26 March 2014

Ukraine: Manna From Heaven for the Green Line and Beyond Crowd

Most Americans know very little about the immediate origins of the crisis in the Ukraine and their government's involvement in it.  They know even less about its deeper roots, that reach back into Russian view of American duplicity in breaking its verbal promises not to expand NATO and the European Union eastward (useful summaries can be found here and here).  These promises were interpreted quite reasonably by the Russians as a quid pro quo for Mikhail Gorbachev’s agreement to (1) the unification of Germany, (2) the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and (3) the withdrawal of Soviet forces from eastern Europe. Gorbachev’s dream of a common European Home was always fanciful, but today, Ukraine proves it is in tatters.  

If one is to believe the reportage in the mainstream media, the duly elected but decidedly corrupt government of the Ukraine was overthrown by a spontaneous revolt of the freedom-seeking Ukrainian people.  But it is also clear from leaked recordings of phone conversations and the bloviations of U.S. “pro-defense” legislators that members of the U.S. government were at least tangentially involved, as were Ukrainian neo-fascists. 

There is much more, however.  This article (also attached below) by investigative reporter Steve Weissman of Reader Supported News is Part 1 in a series of reports detailing the nature of that involvement in the current crisis.  It should be read carefully, because Weissman reveals a mind-boggling maze of tentacles reaching deeply into the Ukrainian regime change gambit. 

Even if you dispute some of Weissman's conclusions, the overwhelming assembly of facts  proves a significant level western involvement is in play.  There is one highly convenient coincidence he only alludes to, however: The American people are war weary, and the pivot to the China threat has no real traction.  The domestic politics of fear unleashed by 9-11 are running out of steam.  The possibility of a new cold war with our old nuclear armed adversary is just the ticket needed to rectify the situation by bringing back the politics good wholesome fear that evolved so productively for the American pro-defense nomenclatura during the 40 years of permanent mobilization for Cold War.  

A dose of this kind of fear would be especially propitious for the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) at this juncture.  Today, the MICC is haunted by the ‘cost-plus’ specter of a budgetary/force structure/readiness meltdown of its own making.  It must find some way of coping with out-of-control operating costs (read reduce current combat readiness and force structure again) to save the sacred cows in the procurement and R&D budgets, like the F-35, the new long range bomber, etc. -- even if the budget were not cut back!  But the threat of a budget sequester that, ironically, would reduce the defense budget to a ‘high’ Cold War level is now so serious that Mr. Obama found it necessary to send sequester-dodging 5-year defense budget plan to Congress.  The scam as can be seen in this chart, reproduced from page 13 of the Pentagon Comptroller’s FY 15 budget briefing (The red star is the unfunded wish list in FY 15 (a list guaranteed to unleash a horde of porkers in Congress) and the green dotted line is the topline of the 5 year plan.  Bear in mind, this topline does not even include the $79 billion in FY15 plus the $30 billion estimated in each following year to pay for the so-called global war on terror (these add-ons are depicted in the chart on page 2 of the same briefing).

It does not take a conspiracy theorist to see why Ukraine has the champagne corks popping for the "green line and beyond" lobbyists in the gucci-shoed halls of K Street.  I will have more to say on this budgetary nuttiness in later emails -- for the moment, I urge you to read Weissman's report.


