Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tomgram: Jo Comerford, Three Cheers for the War Dividend


If you want a picture of how Washington deals with American war-making today, check out a moment from NBC's October 11th "Meet the Press." David Gregory, the show's moderator, is conducting a round-table discussion with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Carl Levin, and retired General Barry McCaffrey (one of those generals who now spends his time on television explaining our wars to us). At one point, Gregory asks: "Can we beat the Taliban?" General McCaffrey's reply starts this way: "Well, I, I think in 10 years of $5 billion a month and with a significant front-end security component, we can leave an Afghan national army and police force and a viable government and roads and universities. But it's a time constraint that we can't change things in 18 to 24 months. So I think we got to lower expectations."

Now, if you were a normal citizen, you might begin frantically calculating: $5 billion a month... 12 months in a year... $60 billion a year... times 10 years... $600 billion dollars. If, in fact, the number of U.S. troops or trainers and advisors rises significantly and the U.S. commitment to the war rises as well, this will surely prove a gross underestimate. But leaving that aside, you, the normal, reasonable human being, might at this point say something like: "Hold on, general, $600 billion more dollars? Ten years? And where's that money coming from? And is that really how you want to invest taxpayer dollars -- in another supposedly too-big-to-fail bailout?" Or, of course, you might just jump up and yell, "Have you lost your senses?"

But of course this is Washington where such numbers for American war-fighting are so ho-hum, so run-of-the-mill, that none of the other participants even thinks to comment on or question them or stops for a second in wonder. In fact, when McCaffrey is done, here's how Gregory begins his response: "Just with, with very little time left, I want to get to two other issues. The president spoke last night at the Human Rights Campaign dinner and spoke about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'..." And so it goes in "wartime" Washington.

Jo Comerford, a TomDispatch newcomer, runs the National Priorities Project, whose mission is to analyze "complex federal spending data and translate it into easy-to-understand information about how federal tax dollars are spent." Its site even has a "cost of war" counter, constantly twirling as the dollars rise in dizzying fashion. Here, as a numbers cruncher, she makes the most basic point of all: Whoever may be losing in our country, others are cashing in their chips and I'm not just talking about Goldman Sachs. After all, there's also the "war dividend." Tom

Cashing in the War Dividend

The Joys of Perpetual War
By Jo Comerford

So you thought the Pentagon was already big enough? Well, what do you know, especially with the price of the American military slated to grow by at least 25% over the next decade?

Forget about the butter. It's bad for you anyway. And sheer military power, as well as the money behind it, assures the country of a thick waistline without the cholesterol. So, let's sing the praises of perpetual war. We better, since right now every forecast in sight tells us that it's our future.

The tired peace dividend tug boat left the harbor two decades ago, dragging with it laughable hopes for universal health care and decent public education. Now, the mighty USS War Dividend is preparing to set sail. The economic weather reports may be lousy and the seas choppy, but one thing is guaranteed: that won't stop it.

The United States, of course, long ago captured first prize in the global arms race. It now spends as much as the next 14 countries combined, even as the spending of our rogue enemies and former enemies -- Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria -- much in the headlines for their prospective armaments, makes up a mere 1% of the world military budget. Still, when you're a military superpower focused on big-picture thinking, there's no time to dawdle on the details.

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