“The Pentagon Takes Over”

Tom Engelhardt has produced another superlative TomDispatch:  “Entrenched, Embedded, and Here to Stay“, Frida Berrigan (27 May 2008) — “The Pentagon’s Expansion Will Be Bush’s Lasting Legacy”. 

Berrigan describes Bush’s legacy, the massive growth in power and size of the Defense and Security departments.  The expenditures dominate the budget.  The activities encircle the globe — they are our foreign policy.  The military is increasingly the face of America’s government as seen by the rest of the world.  We have drifted into this with no thought, no plan — a grand strategy doomed to failure.

Berrigan describes seven specific aspects of the Pentagon’s growth.  This post gives brief excerpts for each; I strongly recommend reading the full article. 

  1. The Budget-busting Pentagon
  2. The Pentagon as Arms Dealer
  3. The Pentagon as Diplomat 
  4. The Pentagon as Intelligence Analyst and Spy
  5. The Pentagon as Domestic Disaster Manager
  6. The Pentagon as Humanitarian Caregiver Abroad
  7. The Pentagon as Global Viceroy and Ruler of the Heavens

I.  The Budget-busting Pentagon

With the war added to the Pentagon’s core budget, the United States now spends nearly as much on military matters as the rest of the world combined. Military spending also throws all other parts of the federal budget into shadow, representing 58 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government on “discretionary programs” (those that Congress gets to vote up or down on an annual basis).

The total Pentagon budget represents more than our combined spending on education, environmental protection, justice administration, veteran’s benefits, housing assistance, transportation, job training, agriculture, energy, and economic development. No wonder, then, that, as it collects ever more money, the Pentagon is taking on (or taking over) ever more functions and roles.

II.  The Pentagon as Diplomat 

According to a 2006 Congressional report by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Embassies as Command Posts in the Anti-Terror Campaign, civilian personnel in many embassies now feel occupied by, outnumbered by, and subordinated to military personnel. They see themselves as the second team when it comes to decision-making. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates is aware of the problem, noting as he did last November that there are “only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers — less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group.”

III.  The Pentagon as Arms Dealer

By 2006 (the last year for which full data is available), the United States alone accounted for more than half the world’s trade in arms with $14 billion in sales. … U.S. arms sales for 2006 came in at roughly twice the level of any previous year of the Bush administration.

IV.  The Pentagon as Intelligence Analyst and Spy

As a result, according to Tim Shorrock, investigative journalist and author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, the Pentagon now controls more than 80% of U.S. intelligence spending, which he estimated at about $60 billion in 2007.

The result is seen in this passage from Tim Weiner’s book Legacy of Ashes:

Bob Gates took over the Pentagon on December 18, 2006 — the only entry-level analyst ever to run the CIA and the only director ever to become secretary of defense. …

When Gates settled in at the Pentagon, he looked around at the American intelligence establishment and he saw stars:  a general was running the CIA, a general was the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a general was in charge of State Department’s counterterrorism programs, a lieutenant general was the Pentagon’s deputy undersecretary for intelligence, and a major general was running spies at the CIA.   Every one of these jobs had been held by civilians, going back many years.

Gates saw a world in which the Pentagon had crushed the CIA, just as it had vowed to do sixty years before.

V.  The Pentagon as Domestic Disaster Manager

In fact, in the Bush years, the Pentagon has become the official first responder of last resort in case of just about any disaster — from tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods to civil unrest, potential outbreaks of disease, or possible biological or chemical attacks. In 2002, in a telltale sign of Pentagon mission creep, President Bush established the first domestic military command since the civil war, the U.S. Northern Command (Northcom). Its mission: the “preparation for, prevention of, deterrence of, preemption of, defense against, and response to threats and aggression directed towards U.S. territory, sovereignty, domestic population, and infrastructure; as well as crisis management, consequence management, and other domestic civil support.”

