Posts Tagged ‘defense spending’

Fresh from the reported killing of more than 60 civilians, U.S. forces in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, killed nine boys gathering firewood in Afghanistan. General Petraeus says he’s sorry.

“We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize to the members of the Afghan government, the people of Afghanistan and, most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions,” Gen. Petraeus said in a statement. “These deaths should have never happened.”

Too little, too late, general. Nine boys now lie among thousands of others who had a right to life independent of U.S. goals in Afghanistan, and “sorry” doesn’t cut it, especially from the general who’s tripling the air war over Afghanistan. Air strikes are the leading tactic involved when U.S. and coalition forces kill civilians. We know this. We use them anyway. These boys’ deaths, or at least the idea of these boys’ deaths, were factored in to a calculation and deemed insufficient to deter the use of air power long before they died, and their deaths don’t seem to have changed Petraeus’ or ISAF’s calculus. Sorry doesn’t cut it.

But at least Petraeus didn’t try to blame the boys’ families for blowing them up to frame him this time.

Sorry certainly doesn’t cut it for the brother of one of the dead:

“I don’t care about the apology,” Mohammed Bismil, the 20-year-old brother of two boys killed in the strike, said in a telephone interview. “The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] or a suicide vest to fight.”

President Obama says he’s sorry, too:

President Obama expressed his deep regret for the tragic accident in Kunar Province in which nine Afghans were killed.  The President conveyed his condolences to the Afghan people and stressed that he and General Petraeus take such incidents very seriously. President Obama and President Karzai agreed that such incidents undermine our shared efforts in fighting terrorism.

Oh, good, he takes such incidents “very seriously.” Here’s a fun thought experiment: can you imagine President Obama (or any high-ranking visiting U.S. dignitary, for that matter) scheduling a visit to the graveside of any civilian victim of U.S.-fired munitions on his next trip to Afghanistan? Give me a call when the images from that photo-op make the front pages, would you?

I don’t doubt for a second that President Obama and much of Washington officialdom think that they take these deaths very seriously. Yet, they continue to rubber-stamp funds and to approve a strategy and various supporting tactics that are guaranteed to cause future incidents like these.  Because that’s the case, they’re conscripting tax money that we send to D.C. every year for the purpose of building our nation together into policies that we don’t support and which kill people for whom we feel no malice. In fact, the strategies and tactics are so ill-conceived that they’re putting our money into the hands of insurgents who kill U.S. troops.

From Talking Points Memo:

After nearly a decade of mismanagement, theft and fraud, the U.S. military still hasn’t found a way to staunch the flow of what is likely hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars in lost fuel in Afghanistan, some of which is sold on the black market and winds up in Taliban hands, a TPM investigation has found.

…When TPM asked Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), a longtime member of the defense spending panel, about the fuel losses on Wednesday, Moran was well-versed on the topic, noting that he and other members of the committee had received private briefings by defense officials about the thorny security, logistics and corruption issues posed by the fuel theft.

Over the years, the transport of the fuel into the country at times has involved agreements to siphon a portion to outside parties in order to guarantee safe passage of the trucks, Moran said, and some of that fuel has ended up in enemy hands.

This same news story also included mention of a report from last year that showed that U.S. taxpayer funds funneled through protection rackets was one of the insurgents’ most significant sources of funding:

…A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee investigation last year revealed that the companies under the host-nation contract often paid private security contractors to ensure safe passage through Afghanistan. The security contractors, in turn, made protection payment to local warlords in exchange for their agreement to prevent attacks.

“In many cases, the investigation discovered, these protection payments made their way into the hands of warlords and, directly or indirectly, the very insurgents that U.S. forces were fighting,” Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), the ranking member of the national security oversight subcommittee, wrote in a January letter to Issa highlighting the problems with the trucking contract.

Even completed big-ticket completed projects intended to win hearts and minds for the coalition have resulted in new funding streams for insurgents. From Yahoo! News:

WASHINGTON – By pumping more than $100 million into a hydropower plant, the United States sought to improve the lives of Afghans and win the hearts and minds of tribesmen and farmers who might otherwise turn to the Taliban insurgency. Instead, a prominent outside Pentagon adviser argues, the bungled boondoggle ended up funding the insurgents while doing little to help the United States end the war and bring troops home.

