31 January 2014

What is the real Price of Starting Another Cold War?


Fanning the Fires of Chaos in the Ukraine
What is the Real Price of Starting Another Cold War?
by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY, Counterpunch

In the late 1980s, the leaders of the West promised Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev that they would not expand eastward if the Soviet Union pulled out of Eastern Europe and ended the Cold War.  That promise was not kept.  A triumphal West stuck it to the Soviet Union’s  greatly weakened Russian successor, by incorporating the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO and the EU.  But that was not enough to sate the lust of the neo-liberal triumphalists in search of a new imperium.  Their next move tried to incorporate the Caucasus country of Georgia — a country more a part of Central Asia than of Europe — into the West’s sphere of influence.  That turned out to be a bridge too far; the Russians intervened militarily to put a stop to the lunacy.
But events in the Ukraine suggest that stop may have been viewed as a temporary speed bump on the pathway to rolling back Russia’s geography to the years of Ivan the Terrible.
Ukraine may be descending into chaos, and some triumphalists in the West are again tempted to meddle and fan the fires of chaos and revolution, perhaps with a near-term aim of a partitioning the Ukraine along its historic Orthodox-Catholic fault line.  Seaumas Milne describes the chaotic state of play in Ukraine in this commentary in the Guardian.  In so doing, Milne shows how the west is fueling revanchist fascism.  Note the familiar role being played again by meddlers like Nato Secretary General Anders Rasmussen and Senator John McCain.  According to Milne, they are encouraging the rise of Ukraine’s nascent fascism and rising instability to roll back Russia’s influence among its immediate neighbors. But the Ukraine, like Georgia, is too close to home.  Ukraine is likely to prove another bridge too far that triggers a Russian reaction by the wily Mr. Putin (the man, who recently intervened to stop the US from going to war in Syria).  And Putin’s reaction may well be portrayed as a reason to restart the Cold War with Russia.
Combine these efforts in the Ukraine with the ongoing push to start a Cold War with China (Obama’s Pacific pivot and the Navy-AF budget plan for the so-called Air-Sea Battle) and the halcyon years of ever rising defense budgets may be again in the political offing, triggered by yet another wave of Cold War hysteria.  But this time, the MICC’s (Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex) jumping off point will be from today’s far higher Defense budget.
This chart gives you an idea of the stakes.  The figure  compares the defense budget in current dollars to its portrayal in inflation-adjusted dollars, either by using GDP deflators or by using the Pentagon’s self-serving defense deflators.

Bear in mind, the Pentagon only started to account for inflation in the early 1970s.  Its historical deflators for periods before 1976 are the fanciful concoctions of bureaucratic apparachiks in the office of the Pentagon’s comptroller.  But there is method to their madness. The Comptroller’s calculations serve the goal of making past defense budgets look much higher relative to current budgets.  This fanciful depiction creates the false impression that current budgets are lower relative to past budgets than is actually the case.  Put another way, the Pentagon’s deflators assume the rate of price inflation affecting Pentagon’s budget is higher than the general rate of inflation for the economy as a whole.  This assumption, of course, makes it far easier to hide the real effects of cost growth and outright fraud, waste, and abuse over time by attributing part of it to inflation, which is said to be beyond the MICC’s control.
The chart puts this scam in perspective.  Compared to the two lefthand charts, the Pentagon’s deflators (i.e., the righthand graph) make the current defense budgets appear to be less of a departure from past budgets.  The right hand chart is the one that the Pentagon briefs to Congress and the press dutifully regurgitates.  It implies the current defense budget and future plans are less of a distortionary burden on the economy than is actually the case.  (Readers interested in learning more about the inflation scam are referred to  this report for a particularly outrageous case study documenting how the Pentagon scammed the Congress and the America people into believing the Reagan spendup was less wasteful than it really was.)
The charts give you an idea of the golden cornucopia awaiting the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex (MICC), if its proponents can start a new Cold War.  Anyone who doubts the possibility of the MICC’s capacity to pull this off, need only use these charts to think about (1) the durability of the so-called “peace” dividend accompanying the end of the Cold War in 1990 and (2) how the MICC exploited the horror of 9-11 to power boost the defense budget to levels undreamed of by the threat inflators during the worst days of the Cold War or Vietnam.  Just try to think about what a new wave of cold-war hysteria could trigger.
When asked to pony up the money to pay for a new Cold War (and to sacrifice other programs like Medicare and Social Security), American taxpayers would be well advised to try to understand how future defense budgets compare to those of the past.  They would be better served if everyone agreed to use the GDP inflator (or something like it) when trying to remove effects of inflation from a given budget level.  The GDP deflator assumes the Pentagon’s budget is a part of the larger American economy.  The alternative is to continue using the Pentagon’s deflators, which assume the economics of the MICC are a special place where the self-interested parties making up the MICC should make up the rules that establish the terms of political debate.

