The Department of Defense continually invents national security threats to protect its budget.
If all other things fail, the department can be expected to demand funds to fight unknown unknowns to keep military spending from falling — for example, an attack by quarks or anti-quarks.
What is stunning is not to witness this organizational imperative, but to see it succeed in the face of the obvious.
In 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It had been an existential threat throughout the Cold War — including the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviet military budget was enormous. The Red Army was composed of 4 million to 5 million soldiers. The Soviet Navy sported submarines and aircraft carriers. The Soviet Air Force included 145 bombers with intercontinental range. Our prime adversary possessed 40,000 nuclear warheads, and delivery vehicles including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Defense Department’s budget when the Cold War ended approximated $500 billion in 2011 U.S. dollars.
But the promised “peace dividend” was transient and tiny. Indeed, at present, the department’s budget in 2011 U.S. dollars exceeds $600 billion far greater than when the Soviet Union threatened our sovereignty.
The DOD budget is staggering considering the puny size of our “hot war” enemies: al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State. None has an air force. None has a navy. None has satellites. None has nuclear weapons. None has an industrial base. None has the power to tax or to conscript. Their members are comparatively untrained compared with the Red Army, and their conventional arms are less advanced.
So what explains the huge discrepancy between the Defense budget and genuine national security threats?
A longstanding invention has been oil. For 40 years, national security officials and experts have insisted that we must fight wars or project the military globally to assure access to oil. Then-President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 State of the Union message bugled: “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region [containing more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil] will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
An outside force made the attempt. But it was us by our invasion of Iraq in 2003. “Of course it’s about oil; we can’t really deny that,” said Gen. John Abizaid, former head of U.S. Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq, in 2007. Then-Sen. and later Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel echoed in 2007: “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are.” Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan confirmed in his memoir: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”
But access to oil has never been a national security threat. Even archenemy Hugo Chavez was eager to sell us every drop of oil in Venezuela. And if he wasn’t eager to sell, bribery would work on his subordinates at much less cost than projecting military force. And if bribery didn’t work, we could have purchased oil through middleman or straw buyers at far less cost then war. These easy methods of evasion explain the stupendous failure of the Arab oil embargo on the United States for supporting Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
In any event, today’s vertical plunge in oil prices coupled with soaring oil shale production and reserves has removed any plausibility from the Defense Department’s claim that access to petroleum from abroad is an urgent or priority military mission.
But be prepared.
The department’s intelligence experts will predictably forecast a world shortage of oil and climbing prices to justify the continued policing of every major oil route by land or by sea.
The department will also exaggerate the threat from China to keep its budget bloated. China has not won a foreign war in centuries. It was last defeated by tiny Vietnam in 1979. It is wracked by internal strife and monumental corruption. But facts count for little or nothing when the Defense budget is at issue.
To borrow from Othello, trifles light as air are to advocates of empire “confirmations strong as proofs of holy writ.”
For more information about Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.