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Defund the Pentagon
By John Ketwig
Our country has endured a number of crisis situations over the past year or so, and we are expected to take comfort from the news that the Biden administration is creating a new task force at the Pentagon to develop advanced "defense" technologies intended to make our military establishment more competitive with the Chinese. This group will no doubt steer additional funding to the Pentagon itself, and all the components of the military-industrial complex. A similar panel in 2018 suggested that competition with China would require defense budget increases of 3% to 5% over the long term. To pay for these increases, they suggested Congress should consider cutting Social Security and other safety-net spending.
Let's look at a few pertinent facts before those cuts are proposed again. Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that our military has not won a significant victory since the end of World War II, three quarters of a century ago. Total "defense" spending, including the costs of caring for veterans and military retirement benefits, currently exceeds 1.2 trillion dollars a year. Then there's the "overseas contingency operations" account that funds our "forever" wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and many other countries. The US currently maintains over 800 military bases overseas while the rest of the world's nations combined have approximately thirteen! In a similar vein, America's military spending is more than the next eleven biggest-spending nations combined. Total interest on our national debt in 2019 was $67,018,850,756.40. That's $67 billion, or more than Russia spent on military matters. If we cut our military spending to half, we would still outspend China and Russia combined. Don't you wonder why the Pentagon needs more funding, but they are able to donate so much equipment to local police forces? President Biden is proud to point out that his Secretary of Defense is the first Black to hold the position, but he fails to mention that Lloyd Austin III comes directly from a seat on the board of directors of weapons powerhouse Raytheon. Or that he has chosen more than a dozen people affiliated with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) lobby group that has urged the Department of Defense to "sustain and enhance" military contractors for key positions in his new administration.
But the real questions taxpayers must ask is, "What are we getting for our money?" and "Where might that money be better spent?"
In 2016, Mark Skidmore, a Professor of Economics at Michigan State University learned that a Department of Defense Office of Inspector General report had found $6.5 trillion in unaccounted-for Pentagon spending in the year 2015 alone! Skidmore, a bean-counter at the highest professional level, examined a variety of government websites dating back to 1968 and assembled a collection of official government documents revealing that "unsupported adjustments" totaling $21 trillion had been reported to the DOD and HUD through the years 1998 to 2015! That was, just by coincidence, almost exactly the total of our national debt prior to the Covid pandemic. A Forbes magazine report on Skidmore's efforts said "the Pentagon response was stonewalling and concealment." Detailed reports, replete with errors and dead-end adjustments, have been removed from the DOD inspector general's website. The unsupported and unexplained adjustments were 54 times the level of the total spending authorized by Congress. Remarkably, the Obama-era Congress with its vocal Tea Party element completely ignored this incredible discrepancy.
Conservatives, as we know, are especially concerned about excessive spending, and the Tea Party faction passed legislation requiring all departments of the vast federal bureaucracy to submit to a financial audit, with results required in 2017. The Pentagon had never before been audited, and they announced that any audit of its books is "not feasible." The good Generals and Admirals declined to explain to the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee how and where it might be able to cut spending. They do not feel that the American people have any right to know how much they spend or where they spend it, and Congress applies little pressure. On November 15, 2018 it was announced that the Pentagon's first-ever audit had failed. A small army of auditors announced that they could go no further. The DOD's records, they said, "were riddled with so many bookkeeping deficiencies, irregularities, and errors that a regular audit was simply impossible."
In 2015, the army was allocated $122 Billion as its annual budget, but the Treasury Department made a cash deposit of $794.8 billion to the army's account. That amount was greater than the Pentagon's entire military budget for that year, and at the same time the army records alone showed accounts payable, or bills due, of $929.3 billion! What in the world were they buying? And from whom? The most questionable items, the hidden treasure of the Defense Department, were once again the "unsupported adjustments," or sums of taxpayer money that disappeared by "adjusting" entries to reports and journals. A July 2016 report by the DOD's own inspector general found that the Pentagon's Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) based in Indianapolis could not account for $6.5 trillion! The military routinely avoids providing financial tracking, journals, ledgers, purchase orders, itemized bills, transaction dates, or any documentation whatsoever that might provide trillion-dollar tracks in the DOD budget snows. We, the American taxpayers, are being snowed in blizzard proportions! Investigative reporter Scott Paltrow of Reuters summed up his findings writing: "For two decades, the US military has been unable to submit to an audit, flouting federal law and concealing waste and fraud totaling billions of dollars." Don't you wonder what they're teaching at our military academies? A few years ago, West Point reported it was discontinuing its ethics classes. The 2016 OIG (Office of the Inspector General) report concludes that the unexplained missing trillions of dollars are the result of the Pentagon's "failure to correct system deficiencies." Next time the family checkbook doesn't balance, try using that excuse with your mortgage company.
The Pentagon cannot tell us how many private contractor companies it employs, but the number is thought to be somewhere in excess of 600,000! A Pentagon review in 2011 found that service contractor companies had become "increasingly unaffordable." An article in the January 7, 2019 issue of The Nation magazine reported that on September 10th, 2001 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld along with Vice President Dick Cheney told a press conference that "according to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions," by the Department of Defense, which had a total budget of $313 billion that year. America's adversary, Rumsfeld said, was not China or Russia. "It's closer to home: It's the Pentagon bureaucracy," he warned.
In today's environment of total disruption of our economy due to Covid-19, the Pentagon has marched on uninterrupted. Unemployment claims filed since the pandemic began have exceeded 93 million, and 24 million Americans are going hungry, including 12 million children. Isn't it time we recognize the fraud and corruption hiding behind the five walls of the Pentagon? The ultimate status symbol in today's America is not a Rolex watch or a Rolls-Royce in the driveway. It is a defense contract, a license to coin money. Isn't it time we the people take back control of Congress and turn off the financial gusher that has been bankrupting our country for years? We can afford Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We can afford to feed all of our people, and educate the children who will be our future. We can afford to fix our rotting roads and bridges, and we can afford to provide universal health care to all Americans. We can no longer afford the Pentagon, and it should be defunded immediately.
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW. He is the author of ?and a hard rain fell, A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam and Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter. Portions of this article have been taken from the latter book.