Trump’s scorched-earth budget: $1.7 trillion in cuts to vital social programs

By Kate Randall
24 May 2017

On Tuesday, the White House unveiled a $4.1 trillion fiscal 2018 budget that proposes to take the ax to social programs that protect the health and welfare of millions of American workers.

The budget amounts to a scorched-earth attack on all aspects of social life. It would claw back social gains made by workers over the past century and slash funds to programs that raised millions out of poverty, particularly since the 1960s.

The proposal is not simply the brainchild of the fascistic-minded billionaire who occupies the White House or the criminal oligarchy he represents. It is the culmination of decades of attacks on social conditions and programs by both big-business parties.

While the Democrats have aimed their fire at the president from the right, pursuing their campaign, along with the “liberal” media, to escalate the US military confrontation with Russia, the Trump administration is forging full steam ahead to advance its ultra-reactionary domestic agenda.

After feigning outrage at the budget’s proposed cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy, the Democrats will eventually fall into line and work with the president to come up with a dirty compromise. The end result will be a budget that makes the most sweeping attacks on core social programs in US history.

The budget, titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” is a 52-page declaration of war against the working class. The document spells out $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.

It takes as its jumping-off point an attack on Medicaid that would eviscerate the health insurance program for the poor. It then moves on to gut food stamps, welfare and Social Security disability benefits.

An assault on immigrant rights and a parallel buildup of forces to police the border is next on the agenda. The military would receive a 10 percent boost in funding, including many projects already planned by the Obama administration.

Federal workers’ jobs and benefits are targeted. The proposed budget also includes hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to scientific research, environmental protection and the arts. No area of social life is to be left unscathed.

Social programs

Medicaid: The centerpiece of the budget is an $800 billion cut over the next decade to Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, jointly administered by the federal government and the states, which presently covers more than 74 million Americans.

Taking its cue from the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed May 4, the Trump budget would put an end to Medicaid as a guaranteed benefit based on need, replacing it with per capita funding or block grants to the states.

As part of its effort to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the AHCA would also end the expansion of Medicaid benefits to those with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, resulting in 10 million beneficiaries being booted off the rolls.

The budget proposal notes: “States will have more flexibility to control costs and design individual, State-based solutions to provide better care to Medicaid beneficiaries.” These are code words for the states to institute work requirements, introduce or raise premiums and co-pays, cut benefits or throw enrollees off the program altogether.

Food stamps: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, would be slashed by $193 billion over a decade, a 25 percent reduction. The budget calls for “a series of reforms to SNAP that close eligibility loopholes, target benefits to the neediest households, and require able-bodied adults to work.” The program currently serves 44 million people.

Social Security: The president who vowed not to touch Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security is also proposing an attack on Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, which provides cash benefits to the poor and disabled.

The proposal bemoans the fact that people with disabilities currently have low rates of labor force participation. The budget aims to save $72 billion over 10 years, undoubtedly resulting in large numbers people with disabilities being struck from the rolls with no social safety net.

Welfare: Welfare benefits, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) since the Clinton administration’s “reform” of welfare in the 1990s, will be slashed by a staggering $272 billion over a decade, again by reducing federal funds and shifting responsibility to the states, which will institute work requirements and other restrictions to reduce benefits and remove people from the rolls.

Federal workers: The budget would cut $63 billion by increasing federal employees’ payments to their defined benefit Federal Employee Retirement System, as well as eliminating cost-of-living adjustments for existing and future retirees. There are also plans to privatize the air traffic control system, saving $70 billion.

Immigrant rights: The budget proposes to implement a “merit based” immigration system, reducing the number of immigrants with lower levels of education. The proposal notes that in 2012, “76 percent of households headed by an immigrant without a high school education used at least one major welfare program, compared to 26 percent for households headed by an immigrant with at least a bachelor’s degree.”

In an effort to keep out less educated immigrants portrayed as a drag on social spending dollars, the budget includes $44.1 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and $17.7 billion for the Department of Justice for “law enforcement, public safety and immigration enforcement programs and activities.”

The president’s plan calls for hiring 500 new Border Patrol Agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement law enforcement personnel in 2018. The budget proposes an additional $1.5 billion above 2017 levels for “expanded detention, transportation and removal of illegal immigrants.”

The budget also calls for investing $2.6 billion to plan, design and construct a physical wall along the Mexican-US border to keep out immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in Latin America, a cost that the president claimed during his campaign would be paid by Mexico.

