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Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab

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Posted on Dec 12, 2012
The U.S. Army (CC BY 2.0)

By David Vine, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

Given the secretive nature of basing agreements and the complex economic and political trade-offs involved in base negotiations, precise figures are impossible to find. However, Pentagon-funded research indicates that 18% of total foreign military and economic aid goes toward buying base access. That swells our invoice by around $6.3 billion. Payments to NATO of $1.7 billion “for the acquisition and construction of military facilities and installations” and other purposes, brings us to:

$6.9 billion in net “rent” payments and NATO contributions.

Although the OCS must report the costs of all military operations abroad, the Pentagon omits $550 million for counternarcotics operations and $108 million for humanitarian and civic aid. Both have, as a budget document explains about humanitarian aid, helped “maintain a robust overseas presence,” while the military “obtains access to regions important to U.S. interests.” The Pentagon also spent $24 million on environmental projects abroad to monitor and reduce on-base pollution, dispose of hazardous and other waste, and for “initiatives…in support of global basing/operations.” So the bill now grows by:

$682 million for counternarcotics, humanitarian, and environmental programs.

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The Pentagon tally of the price of occupying the planet also ignores the costs of secret bases and classified programs overseas. Out of a total Pentagon classified budget of $51 billion for 2012, I conservatively use only the estimated overseas portion of operations and maintenance spending, which adds $2.4 billion. Then there’s the $15.7 billion Military Intelligence Program. Given that U.S. law generally bars the military from engaging in domestic spying, I estimate that half this spending, $7.9 billion, took place overseas.

Next, we have to add in the CIA’s paramilitary budget, funding activities including secret bases in places like Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East, and its drone assassination program, which has grown precipitously since the onset of the war on terror. With thousands dead (including hundreds of civilians), how can we not consider these military costs? In an email, John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, told me that “possibly a third” of the CIA’s estimated budget of $10 billion may now go to paramilitary costs, yielding:

$13.6 billion for classified programs, military intelligence, and CIA paramilitary activities.

Last but certainly not least comes the real biggie: the costs of the 550 bases the U.S. built in Afghanistan, as well as the last three months of life for our bases in Iraq, which once numbered 505 before the U.S. pullout from that country (that is, the first three months of fiscal year 2012). While the Pentagon and Congress exclude these costs, that’s like calculating the New York Yankees’ payroll while excluding salaries for each year’s huge free agent signings.

Conservatively following the OCS methodology used for other countries, but including costs for health care, military pay in the base budget, rent, and “other programs,” we add an estimated:

$104.9 billion for bases and military presence in Afghanistan and other war zones.

Having started with the OCS figure of $22.1 billion, the grand total now has reached:

$168 billion ($169,963,153,283 to be exact).

That’s nearly an extra $150 billion. Even if you exclude war costs—and I think the Yankees show why that’s a bad idea—the total still reaches $65.1 billion, or nearly three times the Pentagon’s calculation.

But don’t for a second think that that’s the end of our garrisoning costs. In addition to spending likely hidden in the nooks and crannies of its budget, there are other irregularities in the Pentagon’s accounting. Costs for 16 countries hosting U.S. bases but left out of the OCS entirely, including Colombia, El Salvador, and Norway, may total more than $350 million. The costs of the military presence in Colombia alone could reach into the tens of millions in the context of more than $8.5 billion in Plan Colombia funding since 2000. The Pentagon also reports costs of less than $5 million each for Yemen, Israel, Uganda, and the Seychelles Islands, which seems unlikely and could add millions more.


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