17 January 2014

Toys Before Boys


The Cockburn Report
Defense Spending: Putting Toys Before Boys

by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY, Counterpunch

Being pro-defense in the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles on the Potomac means, in the salty words of my late friend Col. David Hackworth, one of the U.S. Army’s most decorated combat soldiers, putting “the toys before boys.”
Hackworth meant the number one budget priority in the Pentagon and the Halls of Congress is to reward the domestic political faction that benefits from buying and operating high cost, high complexity weapons at the expense of (1) weapons that work for the men and women at the pointy end of the spear and (2) providing an affordable defense program that does not rob taxpayers of money needed for other national needs — like roads and sewers, schools, social security, etc.
The faction that benefits from a policy to spend on “toys” is the coalition of (1) weapons contractors, (2) military officers and civilians who promote those weapons to enhance their careers and post retirement employment opportunities, and (3) legislators who benefit from the increasing flows of dollars, jobs, and profits to their districts.  This trinity is the primary faction that benefits from the development, procurement, and contracted support dollars associated with buying hyper-expensive programs like the F-35, the B-2 bomber, the new aircraft carrier, etc.  But it is not the only grouping that benefits.  There are other less obvious players in the Military – Industrial – Congessional Complex (MICC) — including, inter alia: influence peddlers and wannabees in lobbying firms, so-called intellectuals in think tanks who derive their funding and influence by rationalizing the party line for the programs and money flowing to MICC. Their collective behaviour is lubricated by the network — really an intricately woven tapestry — of revolving doors leading into and out of jobs in the Pentagon, Congress and industry. Other beneficiaries of this promotional network include those who make money or gain access to power by hyping the benefits of the ‘toys,’ including members of the press, particularly the broadcast media, movie makers (e.g., Top Gun), novelists (e.g., the late Tom Clancy), etc.  There is slew of lesser important fringe players as well, including professors in universities, and all sorts of enthusiasts and groupies, feeding off the tributaries of the golden flow to the main players.
President Eisenhower presciently warned us about this web of interests in his farewell address in 1961.  Today, its distorting influence on the popular imagination pervades American culture, from to bottom to top; from our school rooms, to the hobby shops selling video games, to movies, to the thinly disguised advertisements on content generators, like PBS’s so-called advertisement-free Newshour, to the faux patriotism of flag pins on the lapels of politicians and yellow ribbon bumper stickers.
Yet notwithstanding all the technical hype about revolutionary military capabilities embodied in our vaunted technological supremacy (i.e. in Hackworth’s ‘toys’), America’s success in real war has been dismal since the end of WWII, even while the resources devoted to these wars have gone thru the roof.
The accumulating strategic and economic disaster has now metastasized in the ongoing global war on terror (GWOT) that began on 9-11.  The figure below is the proof.