Science and the environment: Massive cuts in spending on scientific research, medical research and disease prevention are in the 2018 budget request, including but not limited to:

• National Cancer Institute: $1 billion cut
• National Heart, Lung and Blood Institution: $575 million cut
• National Institute of Allergy and infectious Diseases: $838 million cut
• National Institutes of Health: budget cut from $31.8 billion to $26 billion
• National Science Foundation: $776 million cut.

Spending on the Arts: The Trump budget proposes to eliminate federal funding for the following:

• The Corporation for Public Broadcasting
• The Institute of Museum and Library Services
• National Endowment for the Arts (begin shutting down in 2018)
• National Endowment for the Humanities (begin shutting down in 2018).

Military: The budget includes $639 billion of discretionary budget authority for the Department of Defense, a $52 billion increase above the 2017 continuing resolution level. The proposal stresses that this spending is to be “fully offset by targeted reductions elsewhere”—i.e., through the draconian social spending cuts detailed above.

Tax cuts: The budget outlines a number of tax breaks, which will overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. These include repealing the 3.8 percent Obamacare surcharge on capital gains and dividends and abolishing the estate tax (the “death tax,” according to Republican jargon).

The president’s proposal also points to the “anticipated economic gains that will result from the President’s fiscal, economic, and regulatory policies,” including tax cuts, which it claims will reduce the deficit by $5.6 trillion over a decade compared to the current fiscal path.

The budget assumes that economic growth will reach 3 percent by 2021 to help balance the budget by 2021. This rosy prediction is belied by numerous sources, including the Congressional Budget Office, which projects 1.9 percent annual growth, and the Federal Reserve, which projects a 1.8 percent growth rate.

Taken together, the spending cuts proposed in Trump’s “American Greatness” budget proposal constitute the wish list of a ruling oligarchy, which is dispensing with the idea that a civilized society has a responsibility to provide its citizens with basic social necessities.

WSWS 

Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?

The political noose is tightening around Trump’s neck, and he’s got only one way out: war. The U.S. involvement in the Syrian war is accelerating as Trump’s talons dig deeper into the conflict.  If he successfully clutches his prey he stands a chance of clinging to the presidency.

The Democrats, now circling a wounded Trump, will happily feast instead on a rotting Syria: the only thing that can keep the Democrats from destroying Trump is if Trump destroys Syria.

Trump’s strategy is based on how Democrats reacted after his first attack on the Syrian government on April 6th: they paused their toothless “resistance” to celebrate his bombing. Trump, at his most dangerous, exposed the Democrats at their weakest.

Now Trump has struck the Syrian government again: on May 18th U.S. fighter jets attacked the Syrian military in Eastern Syria, from a new U.S. military base functioning inside Syrian territory controlled by the Syrian Kurds, where there are at least 1,000 U.S. active troops.

Although the U.S. media underplayed Trump’s recent attack —— or ignored it completely — legendary U.K. Middle East journalist Robert Fisk explained the significance:

“…what was described by the Americans as a minor action was part of a far more important struggle between the US and the Syrian regime for control of the south-eastern frontier of Syria…”

Yes, the U.S. is already at war with the Syrian government for control of Syrian territory. The U.S. war on ISIS in Syria was never about ISIS, but about gaining a foothold directly inside Syria. Many pundits dismissed Trump’s initial attack on the Syrian government as “symbolic,” when in fact it began a new war. The New York Times confirms the motive of Trump’s war:

“Two competing coalitions that aim to defeat the Islamic State — one [Kurdish and U.S. fighters] backed by American air power, the other [the Syrian government] by Russian warplanes — are racing to the same goal.”

What is this goal?

“…[there is an] urgency among the competing coalitions fighting the Islamic State to be the first in southeast Syria to defeat the group [ISIS] and to occupy the power vacuum that its defeat would leave….Eastern Syria and the area around Deir al-Zour are mostly unpopulated desert, but they have Syria’s modest oil reserves…The area is strategically important to the United States, which wants to stabilize Iraq where it has a long-term military and political investment, and to Russia, which wants to strengthen the Syrian government’s control of as much territory as possible.”

In summary: the U.S. military wants to “occupy” the “power vacuum” left by ISIS, because Syrian territory is “strategically important” to the United States.

