The Pentagon Slush Fund

Back in 1959, President Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Khrushchev took a break
from their summit and walked in the woods around Camp David. Khrushchev, in
his memoirs, relates a conversation in which the president complains of how
hard it is to resist the military’s demands for more money. Military leaders,
said Eisenhower, invariably insist the US will fall behind the Soviet Union
unless he gives them the money for this or that weapon system. “They keep
grabbing for more, and I keep giving it to them.” He asked Khrushchev if
that was also the case in the USSR. “It’s just the same,” said
Khrushchev, who went on to describe virtually the same script. “Yes,”
said the president, “that’s what I thought.”

Congress members are very much a part of the military-industrial complex, which
is why someone (Tom Hayden?) long ago suggested that the more accurate term
is MAGIC: the military-academic-governmental-industrial complex. Most people
elected to Congress, and certainly any among them who serve on the armed services
committee of either house, think two things when it comes to national security:
the more weapons produced, the more secure we are; and the more money allocated
to “national defense,” the better. These folks never met a weapons
system they didn’t like. And when, in relatively lean times, they have
to decide between social well-being and the Pentagon’s wish list, well,
they don’t have to think twice.

These days Congress members, mainly on the Republican side, are busy finding
clever ways to hide stuffing the Pentagon’s stocking with strategically
senseless, duplicative, exceedingly expensive weapons and related items. Remember
sequestration in 2013? It was supposed to cap military and other spending in
order to help bring the overall budget back to balance. Clearly, in the minds
of the military-firsters, this effort was never meant to apply to the Pentagon,
as evidenced by the much larger budget hit that social welfare programs took
compared with the military, and by the little publicized Overseas Contingency
Operations fund, which
is not subject to sequestration
. Yes, military spending has gone down over
the last three years (see the chart below); but at over $600 billion (not counting
veterans’ benefits and interest on the national debt from past wars), it’s
around 54 percent of all US government discretionary spending and still close
to 40 percent of global military spending.

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