Based on official DoD data, this chart plots the defense budget in inflation-adjusted dollars over time.  It also places the historical budgets in the context of  in the omnibus spending bill just passed by Congress and signed by the President, as denoted by the red markers. The red “ball” depicts the base budget and the red “star” adds the supplemental war budget to the base budget, making it logically equivalent to past budgets.
The recent budget deal, in effect, says the United States will be spending more defense in FY 2014 to pay for 30,000 troops disengaging from a low-tempo war in Afghanistan than we payed in 1969 to keep 550,000 fighting a high-tempo war in Vietnam.  Moreover, in 1969, the defense budget also paid for much the larger forces needed to support a full-blown Cold War against the Soviet Union; whereas today, there is no funding requirement even close to that of the cold war.
But there is more: the box plot shows the total 2014 budget will be higher than three-quarters of all the budgets between 1948 and 2013  (including several of the  GWOT budgets).  Even the so-called “base budget” will be a high budget by historical standards, as would have been the dreaded levels of the sequester, had they been adhered to. If you have any doubt about the MICC’s grip on the popular imagination, the 2014 budget level is what the courtiers of Versailles, including the mass media, commonly refer to as an “era of austerity” or an era of “fiscal constraints.”
In a normal world, it would be reasonable to ask what has all this money bought for the American taxpayer?
Consider first the GWOT: Iraq is a bloody disintegrating shambles; we are leaving Afghanistan with our tail between our legs; Libya became a fountainhead for weapons flowing to Jihadi factions throughout Africa and the Middle East; the drone war is creating enemies faster than we can kill them.
Now, think about the rest of the military: The service chiefs are complaining to Congress about readiness problems, aging weapons, and the need to cut personnel costs and shrink forces further (a trend that began in 1957), because we have a modernization (toys) crisis. The buzz words du jour are “recapitalize” and “re-set.”
And yet …  no one in the MICC is being asked to explain how spending so much money could be correlated with the rise of such horrific problems.  In fact, the Pentagon cannot even (and does not want to) audit its books, and Congress says it does have to pass one until 2017, even though it passed the law requiring the audits in 1990 — see this link for a recent in-depth series of Reuters reports describing this problem.
So, what is driving the budget train?  How can a citizen come to grips such a huge disaster, without being overwhelmed by the variety of its ever-changing complexity?
Occasionally a sharp ray of sunlight shines thru the narrative fog of techno-hype that is blanketing this mess to expose the truly sordid nature of the MICC’s game, so pithily summed up by Colonel Hackworth.  My good friend Andrew Cockburn brilliantly exposes the real nature of the Air Force’s efforts to trash its most effective and cheapest weapon system — the A-10 Warthog, one of the few “toys” that works for the “boys” and the “taxpayers” alike).  And in so doing, Andrew provides an excellent case study of how the dirty game is played.
The Air Force admits the A-10 is very effective and is low cost, but claims it is being forced to send the A-10 to bone yard as a budget ‘austerity’ measure in order to save more expensive, multi-use programs, like the problem-plagued  horror of horrors: the wildly expensive stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Cockburn’s report, Tunnel Vision: Will the Air Force kill its most effective weapon?, is in the forthcoming February 2014 issue of Harpers.
While Andrew does not address the bomber question, I believe the A-10 caper is a cog in a larger gaming strategy to open a financial window for developing and buying a new long range stealth bomber.  This monster could make the F-35 look like an exercise in prudence.  Even though it is still only a paper airplane, bordering on a fantasy at this point, the Air Force wants to spend $379 million on it this year.  And its cost has already begun to grow: the long-term procurement cost of a program for only 100 bombers recently rose from $55 billion to $81 billion, or by 47% – and the serious design work has not even begun!
Moreover, this new strategic bomber can only be justified by a ‘strategic’ need to destroy so-called critical economic nodes of a rising superpower threat.  The only possible candidate is China, the world’s largest exporter and second largest importer.  China is crucially dependent on shipping routes thru a few narrow, vulnerable choke points leading to and from its huge, easily bombed container ports on the coasts of the South and East China Seas, like Shanghai.  Nothing would enrich the future fortunes of MICC, and especially the Douhetian strategic bombing faction that controls the Air Force mentality, than a new Cold War  aimed at ‘deterring’ China, whatever that means.  This deterrence would be achieved by having a U.S  capability to deny China access to world markets. This is the real intent behind the vacuously-stated anti-access/area denial (A2AD) gibberish so popular in the AF and its wholly owned subsidiaries in the defense press and thinktanks.  To pulse its popularity — ask the Google.
To be sure, getting rid of the highly effective A-10 is only part of the Air Force’s larger agenda to start an unnecessary, but financially lucrative New Cold War.  And Cold Wars are better than hot wars for the MICC; not having to divert money into combat operations means even more money can be siphoned into the R&D and procurement accounts for buying the “toys.”
It is the low cost of the A-10 that is the central to understanding the salience of Andrew’s brilliantly written exposé in this larger game.
Sending the A-10 to the bone yard won’t save much money in the grand scheme of things, but the A-10s effectiveness has become an embarrassment — a blemish in the AF’s patina of strategic bombing and techno-war.  That blemish must be removed from view.  Cockburn’s essay is important because it gives the reader a sharp insight into the outrageous lengths the AF is willing to go to promote its budget-busting vision of hi-tech perpetual war based on strategic bombing and victory thru airpower alone.
I urge you to read Andrew’s essay carefully … and pay particular attention to the explosive implications of the coverup implied by his closing line.
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.

