The DoD Sham Budget Dog And Pony Show

The Obama Administration’s apparent agreement to shield current DoD bloat at essentially a 1% annual level while proclaiming dramatic cuts is chutzpah even for them. Given our general fiscal collapse, Obama’s proposed budget is actually just a pre-emptive token for political optics. This budget preserves intact the perpetual militarization launched by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Obama ironically really *is* Sovietizing America in this regard.

Smoke, Mirrors And The Out Year Fiscal Fantasies

It’s a proposal. So we shouldn’t get too worked up just yet. Why? Whenever anyone talks about ‘out year savings’ or ‘projected fiscal year savings’ they’re babbling for political cover. DoD budgets are approved annually, as you know. Authorizers and appropriators alike always have rejected budget reform proposals like two-year budgets to improve management and savings. This Tea Party crowd reading Gilberts ConLaw to each other won’t cede any of that annual power to the illegitimate Obama. Plus, neither party got worked up over running two wars off the books. Out year projections like statistics are often fibs.

Second, a rational government would link DoD budgets to U.S foreign policy and security goals. Obama’s vaunted new look foreign policy? Offers tone and tenor differences from Bush. Welcome. What’s jarring — but predictable — about this Administration DoD proposed budget? It enshrines the essential irrational global militarization of 2001-2008. Obama also doesn’t threaten any major rice bowls. Existing political-economic constituencies may complain but they escape largely unscathed. Bush Lite. It’s classic Obama Goldilocks Syndrome — go for lukewarm pudding. Adams in the NYT may say ‘I think the floor under defense spending has now gone soft’. If he means unchecked irrational growth is over, he might have a point. Nonetheless, when we cut through all the smoke and mirrors, Obama proposes an aggregate overall package concealing about 1% actual real growth or at worse a steady state. Some floor.

How ‘Republicans’ and the Movement factions reconcile their fiscal and security memes among themselves remains unknown. 2008-2010 tells us that Obama and Democrats are incapable of bold conceptual initiatives. The worst outcome for America and the world? To fudge the hard questions and ‘muddle through’ on tactical politics of the moment. The Tweetyverse applauds Obama for saying tax reform will regain his mojo. That’s our point. The responsible play for America and history (what Obama claims to value) is to do the hard work and re-evaluate American strategic interests first in our new incarnation. Then reconfigure the purpose of American power and its budget accordingly.

Consider the British experience post-1918. Seemingly a victor of the Great War, Great Britain was already no longer ‘great’ even by 1920. Nonetheless, successive governments left unchanged her Imperial commitments. Meanwhile, her actual outlays fluctuated according to disassociated tactical domestic and internal political-economic logic. Her ‘ends means gap’ between her global commitments and what she was able to do? A significant contributor to 50 million people dying 1939-45.

We offer that not as direct analogy but as a caution. America 2001-2010 can safely be diagnosed as an irrational great power in many ways — viewed by world historical prism. The Obama proposed DoD budget does nothing to change that institutionally. A more rational power (recognizing that policy is ultimately by and for people, thus inherently irrational on one level) would audit the existing American global footprint and re-align core interests, distinguish secondary interests from preferred but not central environments, etc. And then come up with a number. It’s the only way to avoid a potentialy strategically calamitous chronic ends means gap. Or warping further the American domestic fabric to sustain the misaligned commitments and resources.

True, Gordon Adams from the Obama transition team says the White House wanted to scale back out year fantasy spending by $150 billion over the next 5 years. But the White House caved settled for $78 billion notionally. Nowhere has the Administration demonstrated a strategic re-think of American power and purpose commensurate with an alleged $150 billion target. Did you see that? Where did $150 billion come from? What rationale proposed a different American geo-strategic footprint? Where were the roll backs? Precisely. The dog that didn’t bark.

A Permanent State Of Militarization

The ‘dramatic cuts’ charade is a load of eyewash. Institutional hormonal fiscal aberration created over 2001-2008 remains. The Nomenklatura as a social class of privilege are undisturbed. A modest force size reduction is a natural event post Iraq. No give there. $4 billion on ‘cost savings’ by putting one F-35 variant on ‘hold’ for two years? First, it’s illusory. Unless the program is killed outright (like the F-22), stretching out program buys is a game that actually makes the per unit cost higher just for optics. Second, this small example also makes our point, supra: *alleged* (or even potential) $4 billion savings over an F-35 engine is essentially a meaningless act, politically logical only within the tactical political-economic frame of the program and specific moment.

We continue to allow both parties to duck hard questions and answers. We’ll all likely witness yet another Obama Goldilocks Syndrome of muddling through. Like he does with everything else, his Goldilocks Syndrome may ease momentary political discomfort. Obama accelerates our Sovietization by maintaining irrational resource allocations to maintain Bush’s Permanent National Security State intact. 1% or flat budgets in this non-inflationary period are a pass. This lock in of the Permanent National Security State only intensifies a contracting civil society facing catastrophic falls in living standards. Want to see a soft floor? There it is – our standard of living and social fabric, not the defense budget.

Ultimately, the Goldilocks Syndrome is a dead end. Maintaining a Permanent National Security State divorced from an audit of ends means is unsustainable. At best, we externally are left open to the vagaries of events and purposeful agendas of others. At worst, domestically we follow the Soviet model along its historical trajectory. One would think we’d learned that lesson by now.