…Half the electricity from the project in the volatile Helmand province goes to Taliban territory, enabling America’s enemies to issue power bills and grow the poppies that finance their insurgency, he says.

With our money fueling the insurgency and our killing of civilians driving more people to join the Taliban’s side every week, it’s little wonder that the insurgency continues to grow in size and sophistication. But that brings us back to that calculation, the one that put those nine dead boys in the column titled “Acceptable Losses.” With official promises that more troops would lead to more security for ordinary Afghans having collapsed so badly that they read like a bad joke, what could possibly justify this continued bonfire of lives and resources in Afghanistan? The war’s not making us safer and it’s not worth the cost. Dragging this out until 2014 won’t change that one bit.

This week U.S. forces burned children along with the firewood they were gathering. If we allow this brutal, futile war to continue, you can bet that more children and more of our resources will be kindling to a fire that’s not keeping anybody warm. The American people want our troops brought home, and it’s time President Obama and Congress took that “very seriously.”

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup near you and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Today, President Obama came to my town to give an invite-only speech at the University of Texas. Lacking an invite, I wondered what people with invites had to say about the Afghanistan War. Here’s what I found:

All the people who had tickets to the event who consented to be interviewed and who gave an opinion for or against are in this video, and their views are fairly represented. Of course, that’s not a surprise, given the levels of public disgust with this war, the higher levels of opposition among Democrats and the likely makeup of the invitee crowd.

Most Americans — 54 percent — think the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Forty-one percent disagree.

There is a partisan divide on the issue: 73 percent of Democrats think the U.S. should set a timetable, while only 32 percent of Republicans say the U.S. should do so. Fifty-four percent of independents want a timetable.

What is surprising, though, is the “heads down, follow through” attitude on the part of our elected leaders.

Poll: Afghanistan War Hurting Obama’s Support at Home

Poll: Afghanistan War Deeply Unpopular, Dragging Down Presidential Approval

Afghan War Looms As Electoral Problem

Ever heard of a thing called an election?

July is already the deadliest month to date for coalition forces in Afghanistan, only 15 days into the month.

Coalition fatalities in the month of July so far, listed by name, age, and branch of military service:

  • Mevlüt, Baydur, 39, Turkish Army
  • Sungur, Faruk, 51, Turkish Army
  • Di Lisio, Alessandro, 25, Italian Army
  • Spicer, David S., 33 , U.S. Marine
  • Heede Jr., Michael W., 22, U.S. Marine
  • Lindstrom, Eric J., 27, U.S. Army
  • Hatfield, Jerome D., 36, U.S. Marine
  • Barbozaflores, Pedro A., 27, U.S. Marine
  • Lembke, Matthew R., 22, U.S. Marine
  • Simpson, Daniel, 20, British Army
  • Murphy, Joseph, 18, British Army
  • Backhouse, James, 18, British Army
  • Aldridge, William, 18, British Army
  • Horne, Jonathan, 28, British Army
  • Scott, Lee, 26, British Army
  • Farris, Joshua R., 22, U.S. Army
  • Brackpool, John, 28, British Army
  • Hume, Daniel, 22, British Army
  • Hayes, John E., 36, U.S. Marine
  • Hager, Roger G., 20, U.S. Marine
  • Tate, Darren Ethan, 21, U.S. Navy
  • Missman , Gregory James, 36, U.S. Army
  • Roy, Michael C., 25, U.S. Marine
  • Talbert, Christopher, 24, U.S. Army National Guard
  • Whiteside, Christopher, 20, British Army
  • Garner, Mark A., 30, U.S. Army
  • Joannette, Martin, 25, Canadian Army
  • Audet, Patrice, 38, Canadian Army
  • Babington-Browne, Ben, 27, British Army
  • Williams, Derwin, 41, U.S. Army National Guard
  • Hosford, Chester W., 35, U.S. Army National Guard
  • Chavers, Brock H., 25, U.S. Army National Guard
  • Johnson, Issac L., 24, U.S. Army National Guard
  • Gideon, Nicolas H. J., 20, U.S. Army
  • Randolph, Tony Michael, 22, U.S. Navy
  • Elson, Dane, 22, British Army
  • Laws, Robert, 18, British Army
  • Dennis, David, 29, British Army
  • Michaud, Charles-Philippe, 28, Canadian Army
  • Fairbairn, Aaron E., 20, U.S. Army
  • Casillas, Justin A., 19, U.S. Army
  • Bulger, Nicholas, 30, Canadian Army
  • Sharp, Charles S., 20, U.S. Marine
  • Thorneloe, Rupert, 40, British Army
  • Hammond, Joshua, 18, British Army