Meet the Americans Who Put Together the Coup in Kiev

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News
25 March 14
f the US State Department's Victoria Nuland had not said "Fuck the EU," few outsiders at the time would have heard of Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, the man on the other end of her famously bugged telephone call. But now Washington's man in Kiev is gaining fame as the face of the CIA-style "destabilization campaign" that brought down Ukraine's monumentally corrupt but legitimately elected President Viktor Yanukovych.
"Geoffrey Pyatt is one of these State Department high officials who does what he’s told and fancies himself as a kind of a CIA operator," laughs Ray McGovern, who worked for 27 years as an intelligence analyst for the agency. "It used to be the CIA doing these things," he tells Democracy Now. "I know that for a fact." Now it's the State Department, with its coat-and-tie diplomats, twitter and facebook accounts, and a trick bag of goodies to build support for American policy.
A retired apparatchik, the now repentant McGovern was debating Yale historian Timothy Snyder, a self-described left-winger and the author of two recent essays in The New York Review of Books – "The Haze of Propaganda" and "Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine." Both men speak Russian, but they come from different planets.
On Planet McGovern – or my personal take on it – realpolitik rules. The State Department controls the prime funding sources for non-military intervention, including the controversial National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which Washington created to fund covert and clandestine action after Ramparts magazine and others exposed how the CIA channeled money through private foundations, including the Ford Foundation. State also controls the far-better-funded Agency for International Development (USAID), along with a growing network of front groups, cut-outs, and private contractors. State coordinates with like-minded governments and their parallel institutions, mostly in Canada and Western Europe. State's "democracy bureaucracy" oversees nominally private but largely government funded groups like Freedom House. And through Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, State had Geoff Pyatt coordinate the coup in Kiev.
The CIA, NSA, and Pentagon likely provided their specialized services, while some of the private contractors exhibited shadowy skill sets. But if McGovern knows the score, as he should, diplomats ran the campaign to destabilize Ukraine and did the hands-on dirty work.
Harder for some people to grasp, Ambassador Pyatt and his team did not create the foreign policy, which was – and is – only minimally about overthrowing Ukraine's duly elected government to "promote democracy." Ever since Bill Clinton sat in the Oval Office, Washington and its European allies have worked openly and covertly to extend NATO to the Russian border and Black Sea Fleet, provoking a badly wounded Russian bear. They have also worked to bring Ukraine and its Eastern European neighbors into the neoliberal economy of the West, isolating the Russians rather than trying to bring them into the fold. Except for sporadic resets, anti-Russian has become the new anti-Soviet, and "strategic containment" has been the wonky word for encircling Russia with our military and economic power.
Nor did neoconservatives create the policy, no matter how many progressive pundits blame them for it. NED provides cushy jobs for old social democrats born again as neocons. Pyatt's boss, Victoria Nuland, is the wife and fellow-traveler of historian Robert Kagan, one of the movement's leading lights. And neocons are currently beating the war drums against Russia, as much to scupper any agreements on Syria and Iran as to encourage more Pentagon contracts for their friends and financial backers. But, encircling Russia has never been just a neocon thing. The policy has bi-partisan and trans-Atlantic support, including the backing of America's old-school nationalists, Cold War liberals, Hillary hawks, and much of Obama's national security team.
No matter that the policy doesn’t pass the giggle test. Extending NATO and Western economic institutions into all of a very divided Ukraine had less chance of working than did hopes in 2008 of bringing Georgia into NATO, which could have given the gung-ho Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvilli the treaty right to drag us all into World War III. To me, that seemed like giving a ten-year-old the keys to the family Humvee.
Western provocations in Ukraine proved more immediately counterproductive. They gave Vladimir Putin the perfect opportunity for a pro-Russian putsch in Crimea, which he had certainly thought of before, but never as a priority. The provocations encouraged him to stand up as a true Russian nationalist, which will only make him more difficult to deal with. And they gave him cover to get away with that age-old tool of tyrants, a quickie plebiscite with an unnecessary return to Joseph Stalin's old dictum once popular in my homestate of Florida: "It's not the votes that count, but who counts the votes."
Small "d" democrats should shun such pretense. Still, most journalists and pollsters on the scene report that – with the exception of the historic Tatar community – the majority of Crimeans want to join the Russian Federation, where they seem likely to stay.