The Pentagon as Humanitarian Caregiver Abroad: The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have traditionally been tasked with responding to disaster abroad; but, from Indonesia’s tsunami-ravaged shores to Myanmar after the recent cyclone, natural catastrophe has become another presidential opportunity to “send in the Marines” (so to speak). The Pentagon has increasingly taken up humanitarian planning, gaining an ever larger share of U.S. humanitarian missions abroad.

VI.  The Pentagon as Humanitarian Caregiver Abroad

The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have traditionally been tasked with responding to disaster abroad; but, from Indonesia’s tsunami-ravaged shores to Myanmar after the recent cyclone, natural catastrophe has become another presidential opportunity to “send in the Marines” (so to speak). The Pentagon has increasingly taken up humanitarian planning, gaining an ever larger share of U.S. humanitarian missions abroad.

From Kenya to Afghanistan, from the Philippines to Peru, the U.S. military is also now regularly the one building schools and dental clinics, repairing roads and shoring up bridges, tending to sick children and doling out much needed cash and food stuffs, all civilian responsibilities once upon a time.

The Center for Global Development finds that the Pentagon’s share of “official development assistance” — think “winning hearts and minds” or “nation-building” – has increased from 6% to 22% between 2002 and 2005.

VII.  The Pentagon as Global Viceroy and Ruler of the Heavens

In the Bush years, the Pentagon finished dividing the globe into military “commands,” which are functionally viceroyalties. True, even before 9/11, it was hard to imagine a place on the globe where the United States military was not, but until recently, the continent of Africa largely qualified.

Along with the creation of Northcom, however, the establishment of the U.S. Africa Command (Africom) in 2008 officially filled in the last Pentagon empty spot on the map. A key military document, the 2006 National Security Strategy for the United States, signaled the move, asserting that “Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high-priority of this administration.” (Think: oil and other key raw materials.)

… Meanwhile, should the Earth not be enough, there are always the heavens to control. In August 2006, building on earlier documents like the 1998 U.S. Space Command’s Vision for 2020 (which called for a policy of “full spectrum dominance”), the Bush administration unveiled its “national space policy.” It advocated establishing, defending, and enlarging U.S. control over space resources and argued for “unhindered” rights in space — unhindered, that is, by international agreements preventing the weaponization of space. The document also asserted that “freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power.”

As the document put it, “In the new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not.” (The leaders of China, Russia, and other major states undoubtedly heard the loud slap of a gauntlet being thrown down.)

Frida Berrigan is a Senior Program Associate at the New America Foundation’s Arms and Security Initiative. She is a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus and a contributing editor at In These Times magazine. She is the author of reports on the arms trade and human rights, U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and the domestic politics of U.S. missile defense and space weapons policies. She can be reached at berrigan at newamerica.net.

Note:  Tom Engelhardt is the author of The End of Victory Culture — Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a GenerationHere are excerpts and reviews.

Please share your comments by posting below, relevant and brief please. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

10 thoughts on ““The Pentagon Takes Over”

  1. While you present many objective factors for the “Pentagon Taking Over,” the subjective factors suggest otherwise:

    Item: Hollywood movies about the “War on Terror” have bombed.

    Item: The lack of popular music about the military – unlike the outpouring of WWII ( e.g., Boggy-woggie Bugle Boy of Company B. ) or George M. Cohan’s WWI songs.

    Item: The Hummer, which became popular after the Gulf War, is now a gas guzzling white elephant.

    Item: During the ’60’s many private military academies transformed into regular “civilian” schools. This trend has not reversed.

    Item: George Bush told the public to fight the war on terror by going shopping ( Need I say more. )

    In short, while you have cited many current facts, they remain alienated from the daily life of America as a whole; and therefore these facts have no basis to sustain themselves.
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    Fabuis Maximus replies: Tom E did not present this essay as the Gospel, the one book that tells about Life, the Universe, and Everything. It was a five thousand word analysis of the Pentagon’s widening influence inside the government. It was about power.

    You have listed a few facts about the public’s sentiment about the military. I doubt this supports the thesis that “remain alienated from the daily life of America as a whole.” Just to mention two aspects which illustrate the difficulty of broad conclusions from a handfull of facts:

    (1) The military has seldom been a popular institution in America — except during popular wars. WWI and WWII are exception periods in our history, and hence are not good points for comparison.

