19 July 2016

How the Right Tears Down America

Attached is a thoughtful op-ed piece by my good buddy Mike Lofgren.  Lofgren is a retired congressional staffer, who served as a defense specialist on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget committees.  When I first met him in the late 1980s or early 1990s, he impressed me immensely; since then my admiration has grown.  Since his retirement, Lofgren has authored two very important books analyzing the ossified nature of U.S. politics: 
  1. The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted 
  2. The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government.
His latest op-ed builds on these analyses; and it is outstanding, even when measured against Lofgren's own high standards.  .

Chuck Spinney
How the Right Tears Down America
America surely has problems, but the Republican Right tends to ignore its role in causing them and now – under President Obama – exaggerates how bad the situation is, writes former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren.
By Mike Lofgren, Consortium News, July 16, 2016
[Reposted with permission of the author and the editor of Consortium News]

Barton Swaim, former speechwriter for Mark Sanford, the walking governor of South Carolina, is now a disillusioned conservative pundit. In his latest opinion piece, he denounces Republicans’ belief that America is “off track” solely because of President Obama, and that putting the right people in power will put us “on track.”
Swaim argues against this by saying the “track” analogy is a faulty metaphor, because countries are not like vehicles. Policies are not interchangeable parts: once implemented, they imbed themselves in the political and social fabric. He is broadly correct.
President Ronald Reagan with Budget Director David Stockman. (Photo credit: Reagan Library)
He also says – surprisingly for a Republican – that the GOP’s insistence that Barack Obama’s presidency is some sort of fluke at best and a monstrous hoax on the American people at worst a silly delusion. “Obama was elected and reelected, fair and square, and . . . and the American public knew what it was doing.”
So far, so good. A large number of GOP politicians, from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on down, have treated Obama since the beginning of his presidency as illegitimate and as an enemy to be maligned and legislatively blackmailed rather than treated as America’s chief executive. This attitude gave us government shutdowns, a near-default on our sovereign credit, and some of the worst congresses in history.
But then Swaim veers off track himself, indignantly rejecting the “defamatory belief . . . that the reason the Republican base detests Obama so deeply is because he is black.” In not a single conversation with all the Republicans Swaim knew was Obama’s race even as much as a subtext in their denunciations.
Really? He must have hung out with a more refined bunch than I encountered when I was a GOP operative. Did the “Obama-was-born-in-Kenya” meme that took the GOP base by storm in 2009 just fall out of the sky like an asteroid, with no cultural “subtext” to it? And how about the degrading caricatures depicting the president as an animal that one sees at conservative rallies and in right-wing chat rooms? Readers can draw their own conclusions.
Next, Swaim swerves into full declinist mode, like an Oswald Spengler of the Palmetto State. Republicans need to acknowledge, he says, that “America is in decline,” and there is nothing we can do to reverse it, only “manage the decline.”
Again, really? Certainly, the country faces serious problems: domestically, our prosperity is more unequally shared than at any time since the days of Calvin Coolidge, and there is a chronic disinvestment in infrastructure. Abroad, we are too prone to assume every crisis requires military intervention.
How did this happen? Domestically, it was through economic policies begun by Ronald Reagan (and continued by Democrat Bill Clinton) and doubled down on by George W. Bush. Our struggle with the hydra of Middle Eastern terrorism was made vastly worse by the decision of Bush and a Republican-led Congress to invade Iraq – arguably the worst foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history, because its global consequences are graver and longer-lasting than Vietnam’s aftereffects.
