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The Imperial Defense of Pentagon Bloat

Posted on Oct 14, 2010
U.S. Marine Corps / Lance Cpl. Jamean R. Berry

By David Sirota

Beware the sophistry of budget talking points—especially those seeking to deter any criticism of defense spending.

That’s the lesson of these last few weeks, as Establishment Republicans desperately try to thwart both progressives and tea party conservatives who are pressuring Congress to reduce Pentagon bloat.

The latest talking point du jour has been around in one form or another for years. It asks us to forget that (A) America spends more on defense than all other major nations combined and (B) the Pentagon, whose annual budget is now approaching World War II levels in inflation-adjusted terms, has lost track of trillions of taxpayer dollars. In light of those troubling truths, we are nonetheless urged by Beltway Republicans to focus on the fact that defense spending is “4.9 percent of our gross domestic product, significantly below the average of 6.5 percent since World War II,” as a recent Wall Street Journal editorial proclaimed.

That widely circulated article, aimed squarely at grassroots conservatives, was jointly written by three of the most influential Republican think tanks in Washington—the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative. And like clockwork, the “percentage of GDP” nugget went from their pen to the GOP’s well-oiled media machine.

Within days, was bewailing supposedly “historically low [defense] spending” and citing the GDP talking point as a “rallying call.” The American Spectator magazine, meanwhile, held up the op-ed as an “important reminder to new Republican congressmen” to refrain from “[shortchanging] both our troops and American national security.” Not surprisingly, that’s when the “percentage of GDP” stat began being loyally parroted by Establishment Republican voices on talk radio.


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At one level, the GDP line is designed to simply divert attention from the $700 billion annual defense bill’s being, well, $700 billion. That’s not only a massive sum, but also comparatively exorbitant. Yes, the Pentagon budget is so outsized that according to former Reagan Pentagon official Larry Korb, “[Even] if the United States were to cut its [defense] spending in half it would still be spending more than its current and potential adversaries.”

But then, discussing defense spending in GDP argot is more than just distracting. It’s dangerously incoherent, or just plain dangerous, because the language implies that military expenditures must increase as the economy expands.

Think about it: From a strictly defensive, protect-the-nation perspective, that assumption makes no sense.

“Does a more prosperous economy increase the risk that we will be attacked by a foreign power or by a terrorist group?” writes Slate’s Tim Noah. “Of course not.”

He adds that “a growing GDP may increase the level of defense spending we can afford, but it has no bearing on the level of defense spending we actually need.”

This is true, except in one disturbing case: if—but only if—we assume the economy should grow primarily as a consequence of military dominance.

Herein lies the truly “dangerous” part of the GDP mantra. If Republicans in Washington believe American economic growth should be based on the United States militarily subjugating and exploiting foreign countries, then those Republicans can logically (if abhorrently) insist that Pentagon spending must remain a constant percentage of GDP. 

Most elites in the GOP Establishment, of course, would never openly admit to believing that our economy should be based on hegemonic conquest. We know this because the GOP Establishment expressed unanimous outrage at anyone even vaguely suggesting that America wages war for energy resources.

But maybe that’s the unspoken admission in the GDP-themed push for more military expenditures. Perhaps for all of the GOP’s outrage at war-for-oil allegations, the Republicans’ defense spending rhetoric exposes their truly imperial vision—one that even the slickest talking points can no longer hide.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.



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By Frank Swift, December 5, 2010 at 9:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Pentagon budget is bigger than the combined budgets of all 17 developed countries that have a military. The Greed and paranoid attitude of looking for enemies instead of friends is nothing less than INSANE! Even with that huge budget,combat troops are deployed over and over again, causing unnecessay serious injuries, deaths, and suicides. Recruitment into the military is low because young people who would enlist for “a noble cause” realize there is nothing noble about these murderous, wasteful, illegal, immoral wars that just create more enemies. So now the Pentagon hires mercenary killers. There are as many of those as there are military troops at a great cost.

