Pentagon officials have prepared a new estimate for defense spending that is $450 billion more over the next five years than previously announced figures.
The new estimate, which the Pentagon plans to release shortly before President Bush leaves office, would serve as a marker for the new president and is meant to place pressure on him to either drastically increase the size of the defense budget or defend any reluctance to do so, according to several former senior budget officials who are close to the discussions.
"This is a political document," said one former senior budget official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It sets up the new administration immediately to have to make a decision of how to deal with the perception that they are either cutting defense or adding to it."
Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's top budget official from 2001 to 2004, who is not involved in the current discussions, agreed.
"The thinking behind it is pretty straightforward," Zakheim said. "They are setting a baseline for a new administration that then will have to defend cutting it."As Tennessee Congressman Jimmy Duncan -- one of the few genuinely anti-war Republicans left in Congress, even if he does inexplicably rationalize supporting John McCain for president (here's an interview I did with Duncan that was published by Antiwar.com last year) -- once remarked to me, the U.S. Defense Department is the biggest bureaucracy in the history of the world. And like any other bureaucracy (or politician for that matter), its primary institutional priority is not to, say, present a rational and realistic view of the threats to the United States, but to increase its own power and influence.
Put simply, the military-industrial complex benefits not from peace and tranquility, but from war and an endless parade of villains and threats -- real, or as is usually the case, imagined -- with which it can cajole the American public into unquestioningly supporting whatever hawkish (and need I say expensive?) policies they put forward.
Not being stupid people, those who profit from war (the so-called "merchants of death") are also well aware of the political difficulties posed for a politician in being cast as "weak on defense" -- as defined by the very same war profiteers and their congressional/media comrades -- and are willing to use the establishment's fetishization of military-spending-as-barometer-of-safety-and-preparedness
Consider that the United States is now building a missile defense system in Poland, allegedly to defend against an attack from Iran (which hasn't attacked another country since the 18th century), and you can pretty well gauge how effective they have been in this endeavor. Combine the institutional pressures in favor of an ever-expanding military budget with the fact that both John McCain and Barack Obama support expanding the size and budget of the armed forces -- as well as a doomed-to-fail military "surge" in Afghanistan -- and you have a recipe for the defense/war budget to grow faster than the stock market at the height of the Federal Reserve-induced dot-com bubble, no matter who wins on November 4th.