Tensions will also grow as the US-picked interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk – our man "Yats" – joins with the IMF to impose a Greek, Spanish, or Italian style austerity. Hard-pressed Ukranians will undoubtedly fight back, especially in the predominantly Russian-speaking east. According to Der Spiegel, a whopping three quarters of the people there do not support the coup or government. What a tar patch! A domestic conflict that could split Ukraine in two will inevitably become even further embroiled in the geo-strategic struggle between Russia and the West.
On Planet Snyder, as in most Western media, these realistic considerations make absolutely no difference. Ideology rules, masked as idealism. Fine sounding abstractions fill the air. Ukrainians are making their own history. They are acting with great courage. They are seeking the rule of law and their rightful place in "European Civilization." They are defending "sovereignty" and "territorial integrity." Russians remain vicious. Big bad Vlad is the new Hitler. He is seeking his own Eurasian empire (as opposed to NATO's), which could soon include parts of Moldova, Belarus, and Kazakhstan that the West needs like a "lok in kop," a hole in the head. And those watching in the West must abandon what Snyder calls "our slightly self-obsessed notions of how we control or don't control everything."
"It was a classic popular revolution," proclaims the professor. An undeniably popular uprising against "an unmistakably reactionary regime."
Writing in The Nation, Professor Stephen Cohen shreds Snyder's argument. My concern is more pointed. Popular uprisings deserve our support or opposition depending on who comes to control them and to what ends. As McGovern puts it, "The question is: Who took them over? Who spurred them? Who provoked them for their own particular strategic interests?"
Detailed evidence provides the answers. For all the courage of the Ukrainian minority who took to the barricades, US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and his team spurred the protests in Kiev and exercised extensive – though never complete – control over them. Tactically, Pyatt and his fellow diplomats showed unexpected skill. Strategically, they should have stayed home.
Revolution on Demand
Arriving in the Ukrainian capital on August 3, Pyatt almost immediately authorized a grant for an online television outlet called Hromadske.TV, which would prove essential to building the Euromaidan street demonstrations against Yanukovych. The grant was only $43,737, with an additional $4,796 by November 13. Just enough to buy the modest equipment the project needed.
Many of Hromadske's journalists had worked in the past with American benefactors. Editor-in-chief Roman Skrypin was a frequent contributor to Washington's Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and theUS-funded Ukrayinska Pravda. In 2004, he had helped create Channel 5 television, which played a major role in the Orange Revolution that the US and its European allies masterminded in 2004.
Skrypin had already gotten $10,560 from George Soros's International Renaissance Foundation (IRF), which came as a recommendation to Pyatt. Sometime between December and the following April, IRF would give Hromadske another $19,183.
Hromadske's biggest funding in that period came from the Embassy of the Netherlands, which gave a generous $95,168. As a departing US envoy to the Hague said in a secret cable that Wikileaks later made public, "Dutch pragmatism and our similar world-views make the Netherlands fertile ground for initiatives others in Europe might be reluctant, at least initially, to embrace."
For Pyatt, the payoff came on November 21, when President Yanukovych pulled back from an Association Agreement with the European Union. Within hours Hromadske.TV went online and one of its journalists set the spark that brought Yanukovych down.
"Enter a lonely, courageous Ukrainian rebel, a leading investigative journalist," writes Snyder. "A dark-skinned journalist who gets racially profiled by the regime. And a Muslim. And an Afghan. This is Mustafa Nayem, the man who started the revolution. Using social media, he called students and other young people to rally on the main square of Kiev in support of a European choice for Ukraine."
All credit to Nayem for his undeniable courage. But bad, bad history. Snyder fails to mention that Pyatt, Soros, and the Dutch had put Web TV at the uprising's disposal. Without their joint funding of Hromadske and its streaming video from the Euromaidan, the revolution might never have been televised and Yanukovych might have crushed the entire effort before it gained traction.
For better or for worse, popular uprisings have changed history long before radio, television, or the Internet. The new technologies only speed up the game. Pyatt and his team understood that and masterfully turned soft power and the exercise of free speech, press, and assembly into a televised revolution on demand, complete with an instant overdub in English. Soros then funded a Ukrainian Crisis Media Center "to inform the international community about events in Ukraine," and I'm still trying to track down who paid for Euromaidan PR, the website of the Official Public Relations Secretariat for the Headquarters of the National Resistance.
Orange Revolution II