History shows us that the changes needed for such injustices are made only by THE PEOPLE. Politicians won’t make the changes. They are bribed by the war-profiteers and are too ignorant to see what the consequences will be for themselves and everyone else, because of their greed. Peaceful relationships are win-win relationships. War is a lose-lose scenario for everyone.

We need to use the worldwide electronic communications available for contacting millions of people to take a strong stand together, against the insanity. Is there a reader here, who has the expertise for using these resources? We need some leadership for this.

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By LocalHero, December 4, 2010 at 10:27 pm Link to this comment

What a shame that the Constitution didn’t include a clause forbidding a standing army and we’ve paid for it ever since. It would be by fondest wish to see this murderous beast abolished entirely and its implements of death sunk to the deepest trench of the ocean (except for a few ships, planes & tanks to display to future generations as monuments to our stupidity).

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By WriterOnTheStorm, October 19, 2010 at 11:45 am Link to this comment

Ain’t much you can take to the bank these days, but one of them is that the
Republican Welfare Program, popularly known as the “military”, is here to stay.

As the viscousness of the health care debate made clear, those with their
mouths on the golden teat ain’t gonna let go without a fight. Not a vitriolic
debate. Not a no-prisoners campaign of fear. Not a mendacious propaganda
blitz. But a gen-u-ine, knock down drag out, of the blood-on-the-streets

WriterOnTheStorm knows this not because he is especially observant, and not
because he is a cynic who comes from a long line of cynics, but because if his
own mouth were on said teat, he would do what it takes to make sure it stayed
there. Human nature, baby.

So we can whine and grumble, get our collective selves worked into a tizzy, 
stomp our hooves all we want. Won’t change a thing.

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By COinMS, October 18, 2010 at 7:17 pm Link to this comment

The Pentagram controls the Feral “Government”.
(translation: The Pentagon controls the Federal Government).
Our government is now ‘Feral’ (gone wild) and the Pentagon has metastasized into an almost demonic organization, hence the ‘Pentagram’.
“Government” is in quotes because they do precious little governing.

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By Frank Swift, October 18, 2010 at 4:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A deep desire and vivid vison of peaceful, productive relationships among the pe0ple of the world is just the starting point. Nothing will change until enough of us take action and demand sanity from governmentleaders. We can use the energy of anger and outrage by lifting it up to a higher level of consciousness where we can transform it to creative,positive energy and work together, sharing our own unique talents and capabilities to find the answers.

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By john from ojai, October 18, 2010 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Our “supersized” military budget is one of the most visible causes of our demise.
If we can get most people to meditate daily, make conscious choices and take responsibility for sustainability then we have a chance.
Campaign finance reform and breaking up the media conglomerates are essential secondary steps. The media conglomerates have businesses that prosper from military and nuclear energy growth.

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By Frank, October 18, 2010 at 5:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We have become dehumanized as being robot “consumers” and “taxpayers” to keep us under control and enrich the war profiteers. “Taxpayers” complain about the lopsided use of their taxes on the bloated, wasteful Pentagon budget, but our government doesn’t listen to the “people”. Since they can only hear the lobbyists for the war profiteers, what would get their attention to listen to the people? I wonder what would happen if millions of taxpayers said…“We aren’t paying any taxes until you listen to us and stop wasting our money on the tools of death and destruction.”? Most of our political leaders are so obsessed with money, they just might listen to the people for a change!

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By Glen Wayne, October 17, 2010 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment

If We Really Cared   empirePie     Oct. 17th, 2010

If we really cared, what would things look like?
If we really shared what would if feel like?

If nurture was our nature, would Venus shine more bright?
If cancer is our cure, should our footprint be more light?

If mammon rules the roost, could Mars move out of red?
If the moon turns blue, are you reflected right?

