Walmarts Of War

The words used by knowledgable people to describe the size of America’s military budget  range from “bloated’ to “obscene.” The United States spends more on military hardware, troops, bases and the like than most of the rest of the world combined. Even the Pentagon recommends significant cuts, including base closures.

So why doesn’t it happen? Why does Congress routinely vote more money for the Department of Defense than the Department requests?

The answer is in that famous James Carrville motto: It’s the economy, stupid.

Manufacturers who contract with Defense are significant employers in numerous Congressional Districts. Anyone who was paying attention several years ago when there was a round of base closings can attest to the howls of anguish emanating from the local proprietors of businesses that depended upon those defense workers to buy their goods, patronize their bars and restaurants and rent or buy housing.

The reality of that dependence is daunting enough; it has prevented us from paring back a no longer necessary, too-costly war machine that is increasingly focused on fighting the last war. (The Russians are currently demonstrating that cyberwars are much less expensive…) But so long as our tax dollars were supporting a wide range of manufacturers pumping money into an equally wide number of communities, it was possible to understand–if not approve– the justifications offered.

Now, however, we’re just enriching a shrinking number of plutocrats, as Mark Thompson has reported.

The merger mania that surged as the Cold War wound down—when 51 aerospace and defense companies shrank to five—is making a comeback. The “military-industrial complex” that President (and five-star Army general) Dwight Eisenhower warned us of in 1961 has funneled down to a few “Walmarts of war,” as Daniel Wirls, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, quoted defense researchers calling the surviving contractors in a June 26 Washington Post column. Less competition can drive up costs while dampening innovation. Backers counter that efficiencies, job cuts, primarily, lead to lower costs that can save the Pentagon money—rarely—or let it buy more for the same price—also rare. And the middlemen—the lawyers and financiers who nurture these deals—do just fine, thanks.

Thompson detailed the defense mergers, and reported on their consequences.

In May, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) notedthe dire effect of consolidation. Even though the Pentagon has cut four programs from its must-have list, the GAO said, its remaining 82 major programs had grown in cost by $8 billion, to a cool $1.69 trillion. “Portfolio-wide cost growth has occurred in an environment where awards are often made without full and open competition,” the Congressional watchdog agency added. “Specifically, GAO found that DOD did not compete 67 percent of 183 major contracts currently reported for its 82 major programs.” Nearly half of those contracts—47 percent—went the current Big 5: Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop, and United Technologies (the numbers are even grimmer for taxpayers if supposedly “competitive” bids lead to only a single bidder)….

Worse, the Pentagon pipeline for missiles and munitions is plagued with problems, including “material obsolescence and lack of redundant capability, lack of visibility into sub-tier suppliers causing delays in the notification of issues, loss of design and production skill, production gaps and lack of surge capacity planning, and aging infrastructure to manufacture and test the products,” the report warns. “Production gaps for munitions and missiles directly reduce the U.S. capability to deliver kinetic effects against adversaries.” In October, a second report from the Trump Administration saidthe nation has an increasingly “fragile” defense-industrial base with “entire industries near domestic extinction” and growing reliance on foreign sources.

It is increasingly obvious that the United States needs to rethink virtually all aspects of our approach to national defense–to determine what is really needed to keep the nation safe from foreign attack in the 21st Century, a time when danger comes less and less from state actors and more and more from terrorist cells and internet bots.

The kind of rethinking that is needed will require the best efforts of men and women who are experts in international relations and the intricacies of warfare–not simply military hardware, but strategy and especially the changing nature of the threats we face.

This is a particularly unfortunate time to be governed by corrupt buffoons who have no understanding of government, economics, foreign affairs or science.


  1. It’s early morning, so pardon me if this sounds muddled. Former Mayor Greg Ballard framed his enthusiasm for electric vehicles, in part, as national defense – reducing our country’s reliance on foreign oil (this was one reason I moved to EVs in 2011). Our Indianapolis airport has the largest solar farm of any airport worldwide (last I knew). The Meadow Lake Wind Farm has over 400 wind turbines along I-65 in n.w. Indiana.