Preparing the uprising started long before Pyatt arrived in country, and much of it revolved around a talented and multi-lingual Ukrainian named Oleh Rybachuk, who had played several key roles in the Orange Revolution of 2004. Strangely enough, he recently drew attention when Pando, Silicon Valley's online news site, attacked journalist Glenn Greenwald and the investor behind his new First Look Media, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Trading brickbats over journalistic integrity, both Pando and Greenwald missed the gist of the bigger story.
In 2004, Rybachuk headed the staff and political campaign of the US-backed presidential candidate Victor Yushchenko. As the generally pro-American Kyiv Post tells it, the shadowy Rybachuk was Yushchenko's "alter ego" and “the conduit” to the State Security Service, which "was supplying the Yushchenko team with useful information about Yanukovych's actions." Rybachuk went on to serve under Yushchenko and Tymoshenko as deputy prime minister in charge of integrating Ukraine into NATO and the European Union. In line with US policy, he also pushed for privatization of Ukraine's remaining state-owned industries.
Despite US and Western European backing, the government proved disastrous, enabling its old rival Yanukovych to win the presidency in the 2010 election. Western monitors generally found the election "free and fair," but no matter. The Americans had already sowed the seeds either to win Yanukovych over or to throw him over, whichever way Washington and its allies decided to go. As early as October 2008, USAID funded one of its many private contractors – a non-profit called Pact Inc. – to run the "Ukraine National Initiatives to Enhance Reforms" (UNITER). Active in Africa and Central Asia, Pact had worked in Ukraine since 2005 in campaigns against HIV/AIDS. Its new five-year project traded in bureaucratic buzzwords like civil society, democracy, and good governance, which on the public record State and USAID were spending many millions of dollars a year to promote in Ukraine.
Pact would build the base for either reform or regime change. Only this time the spin-masters would frame their efforts as independent of Ukraine's politicians and political parties, whom most Ukrainians correctly saw as hopelessly corrupt. The new hope was "to partner with civil society, young people, and international organizations" – as Canada's prestigious Financial Post later paraphrased no less an authority than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
By 2009, Pact had rebranded the pliable Rybachuk as "a civil society activist," complete with his own NGO, Center UA (variously spelled Centre UA, Tsenter UA, or United Actions Center UA). Pact then helped Rybachuk use his new base to bring together as many as 60 local and national NGOs with activists and leaders of public opinion. This was New Citizen, a non-political "civic platform" that became a major political player. At the time, Pact and Soros's IRF were working in a joint effort to provide small grants to some 80 local NGOs. This continued the following year with additional money from the East Europe Foundation.
"Ukraine has been united by common disillusionment," Rybachuk explained to the Kyiv Post. "The country needs a more responsible citizenry to make the political elite more responsible."
Who could argue? Certainly not Rybachuk's Western backers. New Citizen consistently framed its democracy agenda as part of a greater integration within NATO, Europe, and the trans-Atlantic world. Rybachuk himself would head the "Civil Expert Council" associated with the EU-Ukraine Cooperation Committee.
Continuing to advise on "strategic planning," in May 2010 Pact encouraged New Citizen "to take Access to Public Information as the focus of their work for the next year." The coalition campaigned for a new Freedom of Information law, which passed. Pact then showed New Citizen how to use the law to boost itself as a major player, organize and train new activists, and work more closely with compliant journalists, all of which would seriously weaken the just-elected Yanukovych government. Part of their destabilization included otherwise praiseworthy efforts, none more so than the movement to "Stop Censorship."
"Censorship is re-emerging, and the opposition is not getting covered as much,” Rybachuk told theKyiv Post in May 2010. He was now "a media expert" as well as civic activist. “There are some similarities to what Vladimir Putin did in Russia when he started his seizure of power by first muzzling criticism in the media.”
One of Rybachuk's main allies in "Stop Censorship" was the journalist Sergii Leshchenko, who had long worked with Mustafa Nayem at Ukrayinska Pravda, the online newsletter that NED publicly took credit for supporting. NED gave Leshchenko its Reagan Fascell Democracy Fellowship, while New Citizen spread his brilliant exposés of Yanukovych's shameless corruption, focusing primarily on his luxurious mansion at Mezhyhirya. Rybachuk's Center UA also produced a documentary film featuring Mustafa Nayem daring to ask Yanukovych about Mezhyhirya at a press conference. Nothing turned Ukrainians – or the world – more against Yanukovych than the concerted exposure of his massive corruption. This was realpolitik at its most sophisticated, since the US and its allies funded few, if any, similar campaigns against the many Ukrainian kleptocrats who favored Western policy.