According to the National Priorities Project:

To date, $172.9 billion dollars have been allocated to the war in Afghanistan since 2001. In addition, we estimate that $24.4 billion dollars of the recent supplemental will be used to further fund the war in [Afghanistan] for a total of $197.3 billion dollars.

The stress of the escalation in Afghanistan had led the Defense Department to consider temporarily growing the size of the U.S. Army:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is weighing a possible temporary expansion of the US army to ease the strain from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his press secretary said on Wednesday.

Gates was discussing the idea, backed by Senator Joseph Lieberman, with senior officers to add 30,000 troops to the active-duty army, press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.

The possible expansion from the current strength of 547,400 would be designed “to get them through what is still a stressful period as we draw down in Iraq and continue to plus-up in Afghanistan,” Morrell said.

…Any expansion would be temporary but would carry a significant price tag, possibly more than a billion dollars, army officials said.

We will likely never know how many civilians died in Afghanistan as a result of the war. According to the Human Security Report Project’s Afghanistan Conflict Monitor, “[s]ystematic collection of civilian fatality data only began in 2007.” However:

When is enough enough? End this war.

Obama Axes Pentagon Plan To Build Billion Dollar Tank In Shape Of Dragon

Wow, so…my bank failed yesterday! Ouch!  It won’t actually (I think/hope/hear) affect my finances in any concrete way, but the shockwaves from the economic meltdown are starting to rattle my windows, at least. What a mess.

Here’s a succinct description of the cause of the crisis:

Instead, we’re getting a Wall Street bailout not of the mortgages, but of the absurd, speculative, economy-wrecking derivatives based on those mortgages, derivatives that investors and banks ravenously sold each other at unsupportable and quite-probably-crooked prices. Those derivatives, generally speaking, are “bets” on the state of the underlying mortgages. And they didn’t just bet wrong — they bet irrationally, based on presumptions of near-zero risks to those underlying mortgages. And worse, the big banks even — bafflingly — got special permission to overleverage themselves 40 to 1, all but assuring collapse if those derivatives went south. Which they did.

Fine, then, but how is that self-induced bubble an unweatherable economic crisis for the rest of us? Yes, those banks may fail — as they should. It’d be a crime if they didn’t, given their mismanagement of their accounts. But the real problem is that those banks are, literally, too big to be allowed to fail. Their failure would present a liquidity problem for the rest of the market. They can do anything — they could even burn money on the street — and the strong preference of government would be to bail them out for it, because the alternative is financial chaos.

Also note that Wall Street payed out $120 billion in bonuses alone from 2000 to 2006.

Okay now: stop. Breathe. Turn off the TV for a minute.

The world is not ending. Things may be about to get more difficult, but you are going to be okay.

Here, have some free advice from a pretty smart guy.

It’s going to be okay.

Now, if you had to guess which sector of our economy and which budget items would be protected by Congress during this debacle, which would you pick?  Let me give you a hint:

Next year’s Defense Department budget is the largest ever. But many analysts — even before the bailout — predicted that the gravy train was going to have to slow down, under the weight of the costs for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Pentagon spokesbot Geoff Morrell says not to worry. “The current financial conditions are not, as far as I can tell, impacting how business is being conducted within this building,” he tells reporters. “I would note, however, that in good times and in bad, when the market is up and when it is down, the Congress has been consistent in its support throughout history of our nation’s defense. And I don’t see any reason why that would change now.”

I think we’ve just hit on a good measure by which to judge the seriousness of the President’s assertions of a crisis.  If the answer to the question: “Is this serious enough to consider significant cuts to military spending?” is “No!” then we might want to keep that in mind when deciding whether and how to spend an off-budget amount that is fairly close to the total defense spending of our country every year.