    Why could we not use some of this ‘military’ budget – maybe even retool some of these ‘military’ contractors – and put the money and manpower toward increasing safe, green energy nationwide? Take it further – retool coal mines, retrain workers, and manufacture the products we could use to “protect” our country – all the while keeping these ‘military WalMarts’ in business (as well as the congressmen they own), and putting our tax dollars to good use. We could reduce our dependence on foreign oil, maybe even on domestic fracking, clean up our air and water, and employ our own citizens, all the while keeping the money flowing.

    Maybe I need to take up coffee in the morning. If it was this simple, someone smarter than me would have already thought of it.

  2. I recall a few short years ago the news that the Pentagon did not want the F-35 fighter jet. They said they didn’t need it. They got it anyway, to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars.

    Indianapolis has Rolls Royce and I believe they had some part in making the engines for the F-35. There are many other Indiana defense contractors. Raytheon is in both Indy and Fort Wayne. AM General in South Bend makes Humvees. ITT in Fort Wayne makes wireless communication parts. There are a few more companies in Northeast Indiana with defense contracts. A company in South Bend or Granger makes collapsible containers for water and fuel. They just landed a huge defense contract.

    As long as these large corporations that supply our defense department provide high paying jobs I really don’t see an end to this waste of money. Members of Congress have a lot of pressure from home to fight for keeping those jobs. The loss of any of these corporations would be devastating to the cities and communities they reside in. Those valuable jobs are not found in other industries.

  3. When it’s over the lasting trauma the country will receive at his hands will be the cost of not solving any real unavoidable problems for four years while he was on his ego fest. The reasons: military spending and wealth redistribution.

  4. Jane – you make very good points about retooling the defense contractors and their employees. The main problem with your good ideas is the greedy defense contractors and their wholly owned members of Congress have no intention of considering any ideas for change as long as they can make billions off of the way things are now.

  5. The issue at stake in the perceived need for expansion of our defence system is the incoherent case for investment in obsolete hardware and strategies no longer useful or effective in defeating real threats.

    The greatest threat to our well being is unfettered fear among ourselves toward the other. Adversaries to our well being at home and abroad see this clearly in our social media and seek opportunities to destabilize our society mostly from within by perpetrators who are ‘fellow citizens’.

    Honestly, when I am in the midst of well groomed and fit men and women in sharp pressed uniform, I walk up to them and thank them for their service. I do the same for men and women working hard to maintain our roads and bridges. Yes, I may be in a hurry, but I role down my window from my comfortable a/c interior and express my appreciation. They are not the problem.

    The problem is self indulged interests feeding special interests that diverts resources from real solutions to real threats. But then there are those who simply cannot fathom functioning with fulfillment in a genuinely peaceful society.

  6. The economy in Bay County in the Florida Panhandle (where I live) was very strongly dependent on Tyndall Air Force Base, which was destroyed by Hurricane Michael last year. All of the F-22 jets were moved (ahead of the storm) to a base in S. Carolina, which apparently can handle the new arrivals. But at the urging of Sen. Rubio and the local Congressman, Tyndall is being rebuilt, not for military purposes, but so the county won’t go bankrupt.

  7. “Manufacturers who contract with Defense are significant employers in numerous Congressional Districts.”

    This sentence struck me this morning because I Googled the NRA function just yesterday; it is merely a club for gun owners to identify with other gun owners for which they pay yearly dues. Are all those connected with manufacturers at all levels, as well as gun dealers, members of the NRA? This would explain the unsubstantiated NRA claim of five MILLION members bringing in more than enough money in annual dues to pay lobbyists and elected officials to support continuing to increase the military budget. The same question can be put to those members of our Defense who have allowed Trump to contract with Saudi Arabia to manufacture items of our defense. The fact that the criminals in general and the mass murderers are better armed than our public safety officers and our military, unless they sent into battle, also works into the shadowy support of the NRA…which now has Trump’s “ear” regarding mass murders throughout this country.