But the only example that Swaim offers that we are in decline – that America is “fast becoming a European-style regulatory state” – is ludicrous. The actual, rather than statutory, tax rate that U.S. corporations pay, is less than the average among the developed countries. The corporate share of total federal tax revenue has dropped by two-thirds in 60 years.
Compared to Whom?
While economic growth since the crash of 2008 has been tepid by post-World War II standards, it is still far better than in the European Union. Obama’s stimulus program – which Republicans voted en bloc against – kick-started a stalled economy, while many E.U. countries, applying the GOP’s favorite nostrum of austerity, continue to suffer negative growth and high unemployment.
President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech about the Iraq War.
If America is declining, we must ask: compared to whom? In the 1990s, the E.U. seemed to have the potential to become a world-beating trading bloc. But one by one, erstwhile European tech giants like Nokia and Vodafone have plummeted out of the corporate top tier, while American firms like Apple and Google are hands down the premier tech firms on the planet. The 11 largest firms in the world by market capitalization are U.S.-based. And as the Brexit vote showed, the E.U. can barely hold itself together.
Crackpot alarmists like Michael Crichton once thought Japan would eat America’s lunch. But two decades of Japanese stagnation have made that prediction as silly as Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” spoof. It has been relatively easy for a command economy like China’s to force investment into capital and export goods, but it now faces a crisis of industrial overcapacity, weak banks, and ballooning corporate, consumer and state debt. Environmental pollution – which kills 1.6 million Chinese annually – may well be an existential show-stopper for that country.
America doesn’t just have the world’s most powerful military, it is well ahead in most international comparisons: we have the best flagship universities in the world, and they draw foreigners in droves to study, teach and do research. We have the biggest rosters of Nobel Science Prize laureates and Olympic medalists, we send space probes beyond the solar system, and American English, not Mandarin, is the world’s language of business, science and culture.
Yes, there are severe problems, as stagnation in the Rust Belt and the opioid epidemic attest. But I find it ironic that conservatives, who fancy themselves the most patriotic Americans, are eager to talk down America whenever they get the chance. When constructive, moderate conservatism curdles into right-wing reaction, cultural pessimism takes hold. The leitmotif of Donald Trump’s campaign is that the whole world is beating up on poor little us.
The self-pitying, pessimistic conservatism that is now fashionable theorizes that because a majority of Americans might disagree with its tenets, that majority is morally corrupted and the American experiment has failed. This corrosive negativity is one reason I left the GOP.
I am a strong critic of America’s politics, but I am confident our problems can be redressed with good faith and the will to succeed. This assumption that the country is condemned to decline is based not on evidence, but on the Schadenfreude that some people enjoy in fantasizing that their pessimism will be validated.
It is a curiously unremarked oddity that beneath the aggrandizing, tough-guy swagger of the Trumps, Limbaughs, and O’Reillys, today’s conservatives are a swooning passel of neurotics who see every temporary setback, every cultural trend they disapprove of, and every social change that most humane people would call progress, as evidence that America is inevitably doomed.
Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His latest book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, appeared in January 2016.

