The Obama national security "team" part
of that much-hailed "team of rivals" does not yet exist, but it does
seem to be heaving into view. And so far, its views seem anything but rivalrous.
Mainstream reporters and pundits lovingly refer to them as "centrist," but,
in a Democratic context, they are distinctly right of center. The next secretary
of state looks
to be Hillary Clinton, a hawk on the Middle East. During the campaign, she
spoke of our ability to "totally
obliterate" Iran, should that country carry out a nuclear strike against
Israel. She will evidently be allowed to bring her own (hawkish) subordinates
into the State Department with her. Her prospective appointment is now being
by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Henry Kissinger.
The leading candidate for national security adviser is Gen.James L. Jones,
former Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander, who remained
"publicly neutral" during the presidential campaign and is known to be personally
close to John McCain and, evidently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as well.
Not surprisingly, he favors
yet more spending for the Pentagon. The reputed leading candidate for director
of the CIA, John Brennan, now head of the National Counterterrorism Center,
Tenet's chief of staff and deputy executive director during the worst years
of the CIA's intelligence, imprisonment, and torturing excesses.
The new secretary of defense is odds on to
be… the old secretary of defense, Robert Gates, a confidant of the first
President Bush. Still surrounded at the Pentagon by former Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld's holdovers, he has had a long career in Washington as a clever
apparatchik. He was the adult brought in the story of how and by
whom has yet to be told to clean up the Bush foreign policy mess (and
probably prevent an attack on Iran). He did this. He now favors no fixed timelines
for an Iraq withdrawal, but a significant American troop "surge" in Afghanistan,
north of 20,000," in the next 12-18 months. He has overseen
the further growth of the bloated Pentagon budget and has recently come out
for the building of a new generation of nuclear weapons. (Other candidates for
defense include former Clinton Navy secretary and key Obama adviser Richard
Danzig, who may end up for the time being as an undersecretary
of defense, Clinton former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre, and Republican
Sen. Chuck Hagel, who might instead land the job as the director of national
Drop down a tier, as Yochi Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal wrote
last week, and you find the Obama transition people using a little known think-tank,
the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), as a "top farm team" to stock
its national security shelves. The founders of the center are don't be
shocked now former
Clinton administration officials providing yet more "centrists" to an administration
that seems to believe the essence of "experience" is having been in Washington
between 1992 and 2000. CNAS, by the way, is officially against a fixed timeline
for withdrawal from Iraq. In that, it seems typical of the coalescing national
security team, almost none of whom, so far, opposed the invasion of Iraq (other
than the president-elect). Having been antiwar is evidently a sign of inexperience
and so a negative.
Add in the military lineup Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen,
Centcom Commander David Petraeus, Generals Raymond Odierno and David McKiernan,
the U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan all second-term Bush picks,
all reportedly ready to push for a major "surge" in Afghanistan, all evidently
against Obama's timeline for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq.
Now, mind you, so far we've only been considering the foreign policy issues
of empire that face the next team. Domestically, if Gates remains, the Air Force
might get kneecapped (perhaps losing the F-22 Raptor, the weapons system it
wants for a war that will never be fought), but the Army and Marines will expand,
as (so he promises) will the Navy. The essence of the matter is simple enough,
as Frida Berrigan, arms expert for the New America Foundation and TomDispatch
regular, indicates below: The Pentagon, even in the toughest of economic times,
is likely to prove relatively untouchable.
The Obama transition team's explanation for the remarkably familiar look to
its emerging national security lineup, suggested David E. Sanger in a recent
think piece in the New York Times, is "that the new administration
will have no time for a learning curve. With the country facing a deep recession
or worse, global market turmoil, chaos in Pakistan, and a worsening war in Afghanistan,
'there's going to be no time for experimentation,' a member of the Obama foreign
policy team said." In other words, we need the sort of minds, already imprisoned
in Washington's version of "experience," who helped lead us into this mess (long
term), to get us out of it. "Experimentation" is obviously for times when it
isn't needed. For these custodians of empire, better a steady hand and the same-old
thoughts. No? Tom
Weapons Come Second
Can Obama take on the Pentagon?
by Frida Berrigan
Even saddled with a two-front, budget-busting
war and a collapsing economy, President Barack Obama may be able to accomplish
a lot. With a friendly Congress and a relieved world, he could make short work
of some of the most egregious overreaches of the Bush White House from
Guantanamo to those presidential signing statements. For all the rolling up
of sleeves and "everything is going to change" exuberance, however, taking on
the Pentagon, with its mega-budget and its mega-power, may be the hardest task
Under President George W. Bush, military spending increased by about
60 percent, and that's not including spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Eight years ago, as Bush prepared to enter the Oval Office, military spending
totaled just over $300 billion. When Obama sets foot in that same office,
military spending will total roughly $541 billion, including the Pentagon's
basic budget and nuclear warhead work in the Department of Energy.