What can we learn from dying empires?
What can we learn from vying empires?
What can we learn from rising empires?
What can we learn from flexing flesh or the dawning of a new day
or the new day of the big money lay away?

Has the stage become too complex?
Is the subject of Easter Island too much to vex?

Have a look beyond the tomb of Ozymandias to the board rooms
of enamored puppets of power blight, ... of denial of might; ... all with copious short sight
as we exchange plenty for scarcity, monopoly and control
to power the wag dogged garden of paternity
the full frontal lobotomy of Mars penis envy
ejaculating nationhood with isms swimming in the oily ‘Love Channel’
to build bolder mansions for namesakes to also be long forgotten.

What will it take to return to the garden?
What will it take to return to our home,
uncontested by borders or hoarders
or new world orders?

If mammon rules the roost, could Mars move out of red?
If the moon turns blue, are you reflected right?

If nurture was our nature, would Venus shine more bright?
If cancer is our cure, should our footprint be more light?

If we really cared, what would things look like?
If we really shared what would if feel like?

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By pundaint, October 17, 2010 at 12:21 pm Link to this comment

MTW -  At some point we need to start being as fearful of doing wrong things as some would have us be fearful of doing the right things.

Americans don’t have the same blood lust as those who are profiting greatly as they bankrupt the country they pretend to protect.

I say take a chance, do the right thing, sometimes that works, even if it’s something new.

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By morristhewise, October 17, 2010 at 11:46 am Link to this comment

Acting as commander in chief the president can withdraw all American troops
from foreign lands and cut the fighting forces in half. The resulting savings to
taxpayers would raise his popularity and cause massive celebrations. But he would
suffer for his boldness by being tarred and feathered, impeached, and forced into
exile. His replacement would send the troops back, and quickly start a national

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By pundaint, October 17, 2010 at 11:01 am Link to this comment

We’re still fighting the voluntary war of aggression started by GW Bush.

Now on to my comment.  We must keep this topic in front of the people until it sinks in.

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By PatrickHenry, October 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm Link to this comment

I forgot the genetically modified food.

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By glider, October 16, 2010 at 1:25 pm Link to this comment


Don’t worry, we are expanding into producing tools for robotic warfare.

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By PatrickHenry, October 16, 2010 at 8:54 am Link to this comment

How pitiful it is that the only thing America produces anymore besides wall street created CDO’s are warships, subs, tanks, jets, bombs and guns.

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By Leefeller, October 16, 2010 at 8:44 am Link to this comment

War is great for business, one must keep the uppity citizens down by lowering education, so smoke and mirrors, the manipulations are easier that way and thank goodness or even god if one is inclined for religion, otherwise the people would most probably catch on.

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By G.Anderson, October 16, 2010 at 8:27 am Link to this comment

War is like an undiscovered tumor, growing in our consciousness, poisoning our thoughts and future. 

It is always there, in the background growing silently, expanding Its blood supply suppressing our immune system, digging in deep, getting comfortable.

Until it becomes a very part of our being, down to the roots of our existence.

Endlessly becoming.  Like the vast mystery of death itself unfathomable by thought.

Like discharged soldiers, trained to kill, we will have a hard time returning to quiet
evenings of Saturday night bingo, beer and baseball games, and faithfully paying our
income tax on time.

While every second we are jonesing to put another round in the chamber, and assume
our godlike control over life and death one more time.

Curing ourselves of the disease or war, will only come when this nation faces it’s own
mortality, and the people get sick and tired of burying their children, watching the old
freeze to death, and living in fear.

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By purplewolf, October 16, 2010 at 7:55 am Link to this comment

The following information was sent to me by One Minute For Peace, more information

Just how much of OUR money will go to the military next year?