13 July 2016

Draft Republican Platform Effectively Calls for Annexation of the Area C of the West Bank

Is Hillary Clinton In a Triangular Pickle?
Chuck Spinney

The so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in my opinion, has always been a distraction to buy time for the Israelis to formally annex most of the West Bank to Israel.  Much like Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, annexation of this territory will be tangled up in the unexamined question of controlling access to scarce water resources.  
This posting builds on my posting of last April, “The Palestinian Question: Why the Two-State Solution is Kaput.”  My aim was to explain how the central and generally ignored goal of controlling access to the West Bank’s water resources water is shaping Israel’s long-term settlement policies.  That posting described how issues relating to control of these water resources go a long way toward explaining the “facts-on-the-ground” pattern of accelerating settlement growth in Area C of the now defunct Oslo Accord, which comprises about 60% or the West Bank.  Ensuring fair and equitable access to the water resources of the West Bank and the River Jordan’s watershed is a necessary although not a sufficient condition for an equitable solution to the complex Palestinian Question.  That is true regardless of whether that solution takes the form of a two state solution or a single-state bi-national solution. 
However, the momentum of developments, in terms of the interaction between weak and vacillating US policies and the accelerating rate of Israel’s settlement growth in Area C, is leading inexorably to an Israeli annexation of Area C.  Annexation will necessarily be accompanied by a Gazification of the Palestinian enclaves making up Areas A and B, and a perpetually unfair access to the West Bank’s water resources.  
Haaretz, Israel’s leading left-of-center newspaper, recently carried a report entitled, About Face on U.S. Foreign Policy: GOP Platform to Drop Support for Two State Solution.  This report was first published in the Jewish Insider, and it informs the reader that the draft Republican platform rejects the “false notion” that Israel is occupying the West Bank. The draft language also includes, 
“Support for Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”  
And the language goes on to recognize that --  
“the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS”) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel.”  It calls for federal legislation “to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”
Whether Donald Trump will buy into such a blatant subordination of American interests to those of Israel is as yet an unanswered question.  But the language puts Israel into political play in the 2016 presidential election.  This creates a potential for a bidding war that could land Ms. Clinton in an awkward position.
To date, a cynical political strength of Ms. Clinton’s campaign is that a large number of pro-Israeli Republican neo-cons in the national security establishment are flocking to her campaign.  This crossover creates an appearance if not the reality of bestowing on Ms. Clinton an enhanced national security gravitas, at least among the Beltway establishment and mainstream media.  Her control of the Democratic platform committee has already enabled Ms. Clinton to defeat platform language criticizing Israel’s occupation policies.  Watch this video; note particularly the reference to the BDS by a Clinton stalwart
Despite the Democratic platform committee’s stuffing of the Palestinian Question, the draft Democratic platform says nothing comparable to the Republican language.  That silence may not go far enough to placate Hillary’s neocon crossovers.  So, Ms. Clinton may come under pressure to strengthen her already strong pro-Israel stance in an effort to outbid the Republicans in the war to win the anti-Trump Republican voters.  
But in so doing, Clinton may drive Sanders’ supporters into throwing up their hands in disgust and staying home in November or voting for the Green or Libertarian candidates. 
How this supposed “lessor of two evils" triangulates her way out of this cul de sac will be a fascinating spectacle in the Roman circus passing for a presidential election.

Cross-posted in LobeLog, Consortium News, and Counterpunch

08 July 2016

Defense Spending: Do Presidents Make a Difference?

It’s generally taken for granted in the press and by the Defense Cognoscenti that the election of a president is a major determinant of  the size and shape of the defense budget.  It is also conventional wisdom that Republicans have been more pro-defense than Democrats — with the degree of being pro-defense measured by the size of the defense budget.  If these assumptions were universally true, the historical record would bear this out.  But the historical record is mixed, to put it charitably. 
If one breaks down defense spending into totals for four-year presidential terms since the dawn of the Cold War, one might argue that Ronald Reagan’s defense budgets proved that presidents make a difference , but the distinction is a weak one at best, as the patterns of budget totals in this figure suggest.  And if one compares the defense budget total for all the Republican presidents combined to that for all the Democratic presidents combined (see this graphic), the distinction vanishes.  Finally if one simply looks at the statistical distributions of annual defense budgets independently of when they occurred, parsed by party of the sitting president, the distinction between Republicans and Democrats vanishes again.    
So, if the political party of the president or the person of the president does not make a major difference when it comes to size of the defense budget, what does?  This is a question that goes to the heart of political economy of the  Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex or MICC.  
Ace investigative journalist Kelley Vlahos presents a more realistic answer to the preceding question in the attached essay: She argues that the essence of the defense spending game lies more in the cooperative decisions made in the industrial - congressional relations of the MICC’s iron triangle and with the person or political party of the President.  It is a view that is consistent with my experience.
Chuck Spinney

Military-Industrial Election
How defense firms spend campaign cash
By KELLEY BEAUCAR VLAHOS, American Conservative, July 6, 2016
[Reposted with permission of the author]