Under the watchful eye of Pact, Rybachuk's New Citizen developed a project to identify the promises of Ukrainian politicians and monitor their implementation. They called it a "Powermeter" (Vladometer), an idea they took from the American website "Obamameter." Funding came from the US Embassy, through its Media Development Fund, which falls under the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Other money came from the Internews Network, which receives its funding from the State Department, USAID, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and a wide variety of other government agencies, international organizations, and private donors. Still other money came from Soros's IRF.
New Citizen and its constituent organizations then brought together 150 NGOs from over 35 cities, along with activists and journalists like Sergii Leschchenko, to create yet another campaign in 2011. They called it the Chesno Movement, from the Ukrainian word for "honestly. " Its logo was a garlic bulb, a traditional disinfectant widely believed to ward off evil. The movement's purpose was "to monitor the political integrity of the parliamentary candidates running in the 2012 elections."
This was a mammoth project with the most sophisticated sociology. As expected, the Chesno monitoring found few honest politicians. But it succeeded in raising the issue of public integrity to new heights in a country of traditionally low standards and in building political interest in new areas of the country and among the young. The legislative elections themselves proved grim, with President Yanukovych's Party of the Regions taking control of parliament.
What then of all New Citizen's activism, monitoring, campaigning, movement-building, and support for selective investigative journalism? Where was all this heading? Rybachuk answered the question in May 2012, several months before the election.
"The Orange Revolution was a miracle, a massive peaceful protest that worked," he told Canada'sFinancial Post. "We want to do that again and we think we will.”
He Who Pays the Piper
Rybachuk had good reason for his revolutionary optimism. His Western donors were upping the ante. Pact Inc. commissioned a financial audit for the Chesno campaign, covering from October 2011 to December 2012. It showed that donors gave Rybachuk's Center UA and six associated groups some $800,000 for Chesno. PACT, which regularly got its money from USAID, contributed the lion's share, $632,813, though part of that came from the Omidyar Network, a foundation set up by Pierre and his wife.
In a March 12th press release, the network tried to explain its contributions to Rybachuk's Center UA, New Citizen, and the Chesno Movement. These included a two-year grant of $335,000, announced in September 2011, and another $769,000, committed in July 2013. Some of the money went to expand Rybachuk's technology platforms, as New Citizen explained.
"New Citizen provides Ukrainians with an online platform to cooperatively advocate for social change. On the site, users can collectively lobby state officials to release of public information, participate in video-advocacy campaigns, and contribute to a diverse set of community initiatives," they wrote. "As a hub of social justice advocates in Kiev, the organization hopes to define the nation’s 'New Citizen' through digital media."
Omidyar's recent press release listed several other donors, including the USAID-funded Pact, the Swiss and British embassies, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the National Endowment for Democracy, and Soros's International Renaissance Foundation. The Chesno Movement also received money from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Figures for fiscal year 2013 are more difficult to track. Washington's foreignassistance.gov shows USAID paying PACT in Ukraine over $7 million under the general category of "Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance." The data does not indicate what part of this went to Center UA, New Citizen, or any of their projects.
What should we make of all this funding? Some of it looks like private philanthropy, as back in the days when the CIA channeled its money through foundations. Was the Soros and Omidyar money truly private or government money camouflaged to look private? That has to remain an open question. But, with Rybachuk's campaigns, it makes little difference. USAID and other government funding dominated. The US Embassy, through Pact, coordinated most of what Rybachuk did. And, to my knowledge, neither Soros nor Omidyar ever broke from the State Department's central direction.
Strategic Containment, OK?
When Ambassador Pyatt arrived in Kiev, he inherited Pact and its Rybachuk network well on its way to a second Orange Revolution, but only if they thought they needed it to win integration into Europe. That was always the big issue for the State Department and the Ukrainian movement they built, far more telling than censorship, corruption, democracy, or good governance. As late as November 14, Rybachuk saw no reason to take to the streets, fully expecting Yanukovych to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union at a November 28-29 summit in Vilnius. On November 21, Yanukovych pulled back, which Rybachuk saw as a betrayal of government promises. That is what "brought people to the streets," he told Kyiv Post. "It needed to come to this."
Euromaidan would become a "massive watchdog," putting pressure on the government to sign the association and free trade deal with the EU, he said. "We'll be watching what the Ukrainian government does, and making sure it does what it has to do."
That is where the State Department’s second Orange Revolution started. In my next article, I'll show where it went from there and why.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

