Obama and Defense Spending

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Dec 01, 2008 at 12:59

Defense spending will be one of the most important, if not the most important, budgetary fight during Obama's first term. As such, this paragraph from Obama's press conference today is receiving a lot of play (emphasis mine):

"We will also ensure that we have the strategy -- and resources -- to succeed against al Qaeda and the Taliban," Obama told a news conference. "And going forward, we will continue to make the investments necessary to strengthen our military and increase our ground forces to defeat the threats of the 21st century."

Since we are still in the transition phase rather than the governing phase, there are two ways to read this statement, each of which are frustratingly inconclusive:

  • Obama agrees with proposed defense spending increases: The Pentagon, under Gates, has proposed a massive increase in defense spending over the next five years. This increase is so large that it would prevent any reduction in defense spending even with a total withdrawal from Iraq. Effectively, it makes the Iraq supplemental spending bills permanent. Obama's statement, combined with keeping Gates on as Secretary of Defense, could be read as a support of this proposal.

  • Pre-emptive self-defense against defense spending cuts: Leading national Democrats, as we all know, seem to fear being portrayed as "hurting the troops" more than they fear anything else. In this context, Obama's statement could easily be read as pre-emptive self-defense against charges that he is harming "the troops" by cutting defense spending.

Keeping Gates on as Secretary of Defense is obviously a bad sign for the coming defense spending fight. Further, many will point out that Obama campaigned on increasing the number of uniformed military personnel, thus suggesting that he always intended to expand military spending. However, increasing the number of uniformed military personnel does not necessarily mean an increase in defense spending. Further, there are five promising signs that Obama will actually cut, and usefully redirect, defense spending.

More in the extended entry.

Chris Bowers :: Obama and Defense Spending
Here are some good reasons to believe that military spending will go down under President Obama:

  1. Withdrawal from Iraq: Obama repeatedly campaigned on cutting defense spending by withdrawing from Iraq. This was a consistent, prominent line in his stump speeches since at least mid-July. Obama has since reiterated his promise to remove all combat brigades from Iraq in 16 months, and the status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government means that all American military will be out of the country be the end of 2011. This will save a lot of money.

  2. "Waste": Obama promised to cut "tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending" from the military budget. While this could be typical campaign rhetoric to make unidentified cuts in "waste" that everyone believes exist but no one believes applies to them, it could also be a real promise.

  3. Contractors: Jan Schakowsky, one of Obama's biggest supporters, and one of his most likely successor in the Senate, is leading a serious fight to phase out the use of military contractors. Given the extensive use of military contractors, not to mention that mercenaries cost far more--even three times more--than uniformed personnel, such a fight, if successful, would probably have twin results of the expansion of uniformed military and a reduction in defense spending. There is good reason to believe that Obama himself supports this effort.

  4. Missile Defense: Obama is opposed to new missile defense systems in Europe, which would save huge amounts of money.

  5. Re-direction of resources: Most of Obama's senior foreign policy ream supports a significant re-direction of military resources that I wholeheartedly support:

    The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states. However, it is unclear whether the financing would be shifted from the Pentagon; Mr. Obama has also committed to increasing the number of American combat troops. Whether they can make the change - one that Mr. Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best - "will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency," one of his senior advisers said recently.

    The adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the three have all embraced "a rebalancing of America's national security portfolio" after a huge investment in new combat capabilities during the Bush years.

Combine all of this with an increasing willingness in Congress to reduce defense spending (see here and here), and yes, there is good reason to believe that an Obama administration will signficiantly curtail and re-direct defense spending.

This is a winnable fight, and one worthy of engagement. I can already tell that this is where my interests will be, so expect a lot more blogging about it in the coming days and months. Best of all, now that we have the trifecta, even a relatively lowly progressive activist like myself should have at least limited media access to all of the key players in this fight.

I will be on Hardball to discuss this and other matters at 5:10 p.m. eastern, today.

Tags: , , , (All Tags)
Print Friendly View Send As Email

Smart and better (4.00 / 1)
I agree with your assessment about where to look for smarter defense spending.  One aspect of Bush's administration is that he couldn't be bothered with "details."

There was a tremendous amount of waste.

Cap the Ladle (4.00 / 3)
My dad, a career army guy who had worked at the Pentagon, once told me that Reagan had dumped so much money into the military budget that the Pentagon didn't even have the bureaucratic infrastructure to spend it all. As Nixon's budget director, Caspar "Cap" Weinberger was known as "Cap the Knife." As Reagan's Defense Secretary, he was known as "Cap the Ladle."