WASHINGTON—Like all special interests in the nation’s capital, the defense industry is spending millions of dollars this election season to ensure a front-row spot at the federal trough—and in the case of the most powerful military-industrial contractors, a chance to influence the national-security policies that will keep production lines humming and profit margins growing.
Defense contractors took a keen interest in the Republican and Democratic primaries, backing candidates for reasons both ideological and commercial. How they will divide their dollars between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the general election remains to be seen, though there are reasons to think one of the major-party nominees will be especially receptive to industry support. For the military-industrial complex, however, the race for the White House is not the whole story—and in the ways that matter most, this year’s elections mean business as usual.
By April 30, the defense sector had given more than $1.6 million to the broad field of presidential candidates. Among all the 2016 hopefuls, Ted Cruz was the recipient of the most defense-industry dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Cruz received a total of $343,000, followed—perhaps surprisingly—by Bernie Sanders with $323,000, and then Hillary Clinton with more than $273,000.
Sanders’s place at the top of the Democratic heap in terms of defense-sector support may seem odd for a man who attacked Clinton’s support for overseas military interventions. But it’s not so strange at all when one considers that the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—the most expensive aircraft in U.S. history, and more than a decade overdue—underwent development in Sanders’s home state of Vermont.
Lockheed, the maker of the F-35 and the biggest recipient of Pentagon contracts in 2015, gave Sanders $36,600 through March. He also got more money from Boeing than Clinton—nearly $46,000 in that period, according to Alexander Cohen of the Center for Public Integrity.
Meanwhile, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, Donald Trump, by then already the presumptive Republican nominee, had received only $17,818 as of May. Republican dropouts Jeb Bush ($212,108) and Lindsey Graham ($135,925) filled out the top five this spring, under Cruz, Sanders, and Clinton.
While the total figure for defense corporations’ giving directly to presidential candidates was just $1.65 million as of the end of April, that number does not count the companies’ political action committees, which pour cash into presidential coffers and, even more so, those of congressional candidates and party committees. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have PACs that rank among the wealthiest in the industry. Lockheed’s PAC, which spread around over $1.6 million for federal candidates this spring, had given $10,000 to Cruz by the end of March. Northrop Grumman’s PAC, on the other hand, gave all of its $1.5 million as of March to House and Senate candidates—mostly Republicans.
Over and above ordinary PAC spending, the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows for unlimited contributions to super PACs from corporations. “Now [that special interests] can spend as much money as they want, I think you will find more lopsided contributions,” notes Pierre Sprey, a defense analyst and critic who spoke with TAC. “This is a huge sword hanging over the heads of the candidates.” And although Super PACs must ultimately disclose their donors to the FEC, issue-oriented nonprofits need not do so, and they too can be tools of defense-industry influence on public opinion. The overall picture of how defense dollars shape politics is shadowy—but what we can see is telling.
Now that the primaries are over, the question is whether defense dollars will favor Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. In recent cycles, Republican nominees have received more contributions from the sector than Democrats have. That might change this year, both because Trump has been slow to build a fundraising base among special interests—whose money he turned down during the primary season—and because Clinton has a candidate profile that seems like an especially good fit for military industries.
When asked this spring about the campaign by ABC’s Martha Raddatz, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said of Clinton, with classic understatement, “I think that she probably would be somewhat more hawkish than President Obama.”
As secretary of state, Clinton worked with Gates and David Petraeus, the director of the CIA at the time, to push for more aggressive intervention against the Assad government in Syria. She led the charge into Libya—now a roiling mess of dysfunction and a waystation for many Islamic fighters in the region. Clinton’s support for military intervention goes much farther back than that, however. History has her behind the scenes in her husband Bill Clinton’s administration, along with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, pressing for an early bombing campaign in Bosnia in 1993.
