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February 7, 2007

Proposed '08 Pentagon Earns Superlatives All Around

by Jim Lobe

How big is President George W. Bush's proposed 2008 Pentagon budget?

At nearly $623 billion for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, its size earned nothing but editorial superlatives and a scramble for historical precedents that could put the sum in perspective.

"Bush's Defense Budget Biggest Since Reagan Era," headlined the Washington Post, which noted in its subtitle that "Iraq, Afghanistan Spending Top Vietnam War."

The Congressional Quarterly Today went even further back, noting that "War Spending Would Top Korea and Vietnam Marks…," while the venerable New York Times was somewhat more restrained, noting only that the total request constituted a "Record."

Even the far-right Washington Times seemed impressed, noting in its sub-headline that "U.S. allocation to security programs exceeds rest of world combined" and including in its lead paragraph the fact that the total request marked "the largest sum in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1946," just one year after World War II.

"What's remarkable about this year's military budget is that it's the largest budget since World War II, but, of course, we're not fighting World War II," noted William Hartung, a defense expert at the World Policy Institute in New York.

"We're fighting terrorist networks armed with explosives and AK-47s. This has to be considered a triumph of an arms lobby that can obviously sell us things we don't need at a time that the president claims we're in mortal danger."

To put a different perspective on the figure, $623 billion is about $10 billion more than the total gross domestic product (GDP) of all 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa and oil giants Nigeria and Angola, in 2005, according to the World Bank.

Indeed, Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who, until 2005, was the number-two man at the Pentagon, must be green with envy. Total lending by the Bank, the world's largest single source of development assistance, is currently running at about $23 billion a year, or about 1/27th of the Pentagon's proposed resources.

Despite a jump of 12 percent in its proposed budget over fiscal 2006 budget, the State Department must be suffering similar pangs.

Total State Department and related international aid budgets would rise to a record $36 billion under Bush's request, although about $7.5 billion of that total will be earmarked for military- or security-related programs, such as credits for foreign allies to buy equipment from the Pentagon or U.S. defense contractors or cash grants to key partners in the administration's war on terror, such as Pakistan and Jordan, to keep their economies afloat.

In addition, Israel and Egypt, also allies in Bush's war, would retain their status dating back to the late 1970s as by far the biggest U.S. bilateral aid recipients, at $2.4 billion and $1.7 billion, respectively.

Of course, the costs of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq far eclipse what Washington provides in aid to even its most favored clients. Of the total '08 Pentagon request, the two countries, where some 165,000 U.S. troops are presently engaged, account for $141 billion.

That means the Pentagon expects to spend nearly $12 billion a month on the two wars next year – or about one billion every two and a half days. By comparison, the State Department has budgeted about $1 billion for migration, refugee, and international disaster and famine assistance for all of 2008.

"When you compare the defense budget – which is our hard-power face to the world – to our development or disaster assistance budgets – which is our soft-power face to the world – it's obviously very lopsided," noted Sheila Heerling, a senior analyst at the Center for Global Development here.

"It seems that when forced to make a decision between short-term military gains and longer-term development gains, the choice is typically short-term military gains," she added.

The Pentagon actually expects to spend even more on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during the current year. Congress has already approved $70 billion for the two wars this year, but Bush has submitted a supplemental request for another $93 billion, bringing the total to $163 billion.

If all pending administration requests are approved, total war spending by the Pentagon since 2001 would rise to a whopping $662 billion next year, surpassing the cost of the Vietnam War (about $650 billion in 2007 dollars) and rivaling that of the Korean War.

In fact, analysts have already accused the administration of low-balling its estimates.

For example, the 2007 supplemental request includes $5.6 billion for Bush's plan to add 21,500 combat troops to the 140,000 already stationed in Iraq. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported last week that such a "surge" – even if lasts only four months – will likely cost twice as much due to the necessity of deploying thousands of other units to carry out support functions. If the deployment lasts longer, as many experts believe it will, the costs will mount accordingly.

Besides the costs of war operations, the 2008 request for military spending comes to $481 billion, an increase of 11 percent over current 2007 levels, and roughly half of what the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates as total defense spending by all governments worldwide.

With the additional spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, total U.S. military spending appears to be well above that of all of the rest of the world's combined.

In addition, the administration has announced it will push for expanding the size of the army from 482,000 to 547,000 troops by 2012 and the Marine Corps from 174,000 to 202,000 over the next four to five years.

"At a time when public opinion polls show strong support for a less militarized, less unilateral foreign policy, this budget clearly takes us in the wrong direction," according to Miriam Pemberton, an analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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