Despite a humiliating withdrawal last year from Afghanistan – America’s longest war – the Pentagon is poised to receive yet another raise from lawmakers. The sticker shock comes in at a little more than $768 billion annually – that’s $50 billion more than President Biden requested and $25 billion more than the Pentagon demanded.
For too long, Washington’s most bipartisan annual event is rubber-stamping the defense budget and within it – hefty payouts to contractors who spent billions over the last two decades lobbying Congress. In what should be a worrisome sign for fiscal conservatives, good government advocates, and anti-war liberals, only a smattering of Congressional progressives proves to be the loudest opposition to the latest increase.
The U.S. needs a robust national defense; but it certainly doesn’t need such a robust Pentagon. WWII general and Cold War President Dwight Eisenhower knew this, and sounded the alarm against the dangers of an unbridled war industry before departing office. A return to true national defense also requires taking a hard look at how much taxpayers are getting for their money.
Bipartisanship in Washington is easier to find when it comes to guarding a bloated system that gives both parties talking points like “funding the troops.”
But in Afghanistan, Pentagon funding didn’t protect the troops – it just kept them in danger for two decades. And a 2020 Department of Defense financial report found the Pentagon made $5 billion in erroneous civilian payments. That’s an astounding error of almost 8%, and similar payroll and benefit payout problems persist for the troops which funding is supposed to serve.
The lack of Congressional oversight of Pentagon spending may be most evident in the billions of dollars handed over to defense contractors – some which have contracts larger than some federal agencies. Airbus, one of America’s larger recipients of military contracts and one of the more egregious examples, was recently implicated in the largest global foreign bribery resolution on record. For well over a decade, Airbus bribed officials in at least 20 countries to select their aircraft and equipment over their competitors.
The Guardian noted the severity of the corruption in 2020 when they reported that a panel of judges called the actions of the company “grave, pervasive and pernicious.”
The fines levied on Airbus are the largest ever for a bribery case, and the European company is coughing up nearly $4 billion in settlement funds to the U.S., United Kingdom, and France. Airbus faces lawsuits by investors in the U.S. and Europe for not disclosing the depth of a scandal that helped artificially maximize their earnings and inflate their stock price.
It’s dubious to ask U.S. taxpayers to fund a corporate behemoth that has a track record of working against our interests.
Similarly, Airbus’ bribery scandal – through nefariously procuring contracts – harmed American companies, and more importantly, the workers at those companies. Loss of American aircraft purchases played a significant role in decreased business and government revenue, U.S. businesses’ market share, and a reduction in American jobs. Even when punishment – which is usually lax – is doled out the loss of business through corruption can never be fully regained.
The WTO has previously dinged Airbus for improper subsidies that unfairly propped up their products over American competitors. Corporate welfare doled out to Airbus resulted in recent tariffs and trade wars between the U.S. and Europe that are proving tricky to rectify.
Albeit clumsily, the Biden administration has rightly signaled a commitment to drawing down America’s involvement in international wars. While that news is welcomed by most Americans, there is no excuse not to reprioritize funds towards a leaner and more focused national security strategy.
Former Democratic Party presidential candidate and notable anti-Vietnam war voice Eugene McCarthy offered a similar warning to Eisenhower’s: “America’s contribution to world civilization must be more than a continuous performance demonstration that we can police the planet.”
In the end, the importance of America’s national defense mission – and the burden of our obscene debt – are much too vital for the same old rubber stamp approach by Congress. Taxpayers, and the troops, deserve better.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor and a Second Amendment research fellow at the John Locke Foundation.