“Hillary Clinton has been part of the Washington establishment for a quarter century. I think the defense contractors likely view her as a known quantity,” says Dan Grazier, retired Marine Corps captain, Iraq veteran, and now a senior military analyst at the Project for Government Oversight. “And she does have a hawkish reputation, which is obviously good for their bottom line.”
In a New York Times story titled “How Hillary Became a Hawk,” correspondent Mark Landler described the occasion when Gates and Pacific Commander Adm. Robert Willard were pushing for the USS George Washington to steer an aggressive course into the Yellow Sea after the North Koreans torpedoed a South Korean ship in 2010, killing 46 on board. “We’ve got to run it up the gut!” Clinton reportedly said in agreement, getting an admiring chuckle from her staff for the quick football analogy. Obama chose not to take her advice. Nor did he take it when she had recommended a year earlier that he approve Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan.
As Landler’s story makes clear, Clinton has had an unusually accommodating relationship with generals and top civilian brass. She has always been portrayed as a sympathetic partner, an enabler-in-waiting. To the wider national-security establishment, she is clearly “of the body.”
“She believes, like presidents going back to the Reagan or Kennedy years, in the importance of the military—in solving terrorism, in asserting American influence,” Vali Nasr, Clinton’s former advisor at the State Department, told Landler.
So she naturally ranks high with the military-industrial complex too. Not only does she represent the status quo—or something more than the status quo—with respect to military spending and operations, she has been favored by the political class to win from the beginning. “In that, the contractors probably view their contributions to her campaign as a safe bet,” Dan Grazier told TAC.
Trump, on the other hand, is an unknown quantity who until recently eschewed special-interest funding, and his take from the defense industry during the primaries was correspondingly paltry. But that may change.
After all, with billions at stake, defense companies have incentives to hedge their bets. According to the website Defense News, the Pentagon’s top 100 contractors brought in a total of $175.1 billion in 2015. Lockheed Martin was the largest single contractor for the U.S. government last year, raking in $36.2 billion in federal contracts, followed by Boeing at $16.6 billion, General Dynamics with $13.6 billion, Raytheon with $13.1 billion, and Northrop Grumman with $10.6 billion.
But if the defense industry has to “give a little to get a little”—or  give a lot to get a lot—contributions to presidential candidates aren’t necessarily what deliver the most bang for the military-industrial buck.
The defense industry is in fact a relatively marginal player in the presidential contest, at least from what the visible paper trail shows. Hillary Clinton is far more reliant on resources from the securities and investment industry. The war machine doesn’t even crack her top-20 list of contributors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s because the defense sector spends its money elsewhere. By putting their cash into Congress, defense industries can elect and influence legislators who will remain in Washington far longer than any president. Congress is where the action is: defense executives and their lobbyists work with the elected officials beholden to them to write bills, pad budgets, and shift contract work into specific legislators’ districts to ensure that projects will be funded and otherwise supported over the long haul.
“The arms manufacturers are putting a lot of money” into presidential candidates, says Pierre Sprey, “but it’s nothing compared to the day-in, day-out money they’re giving to Congress.” Simply put, Congress is a better investment.
Congress can undo any administration decision that Boeing or Lockheed doesn’t like,” Sprey observes. “Defense contractors have enormous influence in shaping the secretary of defense’s decisions, but if the secretary happens to do something that displeases the industry, they will get Congress to undo that too, taking advantage of the broad leverage the companies have bought by spreading subcontracts across 48 states, by contributing generously to key committee congressmen, and by unleashing armies of lobbyists and paid-for think-tank pundits.”
Government watchdogs who spoke with TAC say that the defense contracting community focuses about as much of its attention on the authorizers—the Senate and House Armed Services Committees—as on the appropriators. That’s because the real payoff for defense contributions is in getting programs—weapon systems, vehicles, aircraft, ships, drones, nuclear armaments and all of the requisite technology—approved in the defense policy bills each year.
“As authorizers, they have a lot of capacity to at least start making the arguments [on behalf of defense contractors], even if they can’t necessarily put the money into the account,” says Mandy Smithberger, military-reform analyst for the Project for Government Oversight.
