Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

American Way Of War Quiz

Military Spending is clearly the “elephant in the living room” in discussions regarding government spending and deficits.  Most of those screaming for deficit reduction seem oddly unconcerned about our military budget.  Even many supporters of active government spending appear reluctant to take on the military.  

Perhaps these people think that with our new foreign policy, military spending will be reigned in so there is no need to take on such a powerful institution.  Well, if that is their thinking, they are in for a big disappointment.  Spending on the military continues to grow and in line with government policy.

If you don’t believe it, I recommend taking the 11 question American Way of War Quiz.  In what follows I list only the first three questions and answers.  I strongly recommend going here and taking the entire quiz.  But make sure you are sitting down while reading the answers.

The American Way of War Quiz
This Was the War Month That Was (Believe It or Not)
By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

Yes, it would be funny if it weren’t so grim.  After all, when it comes to squandering money and resources in strange and distant places (or even here at home), you can count on the practitioners of American-style war to be wildly over the top.

Oh, those madcap Pentagon bureaucrats and the zany horde of generals and admirals who go with them!  Give them credit: no one on Earth knows how to throw a war like they do — and they never go home.

In fact, when it comes to linking “profligate” to “war,” with all the lies, manipulations, and cost overruns that give it that proverbial pizzazz, Americans should stand tall.  We are absolutely #1!

Hence, the very first TomDispatch American Way of War Quiz.  Admittedly, it covers only the last four weeks of war news you wouldn’t believe if it weren’t in the papers, but we could have done this for any month since October 2001.

Now’s your chance to pit your wits (and your ability to suspend disbelief) against the best the Pentagon has to offer — and we’re talking about all seventeen-and-a-half miles of corridors in that five-sided, five-story edifice that has triple the square footage of the Empire State Building.  To weigh your skills on the TomDispatch Scales of War™, take the 11-question pop quiz below, checking your answers against ours (with accompanying explanations), and see if you deserve to be a four-star general, a gun-totin’ mercenary, or a mere private.

1. With President Obama’s Afghan surge of 30,000 U.S. troops complete, an administration review of war policy due in December, and fears rising that new war commander General David Petraeus might then ask for more troops, what did the general do last week?

a. He informed the White House that he now had too many troops for reasonable operations in Afghanistan and proposed that a drawdown begin immediately.

b. He assured the White House that he was satisfied with the massive surge in troops (civilian employees, contractors, and CIA personnel) and would proceed as planned.

c. He asked for more troops now.

Correct answer: c.  General Petraeus has already reportedly requested an extra mini-surge of 2,000 more troops from NATO, and probably from U.S. reserves as well, including more trainers for the Afghan military.  In interviews as August ended, he was still insisting that he had “the structures, people, concepts, and resources required to carry out a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign.” But that was the summer silly season.  This is September, a time for cooler heads and larger demands.

2. With President Obama’s announced July 2011 drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in mind, the Pentagon has already:

a. Begun organizing an orderly early 2011 withdrawal of troops from combat outposts and forward operating bases to larger facilities to facilitate the president’s plan.

b. Launched a new U.S. base-building binge in Afghanistan, including contracts for three $100 million facilities not to be completed, no less completely occupied, until late 2011.

c. Announced plans to shut down Kandahar Air Base’s covered boardwalk, including a TGI Friday’s, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a Mamma Mia’s Pizzeria, and cancelled the opening of a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs as part of its preparations for an American drawdown.

Correct answer: b.  According to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, construction is slated to begin on at least three $100 million air base projects — “a $100 million area at Shindand Air Base for Special Operations helicopters and unmanned intelligence and surveillance aircraft”; another $100 million to expand the airfield at Camp Dwyer, a Marine base in Helmand Province, also to support Special Operations forces; and a final $100 million for expanded air facilities at Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan.  None of these projects are to be completed until well after July 2011. “[R]equests for $1.3 billion in additional fiscal 2011 funds for multiyear construction of military facilities in Afghanistan are pending before Congress.”   And fear not, there are no indications that the fast-food joints at Kandahar are going anywhere.

3. The U.S. military has more generals and admirals than:

a. Al-Qaeda members in Yemen.

b. Al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan.

c. Al-Qaeda members in Pakistan.

d. Al-Qaeda members in all three countries.

Correct answer: a, b, c, and d.  According to CIA Director Leon Panetta, there are 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, possibly less.  Best estimates suggest that there are perhaps “several hundred” al-Qaeda members in poverty-stricken, desertifying, strife-torn Yemen.  There are also an estimated “several hundred” members and leaders of the original al-Qaeda in the Pakistani borderlands.  The high-end total for al-Qaeda members in the three countries, then, would be 800, though the actual figure could be significantly smaller. According to Ginger Thompson and Thom Shanker of the New York Times, the U.S. military has 963 generals and admirals, approximately 100 more than on September 11, 2001.  (The average salary for a general, by the way, is $180,000, which means that the cost of these “stars,” not including pensions, health-care plans, and perks, is approximately $170 million a year.)  The U.S. military has 40 four-star generals and admirals at the moment, which may represent more star-power than there are al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has suggested that, as a belt-tightening measure, he might cut the top-heavy U.S. military by 50 positions — that is, by half the increase since 9/11.

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