I am not an economics expert. I have every reason to believe that there is a crisis and that if the U.S. government wants to avert it, they need to act quickly. But I would point out that this is a prime example of an “act now!” crisis that masks the overall corruption and institutional violence of the status quo before and after the crisis abates. There are slow-burning crises happening all the time (poverty, failing schools, etc.), and the fact that we’re willing to throw $700 billion at this one without considering a cut in our implements of mass violence shows that the U.S. has dropped, for the moment, our pretensions of being a “Christian” nation and that we have decided as a people to withdraw from serious engagement with reality. The economy is withering under our feet, and even then, we cannot let go of our desire for “full spectrum dominance” in order to try to stave off in a responsible way a crisis that may result in deepening poverty, hunger, and unemployment. As it stands, we will try to do both, resulting in a huge jump in U.S. national debt, which in turn will cause a rise in interest payments we must pay on that debt, meaning less and less of the federal budget will be available for future Congresses to appropriate for the purposes of funding public structures like roads, schools, hospitals, etc.

Right now the U.S. reminds me of a drug addict who finds out that if he buys his next bag of heroin, he won’t be able to pay his rent, and who buys the bag anyway. America by and large is addicted to military dominance of the planet, and we will happily mortgage away future generations’ ability to pay for better public structures in order to preserve it.

This economy is hurting people on the lower end of the income scale, it’s hopelessly dependent on and intertwined with military contractors, and the contractors and Wall Street CEO’s aren’t hurting with their billions of dollars in bonuses. The U.S. government will dump money in $700 billion chunks on the military/industrial complex and on Wall Street. And:

…despite what we’ve been told, then, we can only presume that the problem is in fact not all the bad, scary subprime mortgages…a lot of people are finding themselves upside-down on their houses right now, but Paulson isn’t proposing we…solve that — and even the “controversial” Democratic counterproposal, that we actually do at least a little something to help those people, after they’ve already gone bankrupt, is pathetically weak.

In other words, no direct help for those who fell for Wall Street’s debt marketing directly targeting people who could least afford it. All this leads me to believe along with Geoff Holsclaw that:

the event[s] of last week have revealed the true motivations of this administrations (as well as its faith in the Market before all else), as well as revealed that the essential orientation of politics is to ensure a smoothly running economy (rather than things like justice, goodness, peace, or even the commonwealth).

UPDATE: ThinkProgress connects some dots between American militarism and the economic crisis:

While the subject matter seems disconnected from the situation in financial markets, prescient economists predicted this fall-out from the Iraq war long ago. In 2002, Gerd Hausler, director of international capital markets at the IMF, said that “a serious conflict with Iraq would not be a very healthy development” for the financial markets. Robert Shapiro, undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration stated, “If the [Iraq] conflict wears on or, worse, spreads, the economic consequences become very serious.” The debt was $5.7 trillion when Bush took office; it will be $10.3 trillion by the time he leaves. While Congress hesitates to appropriate $700 billion for the financial crisis, the administration still is pouring $12 billion a month into Iraq, also raising the question of how the Iraq war funds could be spent better at home.

IRAQ RECESSION?: A significant reason for the current $9.6 trillion federal debt has been the Iraq war, which the U.S. largely financed through borrowing. This week, President Bush said that the crisis began after “a massive amount of money flowed into the United States from investors abroad because our country is an attractive and secure place to do business,” which led to easy credit and to the housing bust. But the problem isn’t simply one of excessive foreign investment because of businesses. “It’s that the U.S. had to borrow money from foreign nations at an alarming rate, after it dug itself into debt paying for the Iraq War while cutting taxes,” The Wonk Room observed. Thus, the United States had to turn to investment from abroad for financing. This, as well as lax regulation and oversight of Wall Street contributed to the credit troubles. Currently, 45 percent of Treasury securities are owned by foreign nations, with the most owned by China and Japan. Other nations owned less than 20 percent of these securities as recently as 1994. Bush left out of his assessment the fact that much of the foreign investment went to finance a war and his tax cuts.

UPDATE #2:  stuperb (who stopped by for comments earlier) points to a scary indicator of how well-thought-out the plan is:

From Forbes.com, regarding the $700 billion bailout proposed by President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson:

“In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

‘It’s not based on any particular data point,’ a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. ‘We just wanted to choose a really large number.'”

