The Mega-Pentagon: A Bush-Enabled
Monster We Can't Stop
The Pentagon has developed a taste
for unrivaled power and unequaled access to the treasury that
won't be easily undone by future administrations.
by Frida Berrigan, Tomdispatch.com
www.alternet.org/, May 28, 2008
A full-fledged cottage industry is already
focused on those who eagerly await the end of the Bush administration,
offering calendars, magnets, and t-shirts for sale as well as
counters and graphics to download onto blogs and websites. But
when the countdown ends and George W. Bush vacates the Oval Office,
he will leave a legacy to contend with. Certainly, he wills to
his successor a world marred by war and battered by deprivation,
but perhaps his most enduring legacy is now deeply embedded in
Washington-area politics -- a Pentagon metastasized almost beyond
The Pentagon's massive bulk-up these last
seven years will not be easily unbuilt, no matter who dons the
presidential mantle on January 19, 2009. "The Pentagon"
is now so much more than a five-sided building across the Potomac
from Washington or even the seat of the Department of Defense.
In many ways, it defies description or labeling.
Who, today, even remembers the debate
at the end of the Cold War aboutå what role U.S. military
power should play in a "unipolar" world? Was U.S. supremacy
so well established, pundits were then asking, that Washington
could rely on softer economic and cultural power, with military
power no more than a backup (and a domestic "peace dividend"
thrown into the bargain)? Or was the U.S. to strap on the six-guns
of a global sheriff and police the world as the fountainhead of
"humanitarian interventions"? Or was it the moment to
boldly declare ourselves the world's sole superpower and wield
a high-tech military comparable to none, actively discouraging
any other power or power bloc from even considering future rivalry?
The attacks of September 11, 2001 decisively
ended that debate. The Bush administration promptly declared total
war on every front -- against peoples, ideologies, and, above
all, "terrorism" (a tactic of the weak). That very September,
administration officials proudly leaked the information that they
were ready to "target" up to 60 other nations and the
terrorist movements within them.
The Pentagon's "footprint" was
to be firmly planted, military base by military base, across the
planet, with a special emphasis on its energy heartlands. Top
administration officials began preparing the Pentagon to go anywhere
and do anything, while rewriting, shredding, or ignoring whatever
laws, national or international, stood in the way. In 2002, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld officially articulated a new U.S. military
posture that, in conception, was little short of revolutionary.
It was called -- in classic Pentagon shorthand -- the 1-4-2-1
Defense Strategy (replacing the Clinton administration's already
none-too-modest plan to be prepared to fight two major wars --
in the Middle East and Northeast Asia -- simultaneously).
Theoretically, this strategy meant that
the Pentagon was to prepare to defend the United States, while
building forces capable of deterring aggression and coercion in
four "critical regions" (Europe, Northeast Asia, East
Asia, and the Middle East). It would be able to defeat aggression
in two of these regions simultaneously and "win decisively"
in one of those conflicts "at a time and place of our choosing."
And that was just going to be the beginning.
We had, by then, already entered the new age of the Mega-Pentagon.
Almost six years later, the scale of that institution's expansion
has yet to be fully grasped, so let's look at just seven of the
major ways in which the Pentagon has experienced mission creep
-- and leap -- dwarfing other institutions of government in the
1. The Budget-busting Pentagon: The Pentagon's
core budget -- already a staggering $300 billion when George W.
Bush took the presidency -- has almost doubled while he's been
parked behind the big desk in the Oval Office. For fiscal year
2009, the regular Pentagon budget will total roughly $541 billion
(including work on nuclear warheads and naval reactors at the
Department of Energy).
The Bush administration has presided over
one of the largest military buildups in the history of the United
States. And that's before we even count "war spending."
If the direct costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well
as the Global War on Terror, are factored in, "defense"
spending has essentially tripled.
As of February 2008, according to the
Congressional Budget Office, lawmakers have appropriated $752
billion for the Iraq war and occupation, ongoing military operations
in Afghanistan, and other activities associated with the Global
War on Terror. The Pentagon estimates that it will need another
$170 billion for fiscal 2009, which means, at $922 billion, that
direct war spending since 2001 would be at the edge of the trillion-dollar
As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert
has pointed out, if a stack of bills roughly six inches high is
worth $1 million; then, a $1 billion stack would be as tall as
the Washington Monument, and a $1 trillion stack would be 95 miles
high. And note that none of these war-fighting funds are even
counted as part of the annual military budget, but are raised
from Congress in the form of "emergency supplementals"
a few times a year.
