Oh, the nostalgia of it all! As Nick Turse reminds us in his book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, when the media went after the Pentagon in the 1980s for outrageous spending, at stake was “a $7,600 coffee pot, $9,600 Allen wrenches, and -- the most famous pork barrel item of them all -- those $640 toilet seats.” Same in the 1990s with the $2,187 the Department of Defense doled out for a C-17 door hinge otherwise purchasable for $31, the $5.41 screw thread inserts worth 29 cents, and the $75.60 screw sets priced in the ordinary world at 57 cents.
Weren’t those the good old days? Now, few take out after the DoD for such minor peccadillos, not when a $75.60 screw set looks like a bargain-basement deal compared to a Pentagon that has already invested $20 billion in training the Afghan military and police and is prepared to pay $11.6 billion this year and possibly $12.8 billion in 2012 for more of the same; or to an intelligence outfit, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that doesn’t hesitate to sink $1.8 billion into an all-new headquarters complex in Virginia for its 16,000 employees and its estimated black budget of $5 billion; or to the close to $200 million that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has, according to a McClatchy News investigation, sunk into construction projects in Afghanistan that “have failed, face serious delays, or resulted in subpar work”; or to a Department of Homeland Security that thought it a brilliant idea to fund an “emergency operations center” in Poynette, Wisconsin (population 2,266) to the tune of $1 million; or to General David Petraeus who, in 2008 as Iraq War commander, invested $1 million in turning a dried-up lake in Baghdad into an Iraqi water park to win a few extra hearts and minds. (Within two years, thanks in part to neighborhood power cuts, the lake had dried up again and the park was a desolate wreck.)
Where, in fact, are those Allen wrenches now that we need them, now that Congress has insisted that an alternate second engine (being built by Lockheed Martin) should be kept in production for the staggeringly costly, ever-delayed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which already has an engine (being built by Pratt & Whitney)? Even the Pentagon doesn’t want that second multi-billion dollar engine built, the White House has denounced it, but Lockheed is still being paid. All of this, and so much more, should be shocking waste at a moment when Camden, New Jersey, the nation’s “second most dangerous” city, has just laid off nearly half its police force and almost a third of its firefighters. But few here even blink.
Sacred cow? Somehow it seems like the perfect term for the U.S. national security budget. Let Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of the must-read bestseller, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, explain just how we landed in this hole and just why we’re not likely to get out of it.
Read Andrew Bacevich’s
“Cow Most Sacred” at