And remember, that's before the Global War on Terror enters the
picture. The Pentagon now estimates that military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan
will cost at least $170 billion in 2009, pushing total military spending for
Obama's first year to about $711 billion (a number that is mind-bogglingly
large and at the same time a relatively conservative estimate that does not,
for example, include intelligence funding, veterans' care, or other security
With such numbers, it's no surprise that the United States is, by
a multiple of nearly six, the biggest military spender in the world. (China's
military budget, the closest competitor, comes in at a "mere" $120 billion.)
Still, it can be startling to confront the simple fact that the U.S. alone accounts
for nearly half of all global military spending to be as exact as possible
in such a murky area, 48 percent according to the International Institute for Strategic
Studies. That's more than what the
next 45 nations together spend on their militaries on an annual basis.
Again, keep in mind that war spending for 2009 comes on top of the
estimated $864 billion that lawmakers have, since 2001, appropriated for the
Iraq war and occupation, ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, and other
activities associated with the Global War on Terror. In fact, according to
an October 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service, total war spending,
quite apart from the regular military budget, is already at $922 billion and
quickly closing in on the trillion dollar mark.
Common Sense Cuts?
Years late, and with budgets everywhere bleeding red, some in Congress
and elsewhere are finally raising questions about whether this level of spending
makes any sense. Unfortunately, the questions are not coming from the inner
circle of the president-elect.
Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) drew the ire and consternation of hard-line
Republicans and military hawks when, in October, he suggested
that Congress should consider cutting defense spending by a quarter. That would
mean shaving $177 billion, leaving $534 billion for the U.S. defense and war
budget and maintaining a significant distance $413 billion to be exact
between United States and our next "peer competitor." Frank told a Massachusetts
newspaper editorial board that, in the context of a struggling economy, the
Pentagon will have to start choosing among its many weapons programs. "We don't
need all these fancy new weapons," he told the staff of the New Bedford Standard
Times. Obama did not back him up on that.
Even chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense John Murtha
(D-Pa.), a Congressman who never saw a weapons program he didn't want to buy,
of tough choices on the horizon. While he did not put a number on it, in a recent
interview he did say: "The next president is going to be forced to decrease
defense spending in order to respond to neglected domestic priorities. Because
of this, the Defense Department is going to have to make tough budget decisions
involving tradeoffs between personnel, procurement, and future weapons spending."
And now, President-elect Obama is hearing a similar message from
the Defense Business Board, established in 2001 by Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld to give advice to the Pentagon. A few weeks ago, in briefing papers
prepared for President-elect Obama's transition team, the Board, hardly an
outfit unfriendly to the Pentagon, argued
that some of the Defense Department's big weapons projects needed to be scrapped
as the U.S. entered a "period of fiscal constraint in a tough economy." While
not listing the programs they considered knife-worthy, the Board did assert
that "business as usual is no longer an option."
Meanwhile, defense executives and industry analysts are predicting
the worst. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney wrote in a "note"
to employees, "No one really yet knows when or to what extent defense spending
could be affected, but it's unrealistic to think there won't be some measure
of impact." Michael Farage, Sikorsky's director of Air Force programs, was
even more colorful:
"With the economy in the proverbial pooper, defense budgets can only go down."
Kevin G. Kroger, president of a company making oil filters for Army
a typical reaction: "There's a lot of uncertainty out there. We're not sure
where the budgets are going and what's going to get funded. It leaves us nervous."
It's no surprise that, despite eight years of glut financing via
the Global War on Terror, weapons manufacturers, like the automotive Big Three,
are now looking for their own bailout. For them, however, it should probably
be thought of as a bail-up, an assurance of yet more good times. Even
though in recent years their companies have enjoyed strong stock prices, have
seen major increases in Pentagon contracts, and are still looking at boom-time
foreign weapons sales, expect them to push hard for a bottom-line guarantee
via their Holy Grail a military budget pegged to the gross
"We advocate 4 percent of the GDP as a floor for defense spending.
No question that has to be front and center for any new president's agenda,"
says Marion Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade
group representing companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
Listening to defense industry figures talk, you could get the impression
that the Pentagon's larder was empty and that the pinching of pennies and
tightening of belts was well underway. While the cuts suggested by the Defense
Business Board report got a lot of attention, the Pentagon is already quietly
laying the groundwork to lock the future Obama administration into a possibly
slightly scaled-down version of the over-the-top military spending of the
Business as Usual?