With the war added to the Pentagon's core
budget, the United States now spends nearly as much on military
matters as the rest of the world combined. Military spending also
throws all other parts of the federal budget into shadow, representing
58 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government on "discretionary
programs" (those that Congress gets to vote up or down on
an annual basis).
The total Pentagon budget represents more
than our combined spending on education, environmental protection,
justice administration, veteran's benefits, housing assistance,
transportation, job training, agriculture, energy, and economic
development. No wonder, then, that, as it collects ever more money,
the Pentagon is taking on (or taking over) ever more functions
2. The Pentagon as Diplomat: The Bush
administration has repeatedly exhibited its disdain for discussion
and compromise, treaties and agreements, and an equally deep admiration
for what can be won by threat and force. No surprise, then, that
the White House's foreign policy agenda has increasingly been
directed through the military. With a military budget more than
30 times that of all State Department operations and non-military
foreign aid put together, the Pentagon has marched into State's
two traditional strongholds -- diplomacy and development -- duplicating
or replacing much of its work, often by refocusing Washington's
diplomacy around military-to-military, rather than diplomat-to-diplomat,
Since the late eighteenth century, the
U.S. ambassador in any country has been considered the president's
personal representative, responsible for ensuring that foreign
policy goals are met. As one ambassador explained; "The rule
is: if you're in country, you work for the ambassador. If you
don't work for the ambassador, you don't get country clearance."
In the Bush era, the Pentagon has overturned
this model. According to a 2006 Congressional report by Senator
Richard Lugar (R-IN), Embassies as Command Posts in the Anti-Terror
Campaign, civilian personnel in many embassies now feel occupied
by, outnumbered by, and subordinated to military personnel. They
see themselves as the second team when it comes to decision-making.
Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates is aware of the problem, noting
as he did last November that there are "only about 6,600
professional Foreign Service officers -- less than the manning
for one aircraft carrier strike group." But, typically, he
added that, while the State Department might need more resources,
"Don't get me wrong, I'll be asking for yet more money for
Defense next year." Another ambassador lamented that his
foreign counterparts are "following the money" and developing
relationships with U.S. military personnel rather than cultivating
contacts with their State Department counterparts.
The Pentagon invariably couches its bureaucratic
imperialism in terms of "interagency cooperation." For
example, last year U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) released Command
Strategy 2016, a document which identified poverty, crime, and
corruption as key "security" problems in Latin America.
It suggested that Southcom, a security command, should, in fact,
be the "central actor in addressing... regional problems"
previously the concern of civilian agencies. It then touted itself
as the future focus of a "joint interagency security command...
in support of security, stability and prosperity in the region."
As Southcom head Admiral James Stavridis
vividly put the matter, the command now likes to see itself as
"a big Velcro cube that these other agencies can hook to
so we can collectively do what needs to be done in this region."
The Pentagon has generally followed this
pattern globally since 2001. But what does "cooperation"
mean when one entity dwarfs all others in personnel, resources,
and access to decision-makers, while increasingly controlling
the very definition of the "threats" to be dealt with.
3. The Pentagon as Arms Dealer: In the
Bush years, the Pentagon has aggressively increased its role as
the planet's foremost arms dealer, pumping up its weapons sales
everywhere it can -- and so seeding the future with war and conflict.
By 2006 (the last year for which full
data is available), the United States alone accounted for more
than half the world's trade in arms with $14 billion in sales.
Noteworthy were a $5 billion deal for F-16s to Pakistan and a
$5.8 billion agreement to completely reequip Saudi Arabia's internal
security force. U.S. arms sales for 2006 came in at roughly twice
the level of any previous year of the Bush administration.
Number two arms dealer, Russia, registered
a comparatively paltry $5.8 billion in deliveries, just over a
third of the U.S. arms totals. Ally Great Britain was third at
$3.3 billion -- and those three countries account for a whopping
85 percent of the weaponry sold that year, more than 70 percent
of which went to the developing world.
Great at selling weapons, the Pentagon
is slow to report its sales. Arms sales notifications issued by
the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) do,
however, offer one crude way to the take the Department of Defense's
pulse; and, while not all reported deals are finalized, that pulse
is clearly racing. Through May of 2008, DSCA had already issued
more than $9.1 billion in arms sales notifications including smart
bomb kits for Saudi Arabia, TOW missiles for Kuwait, F-16 combat
aircraft for Romania, and Chinook helicopters for Canada.
To maintain market advantage, the Pentagon
never stops its high-pressure campaigns to peddle weapons abroad.
That's why, despite a broken shoulder, Secretary of Defense Gates
took to the skies in February, to push weapons systems on countries
like India and Indonesia, key growing markets for Pentagon arms
4. The Pentagon as Intelligence Analyst
and Spy: In the area of "intelligence," the Pentagon's
expansion -- the commandeering of information and analysis roles
-- has been swift, clumsy, and catastrophic.