11 January 2014

Finally ... Some Accurate Perspectives on Gates' Self-Serving Memoir

Gareth Porter and Robert Parry, two of our nation's finest investigating reporter/historians, deserve kudos for placing  the self-serving nature of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' memoir into a proper perspective.  

Readers should bear in mind that the soap-opera-like gaming of Obama in 2009 into acquiescing to the fatally flawed plan for a surge in Afghanistan surge, described accurately by Porter and Parry below, was clearly obvious well before Obama made his decision to cave into the pressure exerted by Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, and the Generals and their neo-con allies in Congress.  To be sure, Obama was also feebly playing the game by leaking differences of opinion to the press -- but his was an amateurish operation by an inexperienced malleable politician and his pissant staffers.  Those on the other side were pros in manipulating the wholly owned subsidiaries in the press and Congress.

Predictably, as explained below, the brass hats won in 2009, notwithstanding a well publicized last ditch effort to stop the madness by Ambassador (and former General) Karl Eikenberry.

Now, with the publication of his memoir, Gates is attempting to deliver a coup de grace to Mr. Obama on the dawn of a mid-term election -- which shaping to be a bad one for a hapless President and suicidally-minded Democrats ... and this is just an opening shot.  Benjamin Netanyahu, with the help of many Democrats as well as Republicans, has another exceeding dangerous caper waiting in the wings (more on that later). 

Herewith are Porter's report (Attachment 1 - Gates Conceal Real Story of 'Gaming' Obama on Afghan War) and Parry's report (Attachment 2 - Robert Gates Double-Crosses Obama):

-------[Attachment 1]--------

Gates Conceals Real Story of 'Gaming' Obama on Afghan War
by Gareth Porter, January 11, 2014

Criticism in the memoirs of former secretary of defense Robert M. Gates of President Barack Obama’s lack of commitment to the Afghan War strategy of his administration has generated a Washington debate about whether Obama was sufficiently supportive of the war.
But the Gates account omits two crucial historical facts necessary to understanding the issue. The first is that Obama agreed to the escalation only under strong pressure from his top national security officials and with very explicit reservations. The second is that Gen. David Petraeus reneged on his previous commitment to support Obama’s 2009 decision that troop withdrawal would begin by mid-2011. (continued here)
-------[Attachment 2]--------

Rober Gates Double-Crosses Obama

Special Report: Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is slamming President Obama in a new memoir, accusing him of lacking enthusiasm for the Afghan War. But perhaps Obama’s bigger mistake was trusting Gates, a Bush Family operative with a history of dirty dealing, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry, Consortium News, January 8, 2014

As Barack Obama is staggered by a back-stabbing memoir from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the President can’t say that some people didn’t warn him about the risk of bringing a political opportunist like Gates into his inner circle on national security.
Those warnings date back to just days after Obama’s election in 2008 when word began to spread that some of his advisers were urging Obama to keep Gates on as Defense Secretary as part of a “Team of Rivals” and a show of bipartisanship. On Nov. 13, 2008, I posted a story at Consortiumnews.com entitled “The Danger of Keeping Robert Gates,” which said: