This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
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 Guantánamo 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 he faces.
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 costs).
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 United States 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 forty-five 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 GWOT. 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.