Tracing the Pentagon's take-over of intelligence
is no easy task. For one thing, there are dozens of Pentagon agencies
and offices that now collect and analyze information using everything
from "humint" (human intelligence) to wiretaps and satellites.
The task is only made tougher by the secrecy that surrounds U.S.
intelligence operations and the "black budgets" into
which so much intelligence money disappears.
But the end results are clear enough.
The Pentagon's takeover of intelligence has meant fewer intelligence
analysts who speak Arabic, Farsi, or Pashto and more dog-and-pony
shows like those four-star generals and three-stripe admirals
mouthing administration-approved talking points on cable news
and the Sunday morning talk shows.
Intelligence budgets are secret, so what
we know about them is not comprehensive -- but the glimpses analysts
have gotten suggest that total intelligence spending was about
$26 billion a decade ago. After 9/11, Congress pumped a lot of
new money into intelligence so that by 2003, the total intelligence
budget had already climbed to more than $40 billion.
In 2004, the 9/11 Commission highlighted
the intelligence failures of the Central Intelligence Agency and
others in the alphabet soup of the U.S. Intelligence Community
charged with collecting and analyzing information on threats to
the country. Congress then passed an intelligence "reform"
bill, establishing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,
designed to manage intelligence operations. Thanks to stiff resistance
from pro-military lawmakers, the National Intelligence Directorate
never assumed that role, however, and the Pentagon kept control
of three key collection agencies -- the National Security Agency,
the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the National
As a result, according to Tim Shorrock,
investigative journalist and author of Spies for Hire: The Secret
World of Intelligence Outsourcing, the Pentagon now controls more
than 80 percent of U.S. intelligence spending, which he estimated
at about $60 billion in 2007. As Mel Goodman, former CIA official
and now an analyst at the Center for International Policy, observed,
"The Pentagon has been the big bureaucratic winner in all
It is such a big winner that CIA Director
Michael Hayden now controls only the budget for the CIA itself
-- about $4 or 5 billion a year and no longer even gives the President
his daily helping of intelligence.
The Pentagon's intelligence shadow looms
large well beyond the corridors of Washington's bureaucracies.
It stretches across the mountains of Afghanistan as well. After
the U.S. invaded that country in 2001, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
recognized that, unless the Pentagon controlled information-gathering
and took the lead in carrying out covert operations, it would
remain dependent on -- and therefore subordinate to -- the Central
Intelligence Agency with its grasp of "on-the-ground"
In one of his now infamous memos, labeled
"snowflakes" by a staff that watched them regularly
flutter down from on high, he asserted that, if the War on Terror
was going to stretch far into the future, he did not want to continue
the Pentagon's "near total dependence on the CIA." And
so Rumsfeld set up a new, directly competitive organization, the
Pentagon's Strategic Support Branch, which put the intelligence
gathering components of the U.S. Special Forces under one roof
reporting directly to him. (Many in the intelligence community
saw the office as illegitimate, but Rumsfeld was riding high and
they were helpless to do anything.)
As Seymour Hersh, who repeatedly broke
stories in the New Yorker on the Pentagon's misdeeds in the Global
War on Terror, wrote in January 2005, the Bush administration
had already "consolidated control over the military and intelligence
communities' strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree
unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War II national-security
In the rush to invade Iraq, the civilians
running the Pentagon also fused the administration's propaganda
machine with military intelligence. In 2002, Undersecretary of
Defense Douglas Feith established the Office of Special Plans
(OSP) in the Pentagon to provide "actionable information"
to White House policymakers. Using existing intelligence reports
"scrubbed" of qualifiers like "probably" or
"may," or sometimes simply fabricated ones, the office
was able to turn worst-case scenarios about Saddam Hussein's supposed
programs to develop weapons of mass destruction into fact, and
then, through leaks, use the news media to validate them.
Former CIA Director Robert Gates, who
took over the Pentagon when Donald Rumsfeld resigned in November
2006, has been critical of the Pentagon's "dominance"
in intelligence and "the decline in the CIA's central role."
He has also signaled his intention to rollback the Pentagon's
long intelligence shadow; but, even if he is serious, he will
have his work cut out for him. In the meantime, the Pentagon continues
to churn out "intelligence" which is, politely put,
suspect -- from torture-induced confessions of terrorism suspects
to exposés of the Iranian origins of sophisticated explosive
devices found in Iraq.
