Real Winner of 2012 Election? Try Our National Security State

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By William Astore

Let’s start with this:according tothe Pentagon, the production and acquisition costs of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet, the military’s most expensive weapons program, have risen yet again, this time by 4.3% since 2010 to $395.6 billion. 

If you’re talking about the total cost of the system, including maintenance and support for the nearly 2,500 planes that will some (endlessly delayed) day be produced for the military, that has now reached an estimated $1.51 trillion, a9% risesince 2010.  All this for a plane that some experts doubt has any particular purpose in the future U.S. arsenal.

At last, however, the House of Representatives seems to have had enough of wasteful spending programs.  Perhaps its members also read therecent pollthat shows Americans generally support more funds for the Defense Department -- until, that is, they are told just how much is spent on defense compared to other budget items.  Then, 75% of them (67% of Republicans) back significant cuts, an average of 18%, in that budget to reduce the federal deficit.

Whatever the explanation, last week the Republican-dominated House finally took out the pruning shears and acted with remarkable decisiveness.  They sent a bill to the Senate cutting $310 billion from the deficit over the next decade.  The F-35 program went down in flames.

Oh wait, that’s my mistake.  Actually, they slashed food stamps, children’s health care, funds to hospitals that serve the poor, and Medicaid -- all in order toshieldthe Pentagon from future cuts.  In fact, the House bill actually addsmore than $8 billionto the Pentagon budget.  As theNew York Timesreports, if the House bill were to become law, “the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that more than 20 million children would face reduced food and nutrition support, almost 300,000 would be knocked off the federal school lunch program, and at least 300,000 would lose access to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

Admittedly, at the moment, the House bill won’t make it through the Senate.  But consider it a test-run for at least one possible future.  A recent estimate of what Mitt Romney’scampaign-trail plansfor Pentagon spending might mean suggests that, were he elected, defense spending wouldincreaseby more than $2 trillion over the next decade.  Imagine what that would do to the poor.  AsTomDispatch regularand retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore suggests, by the time election 2012 is over, the Pentagon budget is likely to be locked and loaded for years to come. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Astore discusses how the two presidential candidates are sure to out-militarize each other in the coming campaign, clickhereor download it to your iPodhere.)Tom

The National Security State Wins (Again)
Why the Real Victor in Campaign 2012 Won’t Be Obama or Romney
ByWilliam J. Astore

Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the media is already handicapping the presidential election big time, and theneck-and-neckopinion polls are pouring in.  But whether President Obama gets his second term or Romney enters the Oval Office, there’s a third candidate no one’s paying much attention to, and that candidate is guaranteed to be the one clear winner of election 2012: the U.S. military and our ever-surging national security state.

The reasons are easy enough to explain.  Despite his record as a “warrior-president,” despite the breathless “Obama got Osama” campaign boosterism, common inside-the-Beltway wisdom has it that the president has backed himself into a national security corner.  He must continue to appear strong and uncompromising on defense or else he’ll get the usual Democrat-as-war-wimp label tattooed on his arm by the Republicans.

Similarly, to have a realistic chance of defeating him -- so goes American political thinking -- candidate Romney must be seen as even stronger and more uncompromising, a hawk among hawks.  Whatever military spending Obama calls for, however much he caters to neo-conservative agendas, however often he confesses his undying love for andextols the virtues of our troops, Romney will surpass him with promises ofeven more military spending, aneven more muscular and interventionistforeign policy, and an even deeper love of our troops.

Indeed, with respect to the national security complex, candidate Romney already comes across like Edward G. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco in the classic filmKey Largo: he knows he wants one thing, and that thing ismoreMore shipsfor the Navy. More planesfor the Air Force.  More troops in general -- perhaps 100,000 more.  Andmuch more spendingon national defense.

Clearly, come November, whoever wins or loses, the national security state will be the true victor in the presidential sweepstakes.

Of course, the election cycle alone is hardly responsible for our nationallove of weaponryand war.  Even in today’s straitened fiscal climate, with all the talk of government austerity, Congress feels obliged to trump an already generous president byadding yet more moneyfor military appropriations.  Ever since the attacks of 9/11,surging defense budgets,forever war, andfear-mongeringhave become omnipresent features of our national landscape, together with pro-military celebrations that elevateour warriors and warfighterstohero status.  In fact, the uneasier Americans grow when it comes to the economy andsigns of national decline, the more breathlessly we praise our military and its image of overwhelming power.  Neither Obama nor Romney show any sign of challenging this celebratory global “lock and load” mentality.

