Friday, April 22, 2011
The Obama-Gates Maneuver on Military Spending
by Gareth Porter
But it is difficult to believe that open display of tension between
Obama and Gates was not scripted. In the background of those moves is a
larger political maneuver on which the two of them have been
collaborating since last year in which they gave the Pentagon a huge
increase in funding for the next decade and then started to take credit
for small or nonexistent reductions from that increase.
The original Obama-Gates base military spending plan - spending
excluding the costs of the current wars - for FY 2011 through 2020,
called for spending $5.8 trillion, or $580 billion annually, as former
Pentagon official Lawrence Korb noted last January. That would have
represented a 25 percent real increase over the average annual level of
military spending, excluding war costs, by the George W. Bush
Even more dramatic, the Obama-Gates plan was 45 percent higher than the
annual average of military spending level in the 1992-2001 decade, as
reflected in official DOD data (pdf).
The Obama FY 2012 budget submission reduced the total increase only
slightly - by $162 billion over the four years from 2017 to 2020,
according to the careful research of the Project on Defense
Alternatives (PDA). That left an annual average base military spending
level of $564 billion - 23 percent higher than Bush's annual average
and 40 percent above the level of the 1990s.
Central to last week's chapter in the larger game was Obama's assertion
that Gates had already saved $400 billion in his administration. "Over
the last two years," he said, "Secretary Gates has courageously taken
on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future
spending. I believe we can do that again."
The $400 billion figure is based primarily on the $330 billion Gates
claimed he had saved by stopping, reducing or otherwise changing plans
for 31 weapons programs. But contrary to the impression left by Obama,
that figure does not reflect any cut in projected DOD spending. All of
it was used to increase spending on operations and investment in the
The figure was concocted, moreover, by using tricky accounting methods
verging on chicanery. It was based on arbitrary assumptions about how
much all 31 programs would have cost over their entire lifetimes
stretching decades into the future, assuming they would all reach
completion. That methodology offered endless possibilities for inflated
claims of savings.
The PDA points out that yet another $100 billion that Gates announced
in January as cost-cutting by the military services was also used to
increase spending on operations and new weapons program that the
services wanted. That leaves another $78 billion in cuts over five
years also announced by Gates in January, but most of that may have
been added to the military budget for "overseas contingency operations"
rather than contributed to deficit reduction, according to the PDA.
Even if the $400 billion in ostensible cuts that Obama is seeking were
genuine, the Pentagon would be still be sitting on total projected
increase of 14 percent above the profligate level of military spending
of the Bush administration. Last week's White House fact sheet on
deficit reduction acknowledged that Obama has the "goal of holding the
growth in base security spending below inflation."
The "fundamental review" that Obama says will be carried out with the
Pentagon and military bureaucracies will be yet another chapter in this
larger maneuver. It's safe bet that, in the end, Gates will reach into
his bag of accounting tricks again for most of the desired total.