Yesterday, I wrote on the massive new $636 billion “defense” spending bill passed by the House of Representatives. An article in today’s Wall Street Journal should make us further question the efficacy of this type of high-technology spending.
A MQ-1 Predator drone costs some $4.5 million dollars each. They have a wingspan of approximately 48 feet, weigh 2,250 lbs. when loaded, have a range of over 2,000 miles, and have a ceiling altitude of 25,000 ft. They can be loaded with two hellfire missiles, making them available for a combination of reconnaissance, combat or support roles. The MQ-9 Reaper drone, the larger and more-heavily armored cousin of the Predator, cost about $10.5 million each.
The Air Force maintains a fleet of 195 Predators (total cost ~$877.5 million) and 28 Reapers (total cost ~ $294 million). The New York Times reported earlier this year that they are flying 34 daily surveillance patrols in Afghanistan and Iraq, up from 12 in 2006. They transmit some 16,000 hours of video each month.
Insurgents can spend $25.95 to purchase Skygrabber, a program available on the internet which allows them to intercept the video transmitted by these drones.
As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize — or do not want to recognize — that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire — an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can’t begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order. —Chalmers Johnson
It is with the context provided by that quotation from historian Chalmers Johnson that one must understand today’s news that the House of Representatives has approved funding today for
defense maintaining the empire. The level of spending has been approved at $636.3 billion dollars– nearly two-thirds of a trillion dollars(see related post on how much a trillion really is) to maintain our network of more than 800 military facilities in more than 140 countries around the world. That spending includes $128.3 billion for fighting our current wars, although Afghanistan is expected to require an additional $30 billion to fund the most recent troop increase.
The shootings at Fort Hood last week have provoked a media feeding frenzy. Questions abound, and there is no dearth of speculation as to the shooter’s motives. Most articles I have seen waste no time pointing out that the shooter was a Muslim, that he exclaimed “Allahu akbar” before shooting, and that he is linked with radical imams and possibly Al Qaeda. That’s from the ostensibly “impartial” media, but there are also a few extremely distasteful editorial perspectives that are unfortunately quite mainstream that I wanted to comment on today. I’m afraid my ability to edit sarcasm out of my posts declines in direct proportion to the insanity and hypocrisy with which I’m confronted, so bear with me.
First, Forbes featured an article by Tunku Varadarajan entitled “Going Muslim“, a play on the old phrase “going postal”. He describes it thusly:
As the enormity of the actions of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sinks in, we must ask whether we are confronting a new phenomenon of violent rage, one we might dub–disconcertingly–”Going Muslim.” This phrase would describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American–a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood–discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans. This would appear to be what happened in the case of Maj. Hasan.
Dan Choi is a well-decorated combat veteran who was dismissed from the military because was gay. His message at the National Equality March rally was simple and compelling. Choi made it clear that he is done asking and he is now telling. Don’t ask, don’t tell must be repealed immediately.
How paranoid have we become? Here’s what Allison Kilkenny of Alternet has to say:
The culture itself is sick, which is why America has a military budget that is almost as much as the rest of the world’s defense spending combined, and is over nine times larger than the military budget of China, and yet Americans feel more afraid, and more paranoid, than ever. Everyone is against us, we’re told. Everyone hates our freedom, and our amazing culture. China wants to overtake us. The entire Middle East wants us dead. Europeans laugh at us, and think we’re stupid. Emperor Penguins are plotting something. Canada is about to attack.
And then there’s Iran. Don’t even get us started on Iran. Until Americans decide to break this addiction to “The List,” this cycle of irrationality will continue into the foreseeable future.
And see this post, for the best friend of America’s politicians: peddling nightmares.
Occasionally, items in the news make me sit up and take notice of how far from a constitutional republic we really have come. Like this:
There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America’s military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the “Obama problem.” Don’t dismiss it as unrealistic.
That’s the opening salvo from John Perry, a regular columnist with the right-wing website Newsmax, in an article entitled “Obama risks a Domestic Military ‘Intervention’”. I would like nothing more than to provide you with a link to the whole article, but it has apparently disappeared down the memory hole. Perhaps the editors at Newsmax realized it would be inconvenient to have an article speculating on the potential for a military coup at the same time they are trumpeting the peacefulness of the tea-party protestors and wondering why anyone would accuse them of encouraging dangerous, violent extremism. The quote I harvested above came from Mediamatters.org, which detailed this story yesterday. Unfortunately, the did not reproduce the full column. I managed to grab a screenshot of the Newsmax website search function, which proves that the article really did exist, although the hyperlink for the article now returns visitors to the main Newsmax page.
Lt. Dan Choi, who was discharged from the military because he had come out as a gay man, received a Service to Humanity award from the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. As part of his eloquent speech, Choi burned his discharge letter at the podium.
My initial reaction: Any society that can’t rectify a situation involving this much gross injustice probably can’t get much of anything done. Hint to Congress: Simply write a law that says you won’t kick highly competent soldiers out of the military just because they are gay.
Building on our recent discussion of Afghanistan, a couple of items of interest today. Daring to stand up to the budding consensus that it may be time to get out of Afghanistan, Ruben Navarette today released an commentary on the topic. He notes that “Senior Pentagon officials are expected to ask for as many as 45,000 additional American troops this month. Currently, there are about 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.” To him, this is not a bothersome development. He complains that the only “nation-building” the left supports is the type done by the Peace Corps, rather than the military. With no indication why this position is incorrect, he asserts that
“Liberals love to build things, especially with other people’s tax dollars. They just don’t like the idea of U.S. troops doing the building. Maintaining a military presence on foreign soil makes the left nervous because it feeds the perception that the United States has an itch for imperialism and can’t go long without scratching it.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s the 737 military bases around the world and millions of deployed soldiers that really “feeds the perception” that we have an “itch for imperialism.” I wonder why Navarette doesn’t criticize war-mongering conservatives for “loving to build things, especially with other people’s tax dollars”?After all, the Pentagon estimates that our overseas bases are worth at least $127 billion– does he think they were paid for through donations from grateful Iraqis and Afghanis?
Erich’s comment on my post about the increasing use of contractors as warfighters reminded me of a couple of issues that I had forgotten to raise.
First, the use of these contractors also makes is easier possible for the Executive Branch to fight unpopular wars. CNN released a poll yesterday showing that the oppostion to the war in Afghanistan is at an all-time high, and even über-conservative George Will has said it’s now “Time to get out of Afghanistan.” Imagine how much more forcefully the nation would be calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan if the draft had to be re-instated in order to continue to attempt to impose our will on Afghanistan. Jeremy Scahill reports that
According to new statistics released by the Pentagon, with Barack Obama as commander in chief, there has been a 23% increase in the number of “Private Security Contractors” working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan, which “correlates to the build up of forces” in the country….
Overall, contractors (armed and unarmed) now make up approximately 50% of the “total force in Centcom AOR [Area of Responsibility].” This means there are a whopping 242,657 contractors working on these two US wars.