    (2) Polls consistently show that the military is one of the most trusted and admired public or private institutions in America.

    Much more important to your thesis is the implied assumption that the Pentagon cannot continue to exercise such great power within the government unless they have public support. Perhaps, but the lack of public support has not stopped or even slowed our efforts in the Iraq War.

    Similar examples can be found throughout our public policy universe. For example, controlling our borders appears on most polls as a high priority with a large majority of Americans — yet open borders remains the policy of both major parties. Including candidates Obama and McCain. America is a republican democracy, apparently more republican than democratic (we elect representatives, but they do not necessarily act on our views).

  2. This expansion of Pentagon power, much of it off-budget and not subject to over-sight is one of the main themes of Chalmers Johnson’s latest books, “The Sorrows of Empire” and “Nemesis.” James Carrol’s “House of War” describes the beginning stages, following WW II, of the Pentagon’s ascent to almost untouchable, unaccountable power in the US government.

    A President can misuse this power, as Bush did, but one gets the impression that no President can take it on, or lessen it.

    Dr Helen Caldicott’s book, “The New Nuclear Danger”, touches on the way the military/industrial complex supports and extends Pentagon power into the realm of foreign policy. She documents how the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe was initially conceived and rationalized through think-tanks by companies like Lockheed-Martin, for the purpose of opening up new markets for arms sales.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for the valuable references!

  3. The term “The Pentagon” is used but is there anyone in control of this expansion of power?

    Gates saw a world in which the Pentagon had crushed the CIA, just as it had vowed to do sixty years before.

    It implies a form of central control/planning besides that of the Secretary of Defence. Or are officers just great lobbyists?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: For lack of a better way to describe institutional dynamics, we resort to reification. Aggregates — families, communities, organizations, nations — have some sense of shared identity and purpose, and are capable of coordinated behavior to grow or defend.

  4. thesis is the implied assumption that the Pentagon cannot continue to exercise such great power within the government unless they have public support.

    No, my thesis is that the Pentagon, despite its apparent surface import, occupies a surprisingly minor part of the collective subconscious; hence its current posture actually is not that firmly embedded.

    I doubt if you’d agree with that either; but this is my postion.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I neither agree nor disagree. Such assessments seem to me subjective, difficult to either support or disprove. But your statement seems to me in accord with what I said. Public support = “firmly embedded in the collective unconscious.” Am I missing something?

  5. the Pentagon as an arm of foreign policy, and the chief agent of it, is a dangerous development, but one that is checked by the actions and interests of competing nations. More ominous, in my opinion, is the Pentagon’s new domestic role, suggested in the author’s fifth point — “Pentagon as Domestic Disaster Manager”, and also by the mushy empire of Homeland Security. I wonder wehther Americans will tolerate or resist the growing presence of soldiers on their city streets?

  6. But your statement seems to me in accord with what I said. Public support = “firmly embedded in the collective unconscious.” Am I missing something?

    I doubt if you want to draw this out any more than I do, but “public support” – to me at any rate, is something conscious whereas the collective conscious quite obviously is not. QED: how people might respond to a public opinion poll – while probably probative of the current viewpoint, would not be probative as to their unconscious motives. I would assert that what movies they watch, and such, would be more likely probative of their subconscious motives.

    That’s what I mean, at any rate.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you, that is helpful. This is an interesting distinction, worth some thought.

    This is relevant to understanding why reform of DoD has proved difficult. There is a discussion of this over at DNI, to which Kinder has posted, in the comments to Lind’s latest.

  7. “He who defends everywhere defends nowhere.”:Frederick the Great

    Planetary Viceroy & Ruler of the Heavens?Nay,folowing the footsteps of the late Roman Empire. Just hoping it doesn’t become another Byzantium in another century or so. Who’s to say.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Becoming Byzantium would be a good thing! They outlasted the western Roman Empire by centuries, with wealth and style.

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