Everyone knows that war in general and the Iraq war specifically has meant big money for defense contractors, but a new congressional report puts it in stark relief:

…[T]he scale of the use of contractors in Iraq is unprecedented in US history, according to a new congressional report that may be the most thorough official account yet of the practice.

As of early 2008, at least 190,000 private personnel were working on US-funded projects in the Iraq theater, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) survey found. That means that for each uniformed member of the US military in the region, there was also a contract employee – a ratio of 1 to 1.

“It is … exceptional the degree to which the military’s currently relying on such contractors,” said CBO director Peter Orszag at an Aug. 12 press conference.

In the Korean conflict, the ratio was 2.5 uniformed personnel for each contractor. In Vietnam, the comparable figure was 5 to 1.

The Balkans conflict of the 1990s provided a glimpse of the future, as it also featured a 1-to-1 military-to-civilian worker ratio.

But in the Balkans, the overall deployment numbers “were of a much smaller scale than what we are seeing in Iraq,” Mr. Orszag said.

Defense contractors, especially those that manufacture weapons, plan to use recent events in Georgia to push even more resources into the military-industrial-congressional complex. From Noah over at Danger Room:

In 2006, the U.S. Army ran a number of war game scenarios, to see how effective their planned array of networked tanks, robots, and fighting vehicles might be in the conflicts of tomorrow. The battles the Army chose for were “major combat operations” — full-scale fights between two major armies. And the location Army planners picked was the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

At the time, these so-called “Caspian Sea scenarios” seemed oddly out of sync, for a military engaged in a pair of counterinsurgencies. But that was before Russia sent troops into Georgia, Azerbaijian’s neighbor to the west. Before, supporters of the Army’s $200 billion “Future Combat Systems” told the public…those robots and tanks were really meant to kick butt in small wars, they insisted. Now, backers of…high-price military hardware programs are pointing to the Russian threat, as the new justification for their gear.

“We’ve spent so many resources and so much attention on Iraq that we’ve lost sight of future threats down the road. The current conflict between Russia and Georgia is a perfect example,” Rep. John Murtha, the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee chair, tells the Wall Street Journal.

The military-industrial complex thanks Vlad the assailer,” Neptunus Lex quips. “Relevancy is such a valuable commodity.”

Air Force Association president Michael Dunn…said that if U.S. F-16 and F-18 fighters were carrying out combat missions over Georgia, they would be in grave danger from highly advanced Russian surface-to-air missiles on the border that a newer plane like the F-22 can evade. “The debate has got to shift as a result of this war.”

In other words, “We gotta have more cash for weapons! The Russians are coming!!!”

The idea that the U.S. needs more money for “defense” is ludicrious. The U.S. spends about $750,000,000,000 yearly on defense. That’s more than all of the other nations of the world combined. For the amount of money the U.S. government will spend just on the Iraq war, you could desalinate enough seawater to give every African fresh, clean drinking water until 10,000 AD; launch everyone from South Ossetia into outer space; or cover New Hampshire and Vermont in gold leaf, just for the fun of it. The government throws so much money at the Pentagon and private contractors that just last year they could not account for more than $150 billion of it. The Defense Department’s financial records are in such a mess that they cannot even fail an audit. And just in the case of the Navy, this is some of what we’ve got for the money:

Nuclear weapons have been mishandled; major contracts — including one for a fleet of new tanker planes — have been botched; the Air Force’s civilian and military leaders have been ousted by the Secretary of Defense; a top general apparently committed suicide.

All of this is totally unbelievable when you consider that the State Department has fewer Foreign Service officers right now than the military has band members. (I’m not kidding.) There is absolutely no way the Defense Department or the war-profiteers like KBR, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing need a budget increase.

This “defense” largesse, though, should be a wakeup call for Christians who waver on whether to fully embrace the nonviolent, self-sacrificial love of Christ as a viable solution to evil and injustice in the world. One nation on the planet, just one, is spending $750,000,000,000 a year on the paraphanelia of violence and have seen the prime challenges and adversaries they’ve identified in the world grow more threatening, not less. If that price tag, which represents huge resources that could be put to work instead ending poverty, feeding the hungry, etc., is not sufficient resources for proponents of violent solutions to achieve their end, I offer that no amount of resources will ever be enough.

Resource nonviolent solutions if you want to end violence.