At the beginning of October, the Pentagon's latest five-year projection
of budget needs was revealed in the Congressional Quarterly. These
preliminary figures the full request should be released sometime next
month indicate that the Pentagon's starting point in its bargaining
with the new administration and Congress comes down to one word: more.
The estimates project $450 billion more in spending over those five
years than previously suggested figures. Take fiscal year 2010: the Pentagon
is evidently calling for a military budget of $584 billion, an increase of
$57 billion over what they informed President Bush and Congress they would
need just a few months ago.
Unfortunately, when it comes to military spending and defense, the
record is reasonably clear Obama is not about to go toe-to-toe with
On the campaign trail, his stump speech included this applause-ready
line suggesting that the costs of the war in Iraq are taking away from important
domestic priorities: "If we're spending $10 billion a month [in Iraq] over
the next four or five years, that's $10 billion a month we're not using to
rebuild the U.S., or drawing down our national debt, or making sure that families
have health care."
But the "surge" that Obama wants to shift from Iraq to Afghanistan
is unlikely to be a bargain. In addition, he has repeatedly
argued for a spike in defense spending to "reset" a military force worn
out by war. He has also
called for the expansion of the size of the Army and the Marines. On that
point, he is in complete agreement with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. They
even use the same numbers, suggesting that the Army should be augmented by
65,000 new recruits and the Marines by 27,000. The Congressional Budget Office
estimates that these manpower increases alone would add about $10 billion
a year that same campaign trail $10 billion to the Pentagon
budget over a five-year period.
The word from Wall Street? In a report entitled "Early Thoughts on Obama and
Defense," a Morgan Stanley researcher wrote on Nov. 5, "As we understand it,
Obama has been advised and agrees that there is no peace dividend. … In addition,
we believe, based on discussions with industry sources that Obama has agreed
not to cut the defense budget at least until the first 18 months of his term
as the national security situation becomes better understood."
In other words: Don't worry about it. President Obama is not about
to hand the next secretary of defense a box of brownie mix and order him to
hold a bake
sale to buy a bomber.
Smarter, Not More, Military Spending
Sooner rather than later, the new administration will need to think seriously
about how to spend smarter and significantly less on the military.
Our nose-diving economy simply will no longer support ever climbing defense
The good news is that the Obama administration won't have to figure it all
out alone. The contributors to Foreign Policy in Focus' new "Unified
Security Budget" have done a lot of the heavy lifting to demonstrate
that some of the choices that need to be made really aren't so tough. The report
makes the case for reductions in military spending on outdated or unproven weapons
systems totaling $61 billion. The argument is simple and straightforward: these
expensive systems don't keep us safe. Some were designed for a geopolitical
moment that is long gone like the F-22 meant to counter a Soviet plane
that was never built. Others, like the ballistic missile defense program, are
clearly meant only to perpetuate insecurity and provoke proliferation.
To cut the military budget more deeply, however, means more than
canceling useless, high-tech weapons systems. It means taking on something
fundamental and far-reaching: America's place in the world. It means coming
to grips with how we garrison
the planet, with how we use our military to project influence and power
anywhere in the world, with our attitudes toward international treaties and
agreements, with our vast
passels of real estate in foreign lands, and, of course, with our economic
and political relationships with clients and competitors.
As a candidate, Barack Obama stirred our imagination through his
calls for a "new era of international cooperation." The United States cannot,
however, cooperate with other nations from atop our shining Green Zone on
the hill; we cannot cooperate as the world's sole superpower, policeman, cowboy,
hyperpower, or whatever the imperial nom du jour turns out to be. Bottom
line: we cannot genuinely and effectively cooperate while spending more on
what we like to call "security" than the next 45 nations combined.
A new era in Pentagon spending would have to begin with a recognition
that enduring security is not attained by threat or fiat, nor is it bought
with staggering billions of dollars. It is built with other nations. Weapons
Frida Berrigan is a senior program associate at the New
America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative (ASI). She is a columnist
for Foreign Policy in Focus and a contributing
editor at In These Times. In early December, ASI will release Weapons
at War 2008: Beyond the Bush Legacy, co-authored by Berrigan and William
D. Hartung, an examination of U.S. weapons sales and military aid to developing
nations, conflict zones, and nations where human rights are not safeguarded.
if you would like a copy of the executive summary. To listen to Berrigan discuss
Obama and the Pentagon in an audio interview, click here.
Copyright 2008 Frida Berrigan