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The Most Unnecessary Federal Spending

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The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019 (Oct. 1, 2019–Sept. 30, 2020), which directs how federal funds should be used for national defense, has now passed both the U.S. House and Senate — as it has every year since 1961.

Officially titled the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019,” H.R. 5515

authorizes and prioritizes funding for the Department of Defense (DoD) and military activities and construction, and prescribes military personnel strengths for Fiscal Year 2019. The bill complies with the bipartisan budget agreement and authorizes $639.1 billion in base funding. Further, the bill authorizes an additional $69 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund to cover contingency operations. When factoring in $8.9 billion for mandatory defense spending, a total of $717 billion is authorized to be appropriated.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 351-66. Only 7 Republicans voted against it. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 85-10. Only 2 Republicans voted against it. Even so, militarism is bipartisan, as an overwhelming majority of Democratic representatives and senators also voted in favor of the bill.

Significant provisions of the legislation include:

The NDAA increases the size of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Naval and Air Reserve, and Air Guard, fully funds a 2.6% pay raise for our troops, and extends a special pay and bonuses for servicemembers in high-demand fields.

To honor and celebrate 100 years of patriotic sacrifice for our men and women in uniform, the legislation authorizes a parade in the nation’s capital and a national celebration.

The bill supports the accelerated construction of the fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, construction of two additional Littoral Combat ships, and supports two additional Virginia-class attack submarines in fiscal years 2022 and 2023.

The bill establishes a sub-unified command for space under the Strategic Command for carrying out joint space warfighting and directs the Secretary to develop a plan that identifies joint mission-essential tasks for space as a warfighting domain.

Funding the President’s request for $6.3 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) to further increase number of U.S. troops in Europe, reassure U.S. partners and allies, and deter Russian aggression.

The bill supports military exercises with Japan, Australia, and India and improves security cooperation to counter China’s rising influence in Asia, Southeast Asia, and other regions.

The bill carries annual restrictions against transferring detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the United States and building or modifying facilities in the United States for housing detainees.

The Department of Defense did not request a Base Realignment and Closure effort this year and the legislation does not authorize one.

It is this last item that annoyed Frederico Bartels, a policy analyst for defense budgeting at the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

In “Unnecessary Federal Spending on Infrastructure to Continue,” Bartels is concerned solely with unnecessary federal spending on military infrastructure. He wants a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).

The BRAC Commission is an independent nine-member panel appointed by the president that recommends domestic military bases to be closed or combined with other bases. There have been five BRAC rounds (1988, 1991, 1993, 1995, 2005), resulting in the closure of more than 350 military installations. Although there was supposed to be another round of closures and realignments in 2015 and every eight years thereafter, Congress has put it off. And no wonder: Defense contractors donate heavily to members of Congress of both parties and strategically place defense-related jobs in key states and districts.

According to Bartels,

Base Realignment and Closure is the best process available to the Pentagon to reduce unneeded infrastructure. It allows the Defense Department to have a holistic approach to its real estate, through the assessment of its whole inventory of installations and bases for their military value.

The Pentagon then can recommend realignments or closures of bases or other installations. The process is the most feasible way to trim excess infrastructure from the defense budget.

Every year that the next round of realignments and closures of bases is delayed, an estimated $2 billion in taxpayer funds are lost in the upkeep of unused facilities.

But don’t think for a minute that Bartels or any other conservative at the Heritage Foundation actually wants to cut the DoD’s overall budget by any amount. He goes on to say that “these resources would be better leveraged elsewhere in the defense budget, such as in Apache helicopters or Virginia-class submarines.”

In days gone by, examples of Pentagon waste, such as $37 screws, $2,043 nuts, $7,622 coffee pots, $74,165 ladders, and $640 toilet seats, could be found in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. Waste such as this is sometimes still pointed out — e.g., the $10,000 toilet seats for the C-17 Globemaster III, the Air Force’s “primary strategic lift aircraft for global transport of troops and equipment.” But what Bartels and most conservatives fail to realize is that most defense spending is unnecessary.

The budget for the U.S. military is $716 billion this year, an increase of $82 billion from last year. The extra $82 billion will “bring us back to a position of primacy,” said Defense Secretary James Mattis in February. To put this in perspective, Russia’s entire military budget totals only $61 billion — and it must “defend a vast territory from the Baltic to the Pacific.” And while Donald Trump claims that Europe is not paying its fair share of NATO expenses to defend Europe against Russia, “Britain and France combined together spend more on their military forces than Russia.” U.S. defense spending dwarfs the rest of the world. The United States spends more on national defense than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, United Kingdom, and Japan combined. But as has been pointed out, total spending on “national security” actually tops $1 trillion a year.

How much of this spending is actually for offense instead of defense? Like the new $100 million drone base in Niger.

The most unnecessary federal spending is military spending.

America has been blessed with natural national defense: the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This was recognized by Thomas Jefferson more than two hundred years ago: “The insulated state in which nature has placed the American continent should so far avail it that no spark of war kindled in the other quarters of the globe should be wafted across the wide oceans which separate us from them.”

America also no longer has the Soviet Union to contend with. As conservative columnist Pat Buchanan recently pointed out,

The Soviet Empire is history. The Soviet Union is history, having splintered into 15 nations. Russia is smaller than it was in the 19th century. Russia is gone from Cuba, Grenada, Central America, Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique.

The Warsaw Pact is history. The Red Army is gone from Eastern Europe. The former Warsaw Pact nations of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria all belong to NATO, as do the former Soviet “republics” of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.

With the breakup of the USSR, Russia has been reduced to two-thirds of the territory and half the population of the Soviet Union. Its former republics and now neighbors Georgia and Ukraine are hostile.

To sail from St. Petersburg through the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic, Russian warships must pass within range of 11 NATO nations — the three Baltic republics, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Britain, and France.

The most unnecessary federal spending is military spending. The United States has hundreds of thousands of troops stationed all over the world in more than 170 countries and territories.

Since taking office, Trump has bombed seven countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — just like Barack Obama before him. U.S. special forces operate in more than a hundred countries. The U.S. military now drops a bomb somewhere in the world every 12 minutes.

The purpose of U.S. military spending is not primarily to defend the country, protect Americans from credible threats, secure American borders, patrol American coasts, guard American shores, or watch over American skies. Instead, it is mainly used to invade other countries, occupy other countries, fight foreign wars, garrison the planet with troops and bases, maintain U.S. hegemony, fight unjust wars, make widows and orphans, launch preemptive strikes, intervene in civil wars, defend other countries, spread democracy at the point of a gun, be the world’s policeman, and carry out a reckless, belligerent, and meddling U.S. foreign policy. It is the most unnecessary federal spending.

In his book Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (2010), retired U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich explains the true nature of military spending: “Each year the Pentagon expends hundreds of billions of dollars to raise and support U.S. military forces. This money lubricates American politics, filling campaign coffers and providing a source of largesse — jobs and contracts — for distribution to constituents. It provides lucrative ‘second careers’ for retired U.S. military officers hired by weapons manufacturers or by consulting firms appropriately known as ‘Beltway Bandits’.”

Frederico Bartels is right: we do need another round of BRAC. But it is the foreign bases that need to be closed first — all of them.

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