Chalmers Johnson is the author of three linked books on the crises of American imperialism and militarism. They are Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006). This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
There has been much moaning, air-sucking and outrage about the $700 billion that the US government is thinking of throwing away on rich New York bankers who have been ripping us off for the past few years and then letting greed drive their businesses into a variety of ditches. In fact, we dole out similar amounts of money every year in the form of payoffs to the armed services, the military-industrial complex and powerful senators and representatives allied with the Pentagon.
On Wednesday, September 24, right in the middle of the fight over billions of taxpayer dollars slated to bail out Wall Street, the House of Representatives passed a $612 billion defense authorization bill for 2009 without a murmur of public protest or any meaningful press comment at all. (The New York Times gave the matter only three short paragraphs buried in a story about another appropriations measure.)
The defense bill includes $68.6 billion to pursue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is only a down payment on the full yearly cost of these wars. (The rest will be raised through future supplementary bills.) It also included a 3.9 percent pay raise for military personnel, and $5 billion in pork-barrel projects not even requested by the administration or the Secretary of Defense. It also fully funds the Pentagon’s request for a radar site in the Czech Republic, a harebrained scheme sure to infuriate the Russians just as much as a Russian missile base in Cuba once infuriated us. The whole bill passed by a vote of 392-39 and will fly through the Senate, where a similar bill has already been approved. And no one will even think to mention it in the same breath with the discussion of bailout funds for dying investment banks and the like.
This is pure waste. Our annual spending on "national security"–meaning the defense budget plus all military expenditures hidden in the budgets for the departments of Energy, State, Treasury and Veterans Affairs, the CIA and numerous other places in the executive branch–already exceeds a trillion dollars, an amount larger than that of all other national defense budgets combined. Not only was there no significant media coverage of this latest appropriation, there have been no signs of even the slightest urge to inquire into the relationship between our bloated military, our staggering weapons expenditures, our extravagantly expensive failed wars abroad and the financial catastrophe on Wall Street.
The only Congressional "commentary" on the size of our military outlay was the usual pompous drivel about how a failure to vote for the defense authorization bill would betray our troops. The aged Senator John Warner of Virginia, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, implored his Republican colleagues to vote for the bill "out of respect for military personnel." He seems to be unaware that these troops are actually volunteers, not draftees, and that they joined the armed forces as a matter of career choice, rather than because the nation demanded such a sacrifice from them.