5. The Pentagon as Domestic Disaster Manager:
When the deciders in Washington start seeing the Pentagon as the
world's problem solver, strange things happen. In fact, in the
Bush years, the Pentagon has become the official first responder
of last resort in case of just about any disaster -- from tornadoes,
hurricanes, and floods to civil unrest, potential outbreaks of
disease, or possible biological or chemical attacks. In 2002,
in a telltale sign of Pentagon mission creep, President Bush established
the first domestic military command since the civil war, the U.S.
Northern Command (Northcom). Its mission: the "preparation
for, prevention of, deterrence of, preemption of, defense against,
and response to threats and aggression directed towards U.S. territory,
sovereignty, domestic population, and infrastructure; as well
as crisis management, consequence management, and other domestic
If it sounds like a tall order, it is.
In the last six years, Northcom has been
remarkably unsuccessful at anything but expanding its theoretical
reach. The command was initially assigned 1,300 Defense Department
personnel, but has since grown into a force of more than 15,000.
Even criticism only seems to strengthen its domestic role. For
example, an April 2008 Government Accountability Office report
found that Northcom had failed to communicate effectively with
state and local leaders or National Guard units about its newly
developed disaster and terror response plans. The result? Northcom
says it will have its first brigade-sized unit of military personnel
trained to help local authorities respond to chemical, biological,
or nuclear incidents by this fall. Mark your calendars.
More than anything else, Northcom has
provided the Pentagon with the opening it needed to move forcefully
into domestic disaster areas previously handled by national, state
and local civilian authorities.
For example, Northcom's deputy director,
Brigadier General Robert Felderman, boasts that the command is
now the United States's "global synchronizer -- the global
coordinator -- for pandemic influenza across the combatant commands."
Similarly, Northcom is now hosting annual hurricane preparation
conferences and assuring anyone who will listen that it is "prepared
to fully engage" in future Katrina-like situations "in
order to save lives, reduce suffering and protect infrastructure."
Of course, at present, the Pentagon is
the part of the government gobbling up the funds that might otherwise
be spent shoring up America's Depression-era public works, ensuring
that the Pentagon will have failure aplenty to respond to in the
The American Society for Civil Engineers,
for example, estimates that $1.6 trillion is badly needed to bring
the nation's infrastructure up to protectable snuff, or $320 billion
a year for the next five years. Assessing present water systems,
roads, bridges, and dams nationwide, the engineers gave the infrastructure
a series of C and D grades.
In the meantime, the military is marching
in. Katrina, for instance, made landfall on August 29, 2005. President
Bush ordered troops deployed to New Orleans on September 2nd to
coordinate the delivery of food and water and to serve as a deterrent
against looting and violence. Less than a month later, President
Bush asked Congress to shift responsibility for major future disasters
from state governments and the Department of Homeland Security
to the Pentagon.
The next month, President Bush again offered
the military as his solution -- this time to global fears about
outbreaks of the avian flu virus. He suggested that, to enforce
a quarantine, "One option is the use of the military that's
able to plan and move."
Already sinking under the weight of its
expansion and two draining wars, many in the military have been
cool to such suggestions, as has a Congress concerned about maintaining
states' rights and civilian control. Offering the military as
the solution to domestic natural disasters and flu outbreaks means
giving other first responders the budgetary short shrift. It is
unlikely, however, that Northcom, now riding the money train,
will go quietly into oblivion in the years to come.
6. The Pentagon as Humanitarian Caregiver
Abroad: The U.S. Agency for International Development and the
State Department have traditionally been tasked with responding
to disaster abroad; but, from Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged shores
to Myanmar after the recent cyclone, natural catastrophe has become
another presidential opportunity to "send in the Marines"
(so to speak). The Pentagon has increasingly taken up humanitarian
planning, gaining an ever larger share of U.S. humanitarian missions
From Kenya to Afghanistan, from the Philippines
to Peru, the U.S. military is also now regularly the one building
schools and dental clinics, repairing roads and shoring up bridges,
tending to sick children and doling out much needed cash and food
stuffs, all civilian responsibilities once upon a time.
The Center for Global Development finds
that the Pentagon's share of "official development assistance"
-- think "winning hearts and minds" or "nation-building"
- has increased from 6 percent to 22 percent between 2002 and
2005. The Pentagon is fast taking over development from both the
NGO-community and civilian agencies, slapping a smiley face on
military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond.
Despite the obvious limitations of turning
a force trained to kill and destroy into a cadre of caregivers,
the Pentagon's mili-humanitarian project got a big boost from
the cash that was seized from Saddam Hussein's secret coffers.
