At a formal press announcement Monday and in media appearances over the next day, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled the biggest military budget in world history, in anticipation of an endless series of Iraq and Afghanistan-style wars by American imperialism.
Both the military budget itself and the official who drafted it—Gates held the same position in the last two years of the Bush administration and is the first Pentagon chief to be retained by a new president—underscore the fundamental continuity between Obama and Bush.
For all its pretensions of “change” and all the popular illusions attached to Obama’s supposed “anti-war” stance, the new administration is as committed to the ruthless pursuit of the interests of American imperialism as its discredited predecessor.
At the onset of his official announcement, Gates declared that President Obama had given him full authority to make decisions on all military programs, with the White House providing input only on the total size of the military budget and the political decisions about where the military will be used.
“I have also consulted closely with the president,” he said. “But, I received no direction or guidance from outside this department on individual program decisions. The chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in complete accord with these recommendations.”
This statement underscores the growing and quasi-independent role of the military brass in the Obama administration’s decision-making. It is a remarkable fact of political life that the military plays an even greater role in determining national policy in the Obama administration than it did under George W. Bush.
Obama has given the Pentagon a free hand, effectively saying, “Here’s $640 billion, you decide what to do with it.” He allowed Gates to make his budget draft public before the White House Office of Management and Budget had signed off on it, a privilege accorded to no other government department.
In addition, there are three former top military officials ensconced in top policy-making roles: retired General James Jones as national security adviser, retired Admiral Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence, and retired General Eric Shinseki heading the Veterans Administration.
Gates emphasized that the enormous sums being proposed for the fiscal 2010 military budget are distributed based primarily on lessons learned in fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the perspective that more such wars—against largely irregular, guerrilla forces, rather than conventional armies—will be the primary task of the Pentagon for the foreseeable future.
“We must rebalance this department’s programs in order to institutionalize and enhance our capabilities to fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead,” he said, in an effort to justify the cancellation of some high-cost, high-tech weapons systems in order to provide more funding for troops, special operations forces, helicopters and drones.
The major purchasing decisions involved such trade-offs as these:
Aircraft—The Pentagon will more than double purchases of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from 14 in FY09 to 30 in FY10, as part of an overall increase of 513 in five years, and a colossal 2,443 during the life of the production run. Partly offsetting this, the Pentagon will end production of the F-22, a more advanced and more costly fighter.
Missile defense—The Pentagon will add nearly $1 billion for short-range theater missile defense systems (THAAD) and Aegis anti-missile naval cruisers, which are already battle-tested, while cutting back on funding for the completely unproven strategic missile defense system on which the Republican administrations have lavished funding since Reagan, albeit with no results.
Naval vessels—The construction of new aircraft carriers, the single most expensive US weapons systems, will be slowed, and new cruiser and advanced destroyer construction will be suspended along with landing ships to be used for seaborne assaults on conventional military forces. The funding will be diverted into a revived construction program of more conventional destroyers, which can be built more rapidly, as well as smaller vessels more suitable for warfare in constricted seas like the Persian Gulf.
Military personnel—The biggest increases will go for building up the volunteer Army and Marine Corps, depleted by the loss of personnel due to strains of waging war continuously for more than seven years, and two wars simultaneously for six years. Tens of thousands of military contractors will be replaced by direct employees of the Pentagon, in part in reaction to the non-stop scandals and abuses under the Bush administration in Iraq (Blackwater, Halliburton, etc.)
Technology—The Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, aimed at producing an automated battlefield equipped with sensors and robots, will be effectively halted, and the most expensive component, the design and building of a new Army combat vehicle to replace the conventional tank and armored personnel carrier, is to be canceled outright. The emphasis instead will be on drones and other remote-controlled devices and on coordinating them in real time with ground operations, while training the crews required to operate the existing technology.
The reaction from Congress to the budget announcement was predictable. Howls were heard from senators and congressmen from districts where corporations will lose contracts. Those from districts with corporations that will gain contracts praised the wisdom of secretary Gates.
Gates anticipated the objections, telling his press audience that 50 percent of the budget was still devoted entirely to preparations for fighting a conventional war, although no one asked him who the antagonist in such a contest could be. Nor did any reporter ask him which countries were the likeliest potential battlefields for the greatly increased unconventional and counterinsurgency capabilities the Pentagon envisions.
One can make a list, however, of countries where the Pentagon is displaying more than usual interest in acquainting itself with the landscape, both political and geographic, and the local military forces. These include South and Southeast Asia, much of Africa, the entire Middle East, Mexico and the Caribbean basin.
Not one prominent Democrat raised any objection to the United States continuing to squander more money on building weapons of war than all other countries on the planet combined. Not one prominent Democrat balked at the prospect of more and more wars on the model of Iraq and Afghanistan, in which soldiers equipped with overwhelming firepower incinerate the peoples of impoverished countries who represent an obstacle to the strategic calculations of American imperialism.
In an interview Monday on the Public Broadcasting System, Gates spelled out the continuity between the Obama administration and its Republican predecessor. “The reality is,” he said, “this is nothing new. I’ve been talking about this for 18 months; it is the heart of the national defense strategy that was issued last fall in the Bush administration, that I issued and it’s really more about simply recognizing the enduring requirement for the capabilities to fight these irregular or hybrid conflicts than it is a major strategic shift.”
Afghanistan is the major short-term driver of Pentagon spending, he explained. “We’re increasing our capacity for helicopters, which are in huge demand in Afghanistan,” he said. “We are doing a lot to build up the special operations forces, more people, more special operations-oriented lift and mobility. So there are a number of aspects of this that are going into the base budget as long-term capabilities for the United States that obviously will pay dividends in Afghanistan as well.”
At a press roundtable the following day, Gates emphasized the remaking of the Pentagon hierarchy through the promotion of generals with experience in the current wars. “General Casey, General Chiarelli, General Dempsey, General Petraeus, General Odierno, General Austin,” he said, naming a series of top appointees, “the places where these people have been assigned provide, I believe, the opportunity to institutionalize in the Army the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are all war fighters, and their appointments were not accidents or just happenstance.”
In other words, the American military is being rebuilt along the line of the force required to suppress the popular opposition of masses of oppressed people who live in countries targeted by US imperialism for their natural resources and strategic importance.