So far in the 2016 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Government, the defense sector spent over $17 million, the vast majority going to House and Senate candidates and party committees. The split is pretty uneven—63 percent of the cash goes to Republicans, 36 percent to Democrats—largely because the Republicans are in charge of both the House and Senate.
The top of the list? Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, who had received at least $308,000 as of April. According to the Center for Public Integrity’s Alexander Cohen, Thornberry—who has been in office 21 years—received a total of $933,415 from the largest 75 defense companies over his last decade on the committee.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, comes in third on the list, with $265,450 as of this writing. The next Republican after him is a top F-35 proponent, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the HASC Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, who raked in $181,950. He’s followed by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, with $166,700.
They may not all be household names, but to the defense sector they are veritable golden geese.
Cohen says the defense sector sprinkles plenty of green on members who sit on the joint House-Senate conference committee, too. This panel hashes out the final details of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and its 48 members—34 of them from the HASC and SASC—got, in all, no less than $20.6 million in contributions from defense contractors and their employees between 2003 to 2014, four times as much as members of the Armed Services committees who were not appointed as conferees.
The HASC recently passed its 2017 NDAA, calling for a $583 billion hike in spending, including such line items as 11 more F-35s and a $2 billion boost to the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. According to an Associated Press report, the committee members calling for this $18 billion increase have received $10 million over the course of their careers from defense contractors who “would benefit from higher levels of military spending.” The House Appropriations Committee sent a lower budget figure, $575.5 billion, to the floor in May, but critics warn of tricky accounting: the House Appropriations plan uses wartime contingency funds to get around funding caps for baseline budgeting.
Defense contractors and their surrogates—who include not only lawmakers but also lobbyists and analysts from think tanks that represent the industry on Capitol Hill—say the big fight in 2017 will be getting rid of those spending caps, which were put into place under the Budget Control Act (BCA), the “sequester” of 2011.
“Absolutely,” says Dave Deptula, executive director of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, a nonprofit think tank that advances Air Force interests, including the F-35, in Washington. The BCA, he says, “is undercutting our capabilities and should be eliminated.” He contends that readiness and capital projects have been sacrificed under the caps. “What we did to our Air Force and our military writ large was what our enemies could only hope to achieve.”
Mandy Smithberger replies that industry backers like Deptula overstate the austerity imposed by the budget controls. Such friends of the industry, she contends, demand gold-plated programs that actually divert money away from less expensive and more capable alternatives.
“Lockheed’s investments [in Congress] have definitely paid off when it comes to F-35 in the defense bill every year,” says Smithberger. The company, which has contributed over $15 million to congressional races since 2006, ensures that the F-35 dollars keep coming by splitting up subcontracts—with each subcontractor responsible for making a different piece—across hundreds of congressional districts. Jobs in those districts are leverage for Lockheed Martin. “The F-35 is in 46 different states and 350 districts,” Smithburger says. “That is a lot of political support for one program.”
Even when the Department of Defense asks for something else, lawmakers in the pocket of contractors make sure the companies’ pet projects are funded anyway. And the corruption is getting worse.
“It used to be that members of congress would pork themselves up only for contracts that had a significant impact in their state or district,” says defense analyst and former GAO researcher Winslow Wheeler. “That day is long gone. Members squabble for ‘credit’ even for the tiniest level of spending in their political jurisdiction, to say nothing of going along with anything produced anywhere by anyone if there is the slightest prospect—always rewarded—of a contribution.”
Because of this entrenchment, little will change next year no matter who wins the White House, says Dan Grazier. “My natural cynicism is telling me there won’t be any difference between this year and the next.” That’s what the industry is counting on.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter.