    “It is increasingly obvious that the United States needs to rethink virtually all aspects of our approach to national defense–to determine what is really needed to keep the nation safe from foreign attack in the 21st Century, a time when danger comes less and less from state actors and more and more from terrorist cells and internet bots.”

    The above comments are especially true when you consider the law which does not allow military personnel to carry weapons on our military bases here. It has been proven they could not protect themselves from being murdered by their “brothers in arms”. The one military personnel at the Naval Yard (I believe in Maryland) who disobeyed the law and was able to stop the shooter from killing more than he did, was charged for carrying his weapon on military property. This country has no idea how to control guns on our streets or who has military level weapons and the NRA appears to be in charge of our military leader…Donald Trump.

    “The answer is in that famous James Carrville motto: It’s the economy, stupid.” Which translates to FOLLOW THE MONEY!

    PLEASE vote in the 2019 November election!

  8. So many political discussion opponents come from the position that as long as I have a good paying job the country is doing fine and needs to keep doing whatever it is.

    As long as that’s our measure and expectation we don’t deserve and won’t have the Constitution for long. We will keep getting further out of step with countries that are adapting to the changing world until there is no catching up anymore and then the whole country will lapse into irrelevance.

  9. Here’s the thing about human beings: we’re all in favor of goring the ox, until it’s OUR ox that will be gored. The same is true for defense spending, environmental issues, and any other program you care to name. Enlightened self interest, which we only see once or twice in a lifetime, tells us that we must be concerned about all of the oxen in order to preserve our own.

    You would be amazed at the Republican environmentalist that have been created by blue-green algae and red tide here in sunny southwest Florida. Of course we all believe that Lake Erie and the people who live near the lake don’t deserve our consideration when dealing with their blue-green algae. That’s their problem, not ours. Federal funds MUST be spent here, in spite of the fact that our local politicians still approve all sorts of environmental disasters in the name of growth.

    Yes, Tyndall will be re-built. We have, after all, been a mostly red state for a while. We deserve it.

  10. Defense? When you have 38 named and hundreds of unnamed military bases in more that 70 countries and territories around the world, it’s de facto Imperialism.

    And as you point out we spend more on the military than than all our adversaries and allies combined.

    Nothing this mammoth can be explained merely by contractor lobbying.

  11. John: Correct. It IS de-facto imperialism. It was planned that way.

    The MIC has cleverly positioned job farms in virtually every major Congressional district in the country. These “farms” are the support businesses for bases and factories. The vendors to the Big 5 spread out like a can of spilled paint everywhere. Again. It was planned that way. Ike warned us of this “plan” and his words keep ringing in our ears. Add to that the fact that our commercial industries have been allowed to take our domestic product jobs overseas where wages are pitifully low compared to what is required to live in this country.

    So, all we have left is the MIC, some automakers and a single commercial aircraft maker – that is actively fucking up what it builds with cost-cutting design errors. Try and find a U.S. clothing manufacturer. If China decides they don’t need the U.S. market for something, watch what happens to the mindless capitalists in this country. In 1929 it is reputed that financiers who went broke virtually overnight leapt from their office windows. Today it will be the Fortune 500 stockholders who jump.

  12. Last time I looked, critical work to be done in this country at this time would involve “high-paying jobs” like those in the MIC – R&D and implementation of green energy, infrastructure repair and upgrading, cyber security, upgrading of government computer systems, providing rural high-speed Internet, cancer research, etc.

  13. Two time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler. Quotes, “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

    “The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”, Major General Smedley D. Butler

    General Butler sounded the alarm of the intertwining of American Imperialism and the military as a useful tool of expanding Imperialism and protecting it back in the 1930’s.

    Since the end of WW 2, American Imperialism has expanded far beyond what General Butler could have imagined. The Wall Street – Security-Military-Industrial Complex has achieved supremacy.

    We now have a slavish, subservient, genuflection concerning all the trappings of a militaristic society. Fly -overs by aircraft of various sorts, marching bands playing some martial music, giant American Flags and the constant playing of the national anthem.

    Both political parties now live in fear of the Neo-Cons, who accuse anyone of wanting to downsize the military as unpatriotic or even a traitor.

  14. A little irony for your weekend….just learned this and had to share: the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts is less than a third of the $437M budget for the military’s 130 marching bands.

  15. John and Vernon have nailed he problem — it’s not “defense”, it’s American Imperialism.

    This is why Russia was rooting for Trump over Hillary the Hawk. They get tired of playing war games with us and it’s costly. We do proxy wars so we can keep MIC happy — the “Beltway Bandits.”

    We loan/give money to our allies like Israel so they can buy our weapons or weapon defense systems (made in Indiana).

    Recently, our POTUS wanted a full military embargo on Venezuela so the people will turn against Maduro and support the president chosen by the USA and several of our allies. He was told it would be impossible because our Navy is already spread too thin. Is Venezuela a risk?

    Of course not.

    We use our MIC for regime changes in countries and then extract their resources via capitalism. Venezuela is oil-rich but owned by the state vs a company where we can just buy with help from Wall Street.

    The American Imperialists literally use starvation as a weapon and then turn away refugees. Our moral compass was tossed and lost many moons ago.

    Here is the question…if our MIC stops operating overseas, what will it do within our borders to satisfy its lust for profit and greed? With a fascist government like we have now, what will become of the MIC?

    We already know how this plays out…

  16. all i see is cheneyville,world protection to the corprate intrests,and at our expense. if the wall street gang needs protection for thier assetts, maybe they should ride against the goverments need to influence political parties,tribal disputes, land barron greed in other nations,and support their own military..chinas seems to go about just buying out the issue of corprate needs with money,(imagine that) instead of suppying never ending bucks to a military complex,,and also,at our expense again..doesnt matter about lives,or cost of operation,the corprate idea of a percentage of lose is figured in,at our expense. if that tax cut of biblical proportions wasnt enough to bankrupt us, the military will. after all, wall sreet gets the cuts,but someone still has to support the country,at any costs.

  17. I remember some twenty years ago that a congressman said that he could reduce our military budget by half and get better defense – and that was before our “defense” budget really exploded. Spreading out various bases around the globe and at home not only gives American businesses a political voice in keeping the status quo in re defense budgeting, but foreign businessmen as well who are dependent on the billions we pay for maintenance of our foreign bases in various places. We are therefore not only paying for unneeded bases and personnel here but are dumping billions to foreign businesses as well in order to keep our hegemony alive and well around the globe. If Ike were here, he would be an angry patriot, and I use the term “patriot” advisedly, since warhawks such as Cotton and Bolton have successfully sold us on the idea that we who favor far less outlay for the military are unpatriotic, uninformed, traitorous etc. I think Ike would disagree, as do I.

    The “defense” budget is by far the largest item on our annual appropriations list (only to be eclipsed per CBO by interest on our historic national debt – which is climbing – at interest – by 2024). This inflated budget gave one of our big “defense” contractors (Boeing, which subcontracts wing making to China) an eleven billion dollar profit last year on which they paid zero income tax (not to mention their gift via the Trump/Ryan tax bill the previous year which their accountants had the brass to describe as “earned income.” (Parenthetically, I wonder if Trump exempted the import of such Chinese-made wings stateside from his tariff tirade – nice to know in any event that our “defense” money is propping up the economies of China, Germany, and others.

    My chief complaint in this massive and unnecessary giveaway of our resources (aside from those neatly described in Sheila’s rundown) is what, say, half of such “defense” budget if trimmed could do for our healthcare, education, infrastructure and other such budgets. We could afford single payer healthcare, end student debt, fix roads, bridges etc. Why are we allowing our overall progress as a nation to be held hostage to members of Congress who in the aggregate hold their own district’s financial well-being above the well-being of all of us?
    Where are the statesmen? Is it “My country right or wrong,” or My district right or wrong?”

    Ike would be appalled, as all of us should be, with the idea of re-election over survival as a first class state, and if he could somehow be reincarnated and run for president with a pledge to cut this “defense” budget in half, I, a lifelong Democrat who has voted for every Democratic nominee since Truman, would seriously consider voting for him.