Military(Department of Defense, War,
Veterans Affairs and Nuclear Weapons
programs)*                      59%

Health and Human Services             6%

Transportation                     6%

State                           4%

Education                         4%

Other Programs                     4%

Department of Homeland Security*          3%

Housing and Urban Development           3%

Justice                         2%

Agriculture                       2%

NASA                           1%

Energy(excludes nuclear weapons program)    1%

Labor                           1%

Treasury                         1%

Interior                         1%

Environmental Protection Agency         1%

Commerce                         1%
*departments related to war and                 destruction                    

This is how every tax dollar is divided up. AS you can see the military actually receives more than 60% counting Homeland Security as part of the “defense” system of America.

And where do the Mad Hatters of the T.P. and the GOP always start to eliminate first? The 6% much of already covered by workers and employers Social Security and unemployment programs that should not be included with same $1.00 of taxes as other programs. Health and Human service department, which covers Social Security-paid into by the workers and really not to be included, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, SSD, Unemployment(also pre-paid by workers and employers), Health Departments, WIC Programs, Adult Abuse Prevention Programs, Child Abuse Programs and many more human service departments.

Education-4% of each tax dollar, all we really need is to keep them dumb and poor as the rich will use them for cannon fodder anyway. No need to spend any money educating them except for killing and destroying other people and places in the world.

But which are the first on the chopping block? Anything to benefit those who actually pay for all of this. Certainly not the mega corps who over 70% never pay any taxes at all and many get subsidies from the taxpayers, A.K.A. corporate welfare, but that is fine and dandy according to the GOP and’s as totally acceptable in their way of thinking and actions as well.

Anyone remember when Russia went bankrupt by war and military spending not that long ago? Is it really better to spend yourself into non-existence by arming yourself to the teeth with fantasy type weapons and yet let anything that once may have had any value fall into decay and worthlessness. What are we fighting to preserve? Certainly not the American way of life, because at this rate there isn’t going to be anything left worth defending.

Doesn’t it make more sense to start cutting wasteful war spending? Even if 50% or more were cut from military spending, America is still spending more than the rest of the world combined on the MIC anyway. They would never miss it and much of it is wasted buying planes which don’t work in the first place-under Reagan and Bush 1 and other spare parts for obsolete equipment that was never ever used from WW2.

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By Jimnp72, October 16, 2010 at 6:07 am Link to this comment

berniem: amen.
the MIC rules the roost along with the Korrectional Korp of Amerika.
maybe a more realistic idea is for the govt to fund building green prisons, maybe
even solar-pwoering some radar sites and using more green weapons that allow
the munitions to naturally compost into the ground like all of the dead kids in
Bush’s wars.

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By johnny, October 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm Link to this comment

Republiklan solution to burgeoning minority rule seems to be:
Export jobs so minority kids will have to join the military where cons hope they will get killed while killing other brown people and making white oligarchs big war profits in the name of Jesus.

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By rloy, October 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Conservative: one who is fine using taxpayer money to bomb hospitals, but against using taxpayer money to build them.

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By Jimnp72, October 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

the spending is ridiculous and obscene. I am ticked off that I am coerced into
paying for this bloated lunacy thru taxes.
give some of it up and fund some jobs in renewable energy, education and

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By glider, October 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm Link to this comment

Nice concise and coherent talking point for peace loving citizens.

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By berniem, October 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment

Hey, what do you want? When your major manufacturing consists of weaponry and your major export is war where do you go? Couple that with our wonderful job creating domestic industry of prison building and incarceration and you’ve got a really great basis for future economic growth!

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By gerard, October 15, 2010 at 9:51 am Link to this comment

Talking mainly about the vast monetary expense of wars and preparation for wars tends to mask the terrible waste of human lives and the suffering of huge populations due to destruction.

Dollars and cents don’t suffer pain when they are wasted.  Human beings damaged by war spend the rest of their lives trying to recover, every moment of which reminds them of continuing pain either physical or psychological, or both.  Women and children form roughly 2/3 of those whose lives are ruined by wars.

War is first of all a humanitarian crime, and secondarily a financial crime. If war is allowed to reach its logical conclusion it will run out of people to kill before it runs out of money.

