before publication.  (It will also deny it was offered the chance until the documentary evidence to the contrary is produced and published.)

10.   Hear the government speak of “blood on the hands” of WikiLeaks only later to acknowledge that there is as yet no reported incident of retaliation toward those whose names were included in the earlier large document dump.

I’ll stop here although there is more that could be adduced to support the conclusion that there are a large number of people in policy roles in our government who do not see the constitution as something to be preserved against the most challenging of threats but to be set aside in those times, as if our rights are to be upheld only when we do not need them.

Worse still is to see the number of Americans who seem to agree with that or at least, who do not want to be “confrontational” about it.  (Do you notice how many people want to avoid confrontation at almost all costs, as a survey of New Yorkers suggests in pointing out that a majority of those surveyed agreed with the right of the Moslem group to build a center in downtown Manhattan within a few blocks of Ground Zero but a larger number thought they should decide not to do so to avoid offending those opposed to it?)

The US I grew up in was one in which one expected to defend, if called upon by circumstances, the nation and its values and the actions of the government were largely in support (with partisan variations across what now seems a narrow spectrum) of those values.

We never tested Hanson Baldwin’s 1947 suggestion of the consequences of war with the Soviet Union but we may be testing them now:  Substitute war against radical jihadists.

“He wondered whether America could confront the Soviet Union “without becoming a ‘garrison state’ and destroying the very qualities and virtues and principles we originally set about to save.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/books/review/Bass-t.html