Anyone who questions the massive corporate welfare system that is the military-industrial complex is easily dismissed as an anti-American commie traitor. Conservatism - what a pile of self-contradictory bullshit!


[ Parent ]
Well. We All Know That Eisenhower Was A Commie Dupe! (4.00 / 4)
The John Birch Society told us so!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
It's not just (0.00 / 0)
"waste."  It is how much is necessary to spend to deal with real threats.  The amount spent is only necessary so long as we have imperial designs.  A real Department of DEFENSE does not need the amount of weapon systems it now has.  

[ Parent ]
wow (4.00 / 1)
That would be incredible if they increased DoD spending.  There are so many no-bid contracts, the outsourcing of the military which made it so much more costly, so many technology DHS contracts where deliverable either never exist or simply do not work, the list goes on and on from the pig fest.  

Byron Dorgan also has given speeches, held hearings on the corruption, fraud, waste of no-bid and contracts. (as well as infamously disappearing cash).    

I don't read that statement as increasing spending myself, but to stop the military privatization, which is much more costly and put resources where they get what they pay for, better managed, more efficient.

Still, Gates has his proposals.  


The Economic Populist

Schakowsky is his "likely successor in the Senate"? (0.00 / 0)
No, she isn't.  Most likely is either Danny Davis or Jesse Jackson Jr, and I think even Tammy Duckworth would be more likely.

Saxby Chambliss  

The sentence was meant to read (0.00 / 0)
"one of" his biggest supporters and "one of" his most likely successors. However, I can see how my wording wasn't clear. Will fix.

[ Parent ]
Oh really? .. (0.00 / 0)
Most likely is either Danny Davis or Jesse Jackson Jr,

And you know these two have better shots than anyone else?

[ Parent ]
I've heard Emil Jones wants it too (0.00 / 0)
And Emil is nothing to play around with.  The governor makes the appointment, and Evil Emil is president of the Illinois State Senate, a notoriously venal and corrupt old hack.  

As president of the State Senate he has been the conduit for funneling corporate campaign cash to compliant legislators and witholding it from those with an independent streak for some time now, so none of the corporate bad guys will have a problem with him.

"If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other people, then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding..."
Zora Neale Hurston

[ Parent ]
yeah ... (0.00 / 0)
but does Blago want to appoint someone to get a leg up on 2010 ... or someone like Jones .. who would be a place holder .. and have an open primary in 2010

[ Parent ]
Obama can't possibly cut defense spending (0.00 / 0)
if he sticks with his plan to increase the military by 92,000 troops--the same number (coincidentally!) sought by Bush and Gates.

Less, noticed, however was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' recommendation that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps be expanded by 92,000 soldiers (65,000 and 27,000, respectively) over the next five years. This is considerably more than expanding the force by 7,000 soldiers a year to keep the Army from breaking under the strain of the Iraq deployment, as previously called for by outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker... According to the Army, every additional 10,000 troops would cost about $1.2 billion a year. So adding 92,000 soldiers would cost about $110 billion.


The Defense Department is spending about $450 bill a year in its baseline budget, so this expansion--if my math is correct--would add to budget by about 25 percent? I can't see Obama finding offsetting cuts--can you?

Why not undertake an extensive review before adding an arbitrary number of troops, to find out how many troops we actually, you know, need?

That can be easily cancelled out (4.00 / 3)
A $110 billion increase over five years can be easily canceled out by reductions in other areas of the DoD budget. Obviously, it is not a good sign that he intends to increase the number of uniformed personnel, but it isn't a deal breaker on reducing defense spending.

[ Parent ]
Well, at least according to that article (0.00 / 0)
the figure is 110 bill per year.

I'm not familiar with these numbers; they're just what I found via Google, so grain of salt and all that.

[ Parent ]
But the figure's wrong in any case (see below) (4.00 / 1)
I'll go get better numbers.  

[ Parent ]
Okay, correction (4.00 / 1)
The 1.2 bill number is right, so yeah, about 10 bill a year, plus equipment equaling about 15 bill a year--a lot but can be offset, perhaps. Sorry for the mistatement.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Thursday for a permanent boost in the size of the Army and Marine Corps, the military branches most strained by Iraq, at a likely cost of $15 billion a year...

According to the Army, every 10,000 troops costs $1.2 billion for salaries and training. That does not include the cost of equipment needed for the additional soldiers. The Marine Corps could not immediately provide comparable costs but defense analysts said they were similar to those of the Army.


[ Parent ]
Math is off (0.00 / 0)
By a factor of ten, if the cost of 10,000 troops is what you listed.