To explain why, one must consider not only the pro-military positions of each candidate, but their vulnerabilities -- real or perceived -- on military issues.  Mitt Romney is the easier to handicap.  As a Mormon missionary in France and later as the beneficiary of a high draft lottery number, Romney avoided military service during the Vietnam War.  Perhaps because he lacks military experience, he has already gone on record (during the Republican presidential debates) asdeferring to military commanderson decisions such as whether we should bomb Iran.  A President Romney, it seems, would be more implementer-in-chief than civilian commander-in-chief.

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Romney’s métier atBain Capitalwas competence in the limited sense of buying low and selling high, along with a certain calculated ruthlessness individing companiesand discarding people to manufacture profit.  These skills, such as they are, earn him little respect in military circles.  Compare him to Harry Truman or Teddy Roosevelt, both take-charge leaders with solid military credentials.  Rather than a Trumanesque “the buck stops here,” Romney is more about “make a buck here.”  Rather than Teddy Roosevelt’s bloodied but unbowed “man in the arena,” Romney is more bloodless equity capitalist circling high above the fray in a fancy suit.

Consider as well Romney’s five telegenic sons.  It’s hard to square Mitt’s professions of love for our military with his sons’ lack of interest in military service.  Indeed, when asked about their lack of enthusiasm for joining the armed forces during the surge in Iraq in 2007, Mitt off-handedly replied that his sons were already performing aninvaluable national serviceby helping him get elected.

An old American upper class sense of noblesse oblige, of sons of privilege like George H.W. Bush or John F. Kennedy volunteering for national service in wartime, has been dead for decades in our otherwisemilitary-happy country.  When it comes to sending American sons (and increasingly daughters) into harm’s way, for President Romney it’ll be another case of chickenhawk guts and working-class blood.

For election 2012, however, the main point is that the Romney family’s collective lack of service makes him vulnerable on national defense, a weakness that has already led Mitt and his campaign to overcompensate with ever more pro-military policy pronouncements supplemented with the usual bellicose rhetoric of all Republicans (Ron Paul excepted).  As a result, President-elect Romney will ultimately find himself confined, cowed, and controlled by the national security complex -- and he’ll have only himself (and Barack Obama) to blame.

Obama, by way of contrast, has already shown a passion for military force that in saner times would make him invulnerable to charges of being “weak” on defense.  Fond ofdressing upin military flight jackets andpraisingthe troops to the rafters, Obama has substance to go with his style.  He’s made some tough calls like sending SEAL Team 6 into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden; using NATO airpower to take down Qaddafi in Libya;expanding special opsanddrone warfarein Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, including the assassination of U.S. citizenswithout judicial process.  America’s Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2009 has become a devotee of special forces, kill teams, andhigh-tech dronesthat challenge thevery reality of national sovereignty.  Surely such a man can’t be accused of being weak on defense.

The political reality, of course, is different.  Despite his record, the Republican Party is forever at pains to portray Obama as suspect (that middle name Hussein!), divided in his loyalties (that Kenyan connection!), and not slavish enough in his devotion to “underdog” Israel.  (Could he be a crypto-Muslim?)

The president and his campaign staff are no fools.  Since any sign of “weakness” vis-à-vis Iran and similar enemiesdu jouror any expression of less than boundless admiration for our military will be exploited ruthlessly by Romney et al., Obama will continue to tack rightwards on military issues and national defense.  As a result, once elected he, too, will be a prisoner of the Complex.  In this process, the only surefire winner and all-time champ: once again, the national security state.

So what can we expect on the campaign trail this summer and fall?  Certainly not prospective civilian commanders-in-chief confident in the vitally important role of restraining or even reversing the worst excesses of an imperial state.  Rather, we’ll witness two men vying to be cheerleader-in-chief forcontinued U.S. imperial dominanceachieved at nearly any price.

Election 2012 will be all about preserving the imperial status quo, only more so.  Come January 2013, regardless of which man takes the oath of office, we’ll remain a country with a manic enthusiasm for the military.  Rather than a president who urges us to abhor endless war, we’ll be led by a man intent on keeping usobliviousto the way we’re squandering our nation’s future in fruitless conflicts that ultimately compromise our core constitutional principles.

For all the suspense the media will gin up in the coming months, the ballots are already in and the real winner of election 2012 will be the national security state.  Unless you’re a denizen of that special interest state, we know the loser, too. It’s you.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is aTomDispatch regular.  He welcomes reader comments To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Astore discusses how the two presidential candidates are sure to out-militarize each other in the coming election campaign, clickhereor download it to your iPodhere.

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Copyright 2012 William J. Astore


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