23 March 2014

Global War on Terror: The Roots of Failure

A very important series written by one of finest observers of the conflicts in the Middle East. CS

Al-Qa'ida's Second Act - the Full Five-Part Series
Our foreign correspondent's investigation into the jihadi resurgence
BY PATRICK COCKBURN, Independent, 21 March 2014

[reprinted with permission in Unz Review]
Twelve and a half years after 9/11, al-Qa’ida-type organisations control an area the size of Britain in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Include Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia and the territory they rule is larger in size than the UK. What is so extraordinary – and blameworthy – is that this vast expansion of jihadist groups comes even as the US, Britain and others are waging a “war on terror”. In the name of such a struggle, great sums have been spent; wars have been fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; civil rights have been curtailed; and torture, rendition, detention without trial and domestic espionage have been justified. But attempts to eliminate the supposed enemy have wholly failed.
It is to consider the roots of this failure that The Independent published a five-part investigation by our distinguished correspondent Patrick Cockburn this week. The aim of the series is to show the extent to which jihadist organisations identical in ideology and methods to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida have survived, flourished and are now stronger than ever.
The US has spent billions of dollars to counter the threat of global terror and succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden three years ago. Yet today, al-Qa'ida-type groups are numerous and powerful.  
Saudi Arabia has been perhaps the jihadists’ greatest ally – but will the Kingdom be forced to change tack in the face of American impatience and anarchy in Syria?
On the growing influence of Isis, formerly al-Qa’ida’s force in Iraq, which dominates Sunni areas and is wreaking havoc among the Shia majority
How extremist Islamists have turned the uprising against President Assad into a sectarian war and forced out seculars.
How Sunni fundamentalist groups are successfully winning recruits through well-funded internet propaganda.

13 March 2014

America's $1 Trillion National Security Budget

by Winslow T. Wheeler

Cross posted from the Straus Military Reform Website of POGO

The Pentagon's current leadership and most on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in Congress describe President Obama's 2015 defense budget request as painfully austere, if not dangerously inadequate.  The defense trade press is full of statements from generals, admirals and the other politicians from both political parties that there is not nearly enough money available to buy adequate amounts of new hardware,  maintain current pay and benefits or provide even low amounts of training and equipment maintenance.  As a result, they are looking for ways to relieve the Pentagon from its penury.

Scarcity of money is not their problem.  Pentagon costs, taken together with other known national security expenses for 2015, will exceed $1 Trillion.  How can that be?  The trade press is full of statements about the Pentagon's $495.6 billion budget and how low that is. 
There is much more than $495.6 billion in the budget for the Pentagon, and there are piles of national security spending outside the Pentagon-all of it as elemental for national security as any new aircraft and ships and the morale and well-being of our troops.

The table below details what a careful observer will find in President Obama's 2015 budget presentation materials.  The amounts for the Pentagon are well above the advertised $495.6 billion, and there are several non-Pentagon accounts that are clearly relevant. (The relevant data for 2014 is also presented for comparison, and the notations in the "Comments" column help explain the data.  The table is also available on line here.)

(All figures are billions; Then-Year $)
Sources: Table 28-1 from Analytical Perspectives and Homeland Security Appendix in 2015 OMB Budget Materials
(click on table to enlarge)

Note the various ways the Pentagon augments its own budget well above the $495.6 billion that is frequently cited by the people seeking more money.

·         There is the additional "placeholder" amount for the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere ($79.4 billion), which may or may not turn out to be smaller once the formal request for this spending is compiled and Congress is finished fiddling with it: adding huge amounts of non-war (or "base") spending to this account by both DOD and Congress is routine. 

·         There is also the $6.2 billion in "mandatory" (or entitlement) spending the Pentagon's complete budget must include for military retirement and other DOD-only programs.

·         There is the Pentagon's $26 billion dollar portion of the "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative" (a slush fund if ever there were one) that OMB and Secretary of Defense Hagel have dreamed up--to the applause of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

·         While some in the press have caught most of the above additions, they virtually never spot the additional money the Treasury pays out for additional military retirement ($37.8 billion in 2015) and DOD healthcare (just $100 million in 2015 but more in other years). 

In all, the Pentagon's budget for all of its own expenses in 2015 is not $495.6 billion, it is $645.1 billion, or $149.5 billion (30 percent) more.  If one were to add the nuclear weapons' costs borne by the Department of Energy, the amount would be $664.5 billion, or 34 percent more.  (Don't add the four score billions of dollars for intelligence and snooping; the budgets for CIA, NSA and all the rest are embedded in the DOD budget.)

Consider also the substantial costs that are properly outside of the Pentagon's budget but that are central to US national security:

·         $52.1 billion in non-DOD spending in the Department of Homeland Security,

·         $161.2 billion for the human consequences of past and ongoing wars in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and

·         $39 billion for the activities of the Department of State and related agencies-for international security and the exercise of US power abroad.

With the addition of an equitable share of the interest on the national debt that is attributable to this spending, it all adds up to $1.0095 trillion.  It is that amount, not $495.6 billion, that US taxpayers are being asked to pay out in 2015 for "defense," defined generically.  However, you will not find that number in the talking points of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary Hagel, or most Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. They are arguing that times are tough and if still more money can be found, it should go to these accounts.

There is another perspective to measure defense spending in 2015.  We can compare just the amounts formally requested for the Pentagon (the "base" budget plus the "placeholder" amount for Overseas Contingency Operations) to what has been spent historically.  By converting annual Pentagon spending to "constant" (inflation adjusted) dollars adjusted to their 2015 value, and by using the economy-wide GDP measure of inflation for doing so (not the Pentagon's own hopelessly self-serving measure of inflation), we can compare the 2015 Pentagon budget to its post-World War Two history.    See the figure below. (click on figure to enlarge).

(Those interested to do so can find a historically identical graph in CSBA's 2013 study "Chaos and Uncertainty: The 2014 Defense Budget and Beyond" by Todd Harrison; see Figure 18 on page 25.)
This graph tells us that the 2015 level of Pentagon spending would return us to the same overall level as 2005 when Donald Rumsfeld was secretary of defense and the DOD budget was generally considered flush with money and supporting substantial fighting in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Note also that this is a level of spending that matches the peak of the Ronald Reagan years that was thought by its advocates to be a US build up so massive it was intimidating the Soviet Union into collapse.  The 2015 level is also an amount that significantly exceeds the peaks of the Korea and Vietnam wars-both of them higher intensity conflicts with hundreds of thousands more US troops deployed than are currently in Afghanistan.

To repeat, the problem is not scarcity of money.  The problem is how it is being spent.  We are getting very little defense--training, maintenance, hardware, and troops--for a gigantic amount of money.  By virtue of how they characterize $1 trillion dollars as penury, our national security leaders in the Pentagon and Congress are clearly incapable of dealing with the problem.

Our equipment is outrageously expensive and yet too much of it is a step backwards in effectiveness.  Since the mid-1990s Congress has bulldozed money into across-the-board pay raises, double pensions for many military retirees, significantly increased benefits for the survivors of World War Two veterans and much else that has much more to do with placating constituencies than addressing 21st century security problems. In addition, the Pentagon's civilian and military leadership has bloated itself to historically unprecedented levels of overhead.  Worse yet, none of them have even bothered to fundamentally understand the dimension of the problems because, under their tutelage, the Pentagon remains unaudited and un-auditable, which will remain the case even after it meets its decades overdue, and embarrassingly modest, financial management goals-which by the way, it will do no time soon.

One more time: the problem is not scarcity of money.

07 March 2014

Ukraine Cape Job?

The Deadly Mix of Hysteria and Defense Budget Politics


This report/analysis by Emmanuel Dreyfus provides a background on the rise of far right — some would say neo-fascist — politics in Ukraine. It is well worth careful reading
Bear in mind, the Le Monde report was written before the stunning conversation between EU foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet was leaked to youtube.  Paet told Ashton that there was evidence that the snipers in Kyiv (aka Kiev) were firing on “people from both sides” and that there were suspicions that someone from the “new coalition” might have been behind the shootings.  The links to youtube recording of this conversation can be found on Russia TV (RT) here and the complete conversation here.
According to this report in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the authenticity of the youtube recoding.
The information in the Le Monde analysis helps us to understand questions of why and how some Ukrainian factions might benefit from indiscriminate killing that ratchets up general hysteria, creating particularly a parallel incitement of hysteria in the foreign media.  Such uniformed hysteria in the mainstream media is by no means a new phenomena when it comes to Ukraine; over 10 years ago, John Laughland penned this analysis of Ukraine’s 2004 election.  Laughland’s 2004 essay provides a description that, with a few changes, would apply today.  Of course, none of this denies the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin benefits from, and may in fact be the ultimate source of, the hacking operation that culminated in the youtube leak — but that does not obviate the fact of the conversation itself.
I want to stress — the forces driving the evolving situation in Ukraine and the Crimea (and Russia’s role in the crisis) remain very murky.  The American National Endowment for Democracy, a front for the CIA and an engine for US meddling in other peoples affairs, is clearly stoking the fires of the regime changing revolt in Ukraine, although the extent of NED’s involvement is not clear and there is nothing (yet) to link the operations of the NED to the shootings.
Nevertheless, one thing is clear: the dominant black and white narrative fueling the near-hysteria in the mainstream media in the U.S. and among the U.S. political class is really an expression of our fractious domestic politics, where our political protagonists are engaged in a foodfight that both misrepresents and vastly oversimplifies a dangerous evolving situation — a situation that, conveniently, is taking place in a distant country with a complex history about which the vast majority of Americans know almost nothing.
Given that the China threat is not quite cutting it politically, there is an elegant symmetry in this Ukraine hysteria.  The timing for a foreign policy crisis with the hated Russia over freedom-loving Ukraine is coincidentally covenient, coming as it does with the Pentagon’s release of its greedy sequester-dodging Pentagon budget plan (see page 3) – especially when coupled with the growing awareness that the only way to feed the voracious appetite of the Miitary – Industrial – Congressional Complex will be to declare war on social programs like Medicare and Social Security — see The Biggest Threat to the Pentagon’s Budget Is Entitlement Spending.  This war on social programs has been in the works for a long time , for reasons I explained in this 5 September 2000 op-ed, and now that the war of terror in winding down, a new cold war is just the ticket needed to win the real war at home.
Who knows, with a little luck, maybe the MICC can start a new Cold War with our old adversary and restore the comforts of business as usual.
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.