  18. James Carville, a prize among us, and he has but one ‘r’ in his last name. Probably originated from Carville, LA, once the location of a hospital for lepers.

  19. “So many political discussion opponents come from the position that as long as I have a good paying job the country is doing fine and needs to keep doing whatever it is.”

    The bottom line in all of the comments above is that “I have mine” mentality. Until we don’t. Then it is outrage and anger at the “other” who is taking our jobs, whether domestically or foreign. We follow the money as JoAnn suggests and find that the corporations and oligarchs are raking it into their off shore accounts as fast as they can. The money really is only a tool for acquiring power. They couldn’t spend it all in their lifetimes if they truly tried. Pointing the finger at the “other” lets the real culprits off the hook as they enjoy a lavish lifestyle and tell the rest of us that we are lazy bums for objecting.

  20. RBG just completed 3 weeks of treatment for pancreatic cancer! OMG!!! She’s come through twice before, and hoping she will again. I dunno. The Supremes not looking all that great after this news, but RBG is one tough cookie!

  21. What we need has been talked about over and over and over and over for years. What we need is a grand strategy that is based on well thought out international goals that can be arrived at by the use of diplomacy, free trade, and if necessary, the use of military force, as a last resort.

    At the turn of the last century those that were charged with the formulation of such a strategy, primarily a military strategy, developed planning for contingencies that involved specific foreign countries with a color assigned to each war plan – a one that envisioned a potential armed conflict with Japan being labeled with the color orange or as it was referred to as for nearly 40 years-War Plan Orange. This plan became the basis for the execution of the military campaigns on land, at sea and in the air that led to the eventual defeat of Japan during the Second World War. Since then and to a large degree because of the development of nuclear weapons that skewed more traditional military strategies as well as diplomacy, we have lacked a coherent strategy which is led to military operations that have at best been inconclusive and at worst being colossal defeats such as we experienced in Southeast Asia during the early 1970s. These have all stemmed from a spectacular lack of clarity on our part as to what our objectives are and how we would go about achieving them often in concert with countries allied with us.

    Until we can finally have real discussions on what this country’s goals are regarding our own national security and the peace and stability of the rest of the world and what the best ways are in achieving them we will continue to spend money wastefully, spend a lives wastefully and in the long run continue to fail to secure this country and be a force for peace in the world in a consistent way. We should have learned our lesson by now given the glaring mistakes that we have made but we continue to plod along and meander from one botched effort to another. We must do better. A clearly defined set of goals that would be a guide or both our foreign policy but also would serve as a guide for efficient and well thought out military procurement would save money and provide for and much more coherent and effective defense since the weapons systems we would buy would be tied to that strategy which would help us avoid the many boondoggles that we all know about that are fiscally irresponsible and often afford us with both equipment and force structures that are not suited to the realities that present themselves.

    We also often find ourselves wedded to systems and organizational structures that are far more suited for fighting the last war instead of the one that may be lurking around the corner. What we need to do is equip ourselves or those contingencies and by doing so strive to avoid them. That can only happen when we match strategy and national goals for the formulation of defense policy that is realistic, flexible, coherent and easily explainable to the American public. Until we can do that we will be continuing to miss the mark as the history of this country’s involvement militarily overseas since the end of the Second World War, replete with horror story after horror story, shows us if we really look at it. The margin for error that we may have once had is quickly disappearing with both the Chinese and the Russians nipping at our heels.

  22. Cute, Betty – there is also a Carville, Ontario, Canada and a Carville, France, the latter be the more likely origin of his name. I always thought he was a hoot.

  23. Len: There was nothing intended to be cute about the correct spelling of James Carville’s last name. I have heard him on TV explaining the connection between his name and that of the town of Carville, Louisiana. The town indeed has/had a hospital for people with leprosy. Nothing cute about that ancient disfiguring disease either. Genealogy could take the Carville name back to Canada and still further back to France.

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