92,000 additional troops would cost about $11 billion, not $110; a lot of money sure, but nothing like the cost of a couple new weapons systems. Whether adding them is a good idea is an open question, as you note. But it's not a bank-buster.

[ Parent ]
I DID hear (0.00 / 0)
in spite of the press corps obsession with "differences" in his cabinet that Obama is continuing the strong stance against terrorism, spoke firmly of continuation of this effort, and made it absolutely clear where the US will be.  There is not going to be a Chopra approach to terrorism.

However, smart spending versus waste?  That's on the table.

I'm not at all sure how much waste, if any, there is.  I look forward to learning a bit more about this.  All I did see was a huge waste of patriot missles in blowing up dessert dust for awhile.  

I "heard" Obama's security statement today as very firmly in alignment with continuing to root out terrorism.  I don't think there could be much question in his vision on this.

He ain't gonna sit down and have tea with anyone housing Al Quaida at this point.

Between this and "Obliterate Iran" as SoS... (4.00 / 2)
...I'm sure glad I'm past the draft age at this point.

[ Parent ]
Gates (4.00 / 2)
All this makes me really curious what is going on.  Most things I've read on Gates recently talks of how he has pushed back on military spending and weapon programs.  For example:

Gates and his team have attacked a series of previously-sacrosanct weapons programs. They've done so in the absence of any material support from the Bush administration, and in the face of fierce opposition from the Democratic congress.

No single example is more powerful than that of the F-22 Raptor. It's quite likely the finest air-superiority fighter ever built, but it's certainly the most expensive. The program has been scaled back repeatedly. The Pentagon wants to end purchases with just 183, preferring to purchase the cheaper F-35 instead, and to spend the difference elsewhere; the Air Force is pushing for 381. Congress stuffed $523 million into the FY2009 Defense Appropriation for the production of parts for another 20 aircraft, including $150 million in up-front spending, designed to lock the purchase in before the new administration could take office and cancel the program. But John Young, a widely-respected Gates deputy rumored to be staying on along with his boss, cleverly noticed that the bill only required the Pentagon to expend up to $150 million; he allocated just $40 million, just enough to replace the 4 F-22s lost in combat, and structured the contract so that the options must be exercised by January 21, forcing an immediate decision on the new administration. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were livid. Neil Abercrombie, the subcommittee chair, and Silvestre Reyes delivered memorable verbal thrashings. And they're both Democrats. But Young refused to cave. And his stand preserved for the new administration the chance to make up its own mind about the F-22.

That's just a single example. Gates and his team have also questioned the need for further procurement of the C-17, the CSAR-X helicopter, the Zumwalt-class destroyer, and the Army's FCS initiative, among other weapons systems. One analyst, quoted in Politico's coverage of the pick, bluntly observed that "the defense industry would like to see the entire Bush team move on." But it's not the "Bush team" that's the problem for defense contractors; it's Gates.

Different miltary (4.00 / 2)
The talk above about larger army sizes seems in synch with the push back against weapon systems.  Here is another article that perhaps shows where things are headed (sorry for the long quotes, but it all seems highly relevant):

Instead, he [Gates] calls for beefed up U.S. diplomatic and development capabilities. Unlike Cheney and Rumsfeld, who were obsessed with potential great-power competitors such as China, Gates bluntly admits that the "most likely catastrophic threats to our homeland -- for example, an American city poisoned or reduced to rubble by a terrorist attack -- are more likely to emanate from failing states than from aggressor states." His solution to failing states? Help patch them up. Shortly after he took office, Gates argued that the lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan is that "economic development, . . . good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications, and more -- these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success."

Another sign of this revolution came last week with the release of a new Army field manual whose sections on conflict-ridden, fragile states give similar weight to both nation-building and major combat operations. In other words, Gates sees reconstruction and economic development as central parts of the Pentagon's push to make the United States safer from the threats that can lurk inside weak and failing states such as Afghanistan.

He has been quietly putting this approach into action. In a little-noticed move last summer, the Pentagon sent the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, on a humanitarian mission to six countries in Latin America. Instead of rushing Marines into battle, the Kearsarge carried more than 500 humanitarian workers, doctors and development experts -- all with the mission, in the words of the ship's commander, of "influencing generations to come." When Hurricane Ike slammed into Haiti in September, the Kearsarge steamed toward the desperate island nation, bearing helicopters and boats to help stem the humanitarian crisis.

I'm not so sure the military is the best resource to use for this kind of mission -- kinda sounds like a Chinese "People's Army" to me -- but it does make some sense.

[ Parent ]
um... here's a little more on our new/old Secretary of War (4.00 / 3)
It seems he manufactured custom intel for hawkish policymakers during the Reagan administration as Bill Casey's deputy DCIA.  

As such he was in the chain of command that produced gems like Reagan's assertion that there were Soviet fighter planes based in Nicaragua that supposedly could reach Texas, and such.  The author of a book quoted in the Robert Parry article above cites interesting information that implicates Gates in Iran-contra.  Remember that?

A Mother Jones article starts with Gates's role as "Rumsfeld's body double, and goes back across some of the same ground.

This is no reformer.  This is a career bureaucrat who has lied to the Congress about as many times as he has been sworn in to testify.  And having the Secretary of War lie is not like the mayor of Detroit fibbing about how many text messages from his lover are on the city cell phone.  When the deputy director, or the director of the CIA or the undersecretary or the Secretary of War lie to you, he is lying about why people were killed, and why more will die, and probably about how much it will cost as well.

I know, I know that I. F. Stone said "all governments lie".  But I don't think he meant it the way some of the president-elect's supporters do --- as a sort of excuse.  Stone meant we should demand better.  I think he was right.

"If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other people, then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding..."
Zora Neale Hurston

[ Parent ]
Don't you understand? (4.00 / 1)
We have to have him their or David BroderBrooks will get mad at us.  And it's jiu-jitsu.

[ Parent ]
No, no, no (0.00 / 0)
That isn't what I'm arguing at all.  In fact, I'm not arguing anything; I'm trying to understand.  I've heard that he is very much a reformer.  I've also heard what Bruce just said and what Chris repeats.  I don't think we have a clear picture at all of what is going on.  (At least I certainly don't.)  But we do have a lot of people jumping to conclusions in a variety of different directions.

For the moment, at least, I'm not buying anyone's simple black and white take.

[ Parent ]
Interesting (4.00 / 2)
This is softer side of Gates I wasn't aware of.

Maybe a disinformation master is just what we need, after all.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Good post, Chris. (4.00 / 1)
In a post-Cold War world, the maount of defense spending is obscene.  As a nation, we simply cannot afford it.

Will Obama fight the military industrial complex?  His presidency hinges on making real change in the defense budget.

Empire is too expensive for a post-Bush depression nation.


Real security (4.00 / 2)
Yes, if we were solely focused on defense of our nation (rather than maintenance of a worldwide empire that dominates the rest of the world), the DoD budget could probably be cut 75%. Stopping 19 guys with box cutters or 10 guys with AK-47s and grenades does not require large numbers of air craft carriers, missiles, tanks, and millions of military personnel -- it just requires good police work. The DoD budget has become a gigantic boondoggle -- a way to transfer tax dollars to military contractors and their highly paid CEOs.

Real security means acting in a way that doesn't antagonize half of the world -- working with our allies, negotiating with our adversaries, supporting human rights (opposing torture), and opposing WMDs and arms sales to dictatorships. A decent foreign policy would be much cheaper and would make us all a lot safer.

[ Parent ]
The rise of a multi-polar world (0.00 / 0)
One long term trend we should be watching is the rise of a multipolar world, and the domestic political response to that change. It seems almost certain that conservatives will flail against this inevitability as long as possible, and may seek to raise military spending to (futilely attempt to) maintain American global hegemony. It will be interesting to see whether Obama seeks to transition the US into a role in a multipolar world, or whether he adopts the framing of the necessity of American dominance; and, if the latter, how he negotiates the politics of it. Or, indeed, if these issues even come up within the next 4 to 8 years.

ground troops vs. high tech (0.00 / 0)
Obama indicates increased spending on ground troops -- "boots on the ground", etc. The Pentagon spends about the same on each of Army, Navy and Air Force -- it's a balance they've worked out amongst themselves to avoid fights.  However, there is room to break this symmetry and spend more for people (which means Army and Marines) instead of expensive technology (mostly Air Force, but also Navy and some Army).  In the short term, at least (aside from life-long benefits, etc), people are cheap compared with fighter jets, aircraft carriers, etc. This shift would be in keeping with Gates's past, I believe, and could result in less overall defense spending.


confirmation hearings (0.00 / 0)
Maybe it is time to launch a campaign direct towards members of the armed services committee consisting of questions we would like Gates to answer at his hearing.

They could ask him about FISA abuse, Africom, health care in military hosptials (Walter Reed, etc.) violence against women in the military, torture, gays in the military, and many other things.

Even if we can't stop him, even if we don't want to try, just by raising questions at his confirmation hearings we might affect the terms of debate.