01 July 2016

Message of the 2016 Election: Goodbye Checks and Balances for Controlling Defense Spending

Flush With Cash; Running on Empty (V)
Chuck Spinney
[Clarification: I have endeavored to keep this discussion brief, so most of the links in this essay refer to my earlier, more detailed postings that elaborate on the points I am summarizing here.] 
America is engaged in the longest and second most expensive war in its history — a small war in terms of forces deployed and optempos, but a  war that is grinding on endlessly, without a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.[1] Contrary to the whining about constrained budgets causing readiness and modernization problems emanating from the Pentagon, all dutifully regurgitated without question by the mainstream media, defense spending in the Pentagon’s so called Base Budget is close to an all time high and poised to increase over the long term.  
The bulk of the Pentagon’s budget reductions from the recent peak in 2010 has been concentrated in the war fighting account (the Overseas Contingencies Operations (or OCO) account — and this is true regardless of if or how one accounts for inflation. Compared to the OCO, reductions in the Pentagon’s so-called Base Budget — i.e., that part of the defense budget responsible for maintaining readiness and ensuring modernization — have been relatively modest [2].   Moreover, President Obama is leaving his successor with a base budget containing a modernization bow wave that is poised to explode, creating unstoppable political pressures for growing defense budgets until the end of the next decade or even beyond [3].  Yet the United States now spends far more on the military than any other country in the world.  Add in the expenditures of our allies, and the spending advantage over any conceivable combination of adversaries becomes overwhelming.[4]  Claiming today that we must increase the Pentagon’s budget to counter the rising threats of spending increases by Russia and China is tantamount to saying that defense spending by the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex in the United States is grotesquely inefficient when compared to the spending of the MICC’s equivalents in Russia and China.
Most puzzling of all, the size of the Pentagon’s budget and the conduct of the militarized foreign policy that is a direct consequence of the domestic politics pushing so hard for defense budget increases are not significant political issues in the 2016 campaign for president.  
To be sure, the alternative press is full of essays describing the patent lunacy of America’s militarized foreign policy, but very little ink has been devoted to analyses of how the dirty triangular political forces of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (or MICC) drive that policy.[5]
Some people hope Donald Trump will reign in the big green spending machine with a less aggressive foreign policy.  But Trump is a grotesque bully, whose wild divagations of the mind exhibit neo-fascist behaviour by inflaming hatred and xenophobia among his alienated and adoring supporters.  His recent kowtowing to Israel on the question of military aid [6] suggests Trump is a transparent phony to boot.  So, ‘Trump the Bully’ will end up spending what the power brokers in the MICC’s Iron Triangle tell him to spend.
Hillary Clinton’s public attitude toward defense spending is one of maintaining silence, no doubt to pacify the left.  All she has said (last September) was that she would appoint a blue ribbon panel to examine the size of the defense budget, if elected president. [7]  But her attitude toward the “symptom" of the domestic political imperative to keep spending at high levels — i.e., her attitude toward America’s militarized foreign policy — is obvious and ominous as David Bromwich brilliantly explains in The Roots of Hillary’s Infatuation with War — a very important essay, which I urge readers to study carefully.   She will play the tough girl, and in so doing, like Mr. Trump, she will also end up spending what the power brokers in the MICC’s Iron Triangle tell her to spend.
In short, President Obama is leaving his successor with a defense budget time bomb.  But what passes for checks and balances on the Pentagon and its allies in the arms industry and in Congress has completely broken down in the election of 2016.  This is Eisenhower’s nightmare writ large.
When I worked in  the Pentagon, we had a term for describing this type of sick situation — the United States has maneuvered itself into one big sticky "chocolate mess." 
The Roots of Hillary's Infatuation with War
An incorrigible belief in the purity of one’s motives is among the most dangerous endowments a politician can possess.
David Bromwich, The National Interest, June 29, 2016
David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale University. He is the author of The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence (Belknap Press, 2014).

IN THE early 1970s, Hillary Clinton was a familiar face in the left-liberal milieu she had cast her lot with: a volunteer for the Yale Law School watchdog committee to monitor fairness in the trial of the Black Panther leader Bobby Seale; a worker for Marian Wright Edelman’s Washington Research Project (the precursor of the Children’s Defense Fund); a member of the legal staff of the Nixon impeachment inquiry. In one cause, however, she was mostly absent and unaccounted for: the protest against the Vietnam War. A friend of the Clintons, Greg Craig, told the New York Times reporter Mark Landler that while others in their circle were “heavily involved” in antiwar activism, “I don’t remember Hillary having much to do with that.” Clinton gave two pages to the war in her memoir Living History. She sympathized there with the burden of responsibility borne by President Johnson for “a war he’d inherited,” which turned out to be “a tragic mistake.” Johnson is her focus: the man of power who rode a tiger he could not dismount. On a second reading, “mistake” may seem too light a word to characterize a war that destroyed an agrarian culture forever and killed between one and three million Vietnamese. “Mistake” is also the word that Hillary Clinton has favored in answering questions about her vote for the Iraq War. (... continued)