  1. Comment says

    Well naturally the Washington Post and Mr. Followthemoney Woodward will launch investigations to discover what the nomenklatura wants quiet. Right?

  2. latte says

    OTOH, I can find no fault with Obama. My pessimism about the state of our politics is such that I imagine his sequence of expediencies to be the best possible selection from a catalogue of clearly unsavory strategic options. Strategic here meaning not geo-strategic but domestic-political strategic on the one hand and bureaucratic strategic vis-a-vis vested (military-industrial in particular) interests on the other. My suspicion is that it’s really only the latter that constrain overmuch; any student of the 20th century knows how populations can be ignited by a few well-placed oratory performances, and ours is as dangerously fickle as any; Old-Man Bickford and the Board, on the other hand: another matter entirely.

    In that sense I think it’s unfair, (though both entertaining and enlightening, and I found it highly valuable, so this is no complaint) to measure his performance against the backdrop of Napoleon’s expansion of the charter of Republican Liberalism on the Continent and the many progressive measures thus wrought to the service of Modernity (allowance for criticism of Revolutionary excesses duly extended); no one in this country’s Chief Executive position has had anywhere near that degree of freedom for some decades now, even within the originally instituted system of checks&balances. Despite all that shrillness regarding the unimpeded executive, BushCo was no exception, they \emph{were} the Pentagon.
    (So the shrillness about unchecked executive power was appropriate, though not entirely well-directed. Maybe more apt would have been shrillness about Pentagon usurpation of the institution; as I’m sure this site has documented amply.)

  3. latte says

    ”[…]At worst, domestically we follow the Soviet model along its historical trajectory. One would think we’d learned that lesson by now.”

    \section{the ‘undisturbed’ nomenklatura and ambient mobilization:}

    \ital{Question: Have the erstwhile Nomenklatura truly been left ”undisturbed” by ‘ambient mobilization’?}

    \bold{We propose} that to some degree it’s been a conditional arrangement: provided that one’s impotence as a Civilian has been or can be amply demonstrated: sure, you will be left alone, undisturbed. There are surely many gradations of such arrangements.

    \section{personal experience circa 2002-…}
    In our experience as Permanent Defendant, (held public contempt without charges for thought-crimes, corruptions, subversions) held in jeopardy, contempt and abuse by largescale tacit public compliance and consent circa 2002-…? we think it’s fair to say that in many respects the Soviet metaphor is insufficient to the description of the sophistication of the horror that’s been in play. To be sure, within Western borders it’s been a commendably bloodless affair: this imperceptibly slow and insidious progression of the Banal Terror, which for the heavily-conditioned majority (Hollywood shlock & awe) is kept under tight wraps; a drama unfolding unseen in a subconscious which is by now mostly foreign to them. (Fantasy football, sure.)
    The terrible spectacle: watching my (some of the best minds of my) generation–people I genuinly admire(d) slowly morph into auto-policing oand oppressive non-entities; boring, mediocre, petty, in a word, ‘banal’, but of course I mean ‘evil’. People who I’d felt had quasi-divine potential turned into absurdly petty, manipulated tools, bent to conformity.
    The co-option of fashionable, supposedly liberal elements into this process has been as properly horrifying as their ultimate victimization by it. In this sense, I don’t think the Nomenklatura has been undisturbed at all. They are, as a group, set, class, what have you, being ground into the dirt slowly but surely, same as anyone. Relatively speaking of course, their situation looks quite favorable. And who knows, there are many developmental trends in play; maybe things will yet turn out well.

    \section{Shlock & awe, sitcoms, reality shows, consensus generators, ‘liberal media’, tweets, viral marketing…}
    A particularly nihilistic variant of management culture (which informs and guides the development of American totalitarian programmatics), something of an heir to Taylorism, puts an intellectual and operational emphasis on some of the more authoritarian and manipulative elements from the field of behavioral psychology, with a particular focus on reflexive conditioning:
    The heavily-conditioned man/woman has a programmed reflexive configuration, and is alienated from his/her own body; thereby from his/her subconscious; thereby from his/her self (or Self). (The end result is not noble but disfigured and deformed. By comparison, a jaguar in the wild is possessed of vastly superior consciousness, if not institutional utility.) This kind of societal development carries particular socio-biological implications:

    \section{analytical perspective}
    Long-term implications of a protracted sociopolitical evolution into any of the gamut of possible totalitarian configurations are not just transiently cultural concerns; they figure directly in the most profound ways as sociobiological considerations(which is to say that the evolution and specie-ation continues unabated, even perhaps, Dawkins-style, accelerating somewhat during the course of the 21st century); hence, of course, as fundamentally moral/esthetic concerns; simultaneously as operational concerns of the highest order, inasmuch as Production is necessarily an atomic conceit of \emph{any} possible sociopolitical unit.

    \ital{…Ah so, maybe the Brezhnev era then, or maybe a counterfactual where Gorbachev modernizes the domestic security apparatus to something of comparable efficiency and sophistication, though we may allow for a vastly different array of \ital{solutions} to comparable but notably distinct operational obstacles, in quite distinct (how do they say?) \emph{cultural terrain}.
    To be sure: Gorbie still gets to star in a Gap television adverts, and not have to give up his Politburo chair meanwhile. Now \emph{that’s} gangsta!}

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