No hearing (0.00 / 0)
He has already been confirmed, so there will be no hearing on Gates.

[ Parent ]
re-confirm (0.00 / 0)
He will have to be re-confirmed I think.

[ Parent ]
Apparently not (0.00 / 0)
Mr. Gates, who served as C.I.A. director under the first President Bush, would not have to be reconfirmed by the Senate.


[ Parent ]
To move Obama we need to begin trying to re-cast the debate (4.00 / 5)
There is no defense budget.  725 military bases, mostly on foreign soil are not about defense.  They are about empire, and empires are always at war.  We have a war budget.  

There is no "defense department" and no "secretary of defense".  There is a War Department and Robert Gates is the Secretary of War.

Until 1947, the highest ranking civilian in the Pentagon was called just that --- the secretary of war.  It was only after 60 million people, more or less, perished in WW2 that our betters decided to re-brand the nation's biggest business, making money we spend for US Marines in Africa, a nuclear-armed fleet in the Persian Gulf, B-52s in the south Indian Ocean part of a "defense budget" rather than a "war budget".

The right does this kind of rebranding all the time --- in the service of untruth and privatization really --- calling public schools "government schools", an estate tax "the death tax" and so on.  And it does catch on.  Why are we so timid?  It's time to put the defenders of empire on the defensive themselves.  

We need to de-legitimize the whole enterprise in the national dialog every chance we get by calling it what it is.  The "defense budget" is a war budget, "defense industries" are war industries, and the lying bureaucrat who runs the Pentagon is the Secretary of War, no matter who the president is.

"If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other people, then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding..."
Zora Neale Hurston

Well said (0.00 / 0)
Although I don't expect Obama to fundamentally alter the terms of the debate. That's not really a knock on him, just an acknowledgement of the political mountain we have to climb. And we're barely in the foothills.

[ Parent ]
heck, no (4.00 / 1)
realigning the terms of discussion is our job, not his.  

It's something we will definitely have to push against Obama to do.  As presdient, he's not just part of the Establishment.  He is its CEO now.  He won't on our side for this one.  Not at all.

But we gotta do it anyway, and we must not ask or wait for his permission.  We are all grownups here with jobs to do.  Obama does not speak from a burning bush, and nobody on his staff is named Moses.

The so-called "defense deaprtment" is the War Department.  Bob Gates is the Secretary of War.

"If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other people, then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding..."
Zora Neale Hurston

[ Parent ]
Fred Kaplan has sources (0.00 / 0)
almost as good as Seymour Hersch.  Here's what he has to say about Gates and Jones:

Defense Spending (0.00 / 0)
I believe this is the key to Obama's first term.

If his team allows the Pentagon to continue their wild and woolly trample through the Treasury, aided and abetted by Congress critters feeding at the trough of Defense contractor monies, there is no chance whatsoever he will be able to do anything for the middle class.

Defense budgets grew obscenely fat under Bush; they are projected to exceed $700B in 2008 with the Bush-Pentagon's outright defiant use of "Supplementals" to fund wars and the "Global War on Terror".

In addition, there is an unknown amount of classified spending by the Pentagon, the CIA and the 13 other Intel agencies.  That amount is guesstimated to be around $40B and has increased by over 60% since Bush was se-lected.

These amounts eat up OVER 2/3 OF ALL AVAILABLE BUDGET MONIES.  It's truly shocking, a total outrage.

Obama must, must change this before any other change is possible.

If Obama Has A Progressive Bone In His Body... (0.00 / 0)
He won't increase Defense spending after years of sharp increases under George W.! Money is power! If we want to be a more frugal society we can start by shifting more money into protecting the troops and by moth balling insanity like Star Wars, and like weapons systems, for good! The saving would be impressive!

By the way, why don't more people remind Obama about what President Eisenhower had to say about the Military-Industrial Complex? As a former General he knew what he was talking about!

Give a DINO more than a bone!

could it be that we (and Obama) have adopted too much imperial language (0.00 / 0)
like again, when we call it the Defense Department instead of the War Department?  That really does disarm us.  Are we anti-defense?  or anti empire and anti-war?  

Eisenhower came from the era before they had re-branded the War Department as the "department of defense".  Can you imagine the impact of that spech if the words "military" and "war" therein were replaced by the relatively benign term "defense"?

OK, Ok, I promise this will be the last time I say that today.

Some prominent Repbublican message monger said that if we're having an argument, but I get you to describe things using my terminology, I've already won.

"If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other people, then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding..."
Zora Neale Hurston

[ Parent ]

Open Left Campaigns



Advanced Search

Powered by: SoapBlox