Some of it was doled out to local American commanders to be used
to deal with immediate Iraqi needs and seal deals in the months
after Baghdad fell in April 2003. What was initially an ad hoc
program now has an official name -- the Commander Emergency Response
Program (CERP) -- and a line in the Pentagon budget.
Before the House Budget Committee last
summer, Gordon England, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, told
members of Congress that the CERP was a "particularly effective
initiative," explaining that the program provided "limited
but immediately available funds" to military commanders which
they could spend "to make a concrete difference in people's
daily lives." This, he claimed, was now a "key part
of the broader counter insurgency approach." He added that
it served the purpose of "complementing security initiatives"
and that it was so successful many commanders consider it "the
most powerful weapon in their arsenal."
In fact, the Pentagon doesn't do humanitarian
work very well. In Afghanistan, for instance, food-packets dropped
by U.S. planes were the same color as the cluster munitions also
dropped by U.S. planes; while schools and clinics built by U.S.
forces often became targets before they could even be put into
use. In Iraq, money doled out to the Pentagon's sectarian-group-of-the-week
for wells and generators turned out to be just as easily spent
on explosives and AK-47s.
7. The Pentagon as Global Viceroy and
Ruler of the Heavens: In the Bush years, the Pentagon finished
dividing the globe into military "commands," which are
functionally viceroyalties. True, even before 9/11, it was hard
to imagine a place on the globe where the United States military
was not, but until recently, the continent of Africa largely qualified.
Along with the creation of Northcom, however,
the establishment of the U.S. Africa Command (Africom) in 2008
officially filled in the last Pentagon empty spot on the map.
A key military document, the 2006 National Security Strategy for
the United States signaled the move, asserting that "Africa
holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high-priority
of this administration." (Think: oil and other key raw materials.)
In the meantime, funding for Africa under
the largest U.S. military aid program, Foreign Military Financing,
doubled from $10 to $20 million between 2000 and 2006, and the
number of recipient nations grew from two to 14. Military training
funding increased by 35 percent in that same period (rising from
$8.1 million to $11 million). Now, the militaries of 47 African
nations receive U.S. training.
In Pentagon planning terms, Africom has
unified the continent for the first time. (Only Egypt remains
under the aegis of the U.S. Central Command.) According to President
Bush, this should "enhance our efforts to bring peace and
security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals
of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth
Theresa Whelan, assistant secretary of
defense for African affairs, continues to insist that Africom
has been formed neither to facilitate the fighting of wars ("engaging
kinetically in Africa"), nor to divvy up the continent's
raw materials in the style of nineteenth century colonialism.
"This is not," she says, "about a scramble for
the continent." But about one thing there can be no question:
It is about increasing the global reach of the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, should the Earth not be enough,
there are always the heavens to control. In August 2006, building
on earlier documents like the 1998 U.S. Space Command's Vision
for 2020 (which called for a policy of "full spectrum dominance"),
the Bush administration unveiled its "national space policy."
It advocated establishing, defending, and enlarging U.S. control
over space resources and argued for "unhindered" rights
in space -- unhindered, that is, by international agreements preventing
the weaponization of space. The document also asserted that "freedom
of action in space is as important to the United States as air
power and sea power."
As the document put it, "In the new
century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added
prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage
over those who do not." (The leaders of China, Russia, and
other major states undoubtedly heard the loud slap of a gauntlet
being thrown down.) At the moment, the Bush administration's rhetoric
and plans outstrip the resources being devoted to space weapons
technology, but in the recently announced budget, the President
allocated nearly a billion dollars to space-based weapons programs.
Of all the frontiers of expansion, perhaps
none is more striking than the Pentagon's sorties into the future.
Does the Department of Transportation offer a Vision for 2030?
Does the Environmental Protection Agency develop plans for the
next fifty years? Does the Department of Health and Human Services
have a team of power-point professionals working up dynamic graphics
for what services for the elderly will look like in 2050?
These agencies project budgets just around
the corner of the next decade. Only the Pentagon projects power
and possibility decades into the future, colonizing the imagination
with scads of different scenarios under which, each year, it will
continue to control hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.
Complex 2030, Vision 2020, UAV Roadmap
2030, the Army's Future Combat Systems - the names, which seem
unending, tell the tale.
As the clock ticks down to November 4,
2008, a lot of people are investing hope (as well as money and
time) in the possibility of change at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
But when it comes to the Pentagon, don't count too heavily on
change, no matter who the new president may be. After all, seven
years, four months, and a scattering of days into the Bush presidency,
the Pentagon is deeply entrenched in Washington and still aggressively
expanding. It has developed a taste for unrivaled power and unequaled
access to the treasure of this country. It is an institution that
has escaped the checks and balances of the nation.