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By REDHORSE, October 15, 2010 at 9:48 am Link to this comment


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By D in CT, October 15, 2010 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

Who has an anti-war machine, anti-debt-spending centralized governence



Libertarians, Ron Paul etc.?
Oh but they are nuts aren’t they?

I wonder when we will stop playing 2 party ping-pong, and start living and
governing by our founding principles again?

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By freelyb, October 15, 2010 at 9:34 am Link to this comment

Mr. Sirota,

Thanks from a fellow Coloradoan for an excellent article. An oligarchy that purchases the rights to fleece citizens economically and ecologically, will naturally put the lives of commoners on the line to maintain their own sense of security and superiority on an international level. 

Hoping that you might do a piece on US arms sales in the near future. That’s another can of worms that needs a look.

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By FRTothus, October 15, 2010 at 8:54 am Link to this comment

“It is the function of the CIA to keep the world unstable and to propagandize the American people to hate, so we will let the establishment spend any amount of money on arms.”
(John Stockwell)

“Corporations care very much about maintaining the myth that government is necessarily ineffective, except when it is spending money on the military-industrial complex, building prisons, or providing infrastructural support for the business sector.”
(Michael Lerner)

“The military budget is simply an enormous pork barrel of special privilege, the privileges taking the form of windfall profits, of no-risk profits and, most importantly, of enormous outlays of capital supplied by the Pentagon to arms contractors.”

“What chiefly governs the [U.S.] military budget is the need to spend enormous sums of money in a useless way. The allegedly powerful Pentagon is simply a receptacle for wasteful expenditure, just as a city dump is the receptacle for the refuse of a city.”
(Walter Karp)

“Each party [Democratic and Republican] has assumed the mantle of fiscal responsibility while accusing the other of reckless spending. Yet both parties have proposed irresponsibly high levels of military spending at the expense of programs that meet the needs of society’s most vulnerable members.”
(Friends Committee on National Legislation)

“[Nearly 70% of the military budget] is to provide men and weapons to fight in foreign countries in support of our allies and friends and for offensive operations in Third World countries .. Another big chunk of the defense budget is the 20% allocated for our offensive nuclear force of bombers, missiles, and submarines whose job it is to carry nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union… Actual defense of the United States costs about 10% of the military budget and is the least expensive function performed by the Pentagon… “
(Rear Admiral Gene LaRoque, U.S. Navy retired)

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By M L Baker, October 15, 2010 at 8:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A country with military power can destroy but it cannot build. Its citizens become uneasy because their fundamental day to day needs are sacrificed for military glory while their young are neglected and sent to war. The uneasiness grows and grows and the citizenry gathers in resistance in large and larger numbers, which become too many to control: one day the top-heavy empire collapses.
Howard Zinn

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By Jim Yell, October 15, 2010 at 8:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The funding for military research and development is truely obscene. We have the spectacles of huge amounts spent to develope systems that no one can afford and then create the need for them by spreading the weapons around.

We encourge nations to buy or receive as gifts aircraft that have a range and speed that will over shoot the boundries of these countries in less than 15 minutes. Now what need is their for defense that gives small countries the opportunity to start wars way outside their boundries?

I think we also have to include the hidden funding of military and intellegence operations, which miss use billions of dollars in tax money and create many conflicts that needn’t even have happened in the first place.

If all of this wasted money, oh, and I forgot to mention how much is over paid for, if this money were used to create and maintain our roads, health care and borders, and environment—-wouldn’t this be a much more blessed nation than the one we are presently in which is surely on the road down hill, but not in a good way?

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By D in CT, October 15, 2010 at 6:21 am Link to this comment

Ron Paul.

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By PatrickHenry, October 15, 2010 at 3:21 am Link to this comment

If there ever was a part of Government which needed to be cut back and downsized it would be the Pentagon and the layers of entitlements those would be warriors enjoy.

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