The war isn’t about ISIS because the U.S. military isn’t needed to defeat ISIS in Syria, since the group was doomed the day that Turkey decided to close ranks against them — by sealing their border with Syria — instead of openly supporting them as they had for several years.

Consequently, the Syrian government — with Russian and Iranian support — has no problem mopping up ISIS in Syria, and they’re racing to do it first before the U.S.-Kurdish alliance claims the territory for itself.

Establishment Democrats are cheer-leading Trump’s war goals in private, which is why they’re not denouncing them in public.  The Democrat-friendly New York Times published a revealing op-ed entitled “A Trump Doctrine for the Middle East?” In it the writer applauds Trump’s war aims:

“Despite the controversies at home, Mr. Trump may come away with a legacy-cementing achievement: a Trump Doctrine for the Middle East…it is false that American ‘soft power’ is the key to stabilizing the [middle east] region. Our ideals, such as promoting democracy, will work to our advantage only if we first restore order — a project that rests on American hard power [military intervention]. What’s more, the use of force is not inherently counterproductive…”

The article explains that Obama’s “soft power” (the Syrian proxy war) failed and that Trump aims to “restore order” with “hard power” (direct military intervention). As Trump’s bombs fall heavier Democrats will scramble to support a wider war that, crazily, increasingly threatens direct confrontation with Russia.  The Russian government loudly denounced Trump’s most recent bombing against the Syrian government, and sent more Russian troops to the region in response.

The U.S. war against ISIS in Syria has always been a pretext to undermine the Syrian and Iranian governments. Robert Fisk explains:

“Cutting Syria off from Iraq – and thus from Iran – appears to be a far more immediate operational aim of US forces in Syria than the elimination of the [ISIS] Sunni ‘Caliphate’ cult that Washington claims to be its principal enemy in the Middle East.”

How might this “race to defeat ISIS” end? Trump’s ominous trip to Saudi Arabia gives some insight into the Trump Doctrine. Trump made an enormous arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth $350 billion over 10 years, and wants the Saudis to use the money to co-lead an “Arab NATO” [military alliance]. Who will this alliance be aimed against? The Trump administration made it known that Iran was the main target, and thus Syria is the appetizer.

In a separate article Robert Fisk discussed Trump’s Saudi visit:

“The aim, however, is simple: to prepare the Sunni Muslims [the gulf monarchy U.S. allies and others] of the Middle East for war against the Shia Muslims [Iran, Syria, Hezbollah]. With help from Israel, of course.”

This is the real reason Trump prioritized Saudi Arabia as the always-important first stop on his initial trip abroad: Trump is clearly stating his commitment to the totalitarian monarchies, who main priorities are the destruction of its regional enemies:  Yemen, Syria, and Iran.

This “Arab NATO” is meant to act as a U.S. puppet army in the way that ‘official’ NATO does in Europe,  and the African Union’s “Standby Force” does in Africa, where U.S. allies share the responsibility of repressing neighbor states who defy U.S. interests, i.e. they refuse to abandon their political-economic self determination.

A U.S.-led “Arab NATO” wasn’t previously impossible because the U.S. is universally hated across the Middle East, for its longstanding alliance with Israel combined with its recent annihilation of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. The openness in which the Gulf monarchies are trying to form this alliance shows just how distanced from and hated by their own residents, who are prevented from expressing their hatred through elections or public protest.

The Trump-led alliance is especially foreboding because U.S. allies in the region feel deeply betrayed by Obama’s Middle East approach; they want concrete assurances the betrayal won’t be repeated, since U.S. allies risked a lot in regime change in Syria after Obama ensured them that regime change would be a safe bet.  Trump’s visit means, in practice, a fresh commitment to Assad’s downfall and renewed hostilities with Iran, nuclear deal be damned.

Trump’s current war strategy in Syria is similar to President Bush Sr.’s experiment in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War: he used a no-fly zone in Kurdish-majority northern Iraq that de-facto partitioned the country, allowing the Kurds to take power where they remain in power today, as an important U.S. puppet. The partitioning of Iraq helped weaken the country prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The Syrian Kurds are now being armed with U.S. weaponry and given similar promises as their Iraqi counterparts received, but the Syrian Kurds are rightfully nervous about their new alliance.

In their desperate fight against ISIS the Kurds have accepted an alliance with the world’s military superpower: the Kurdish homeland is infested with rats and they invited a tiger to deal with the problem; but once the rats are dead the tiger will stay hungry.  The Kurds also live next to another starving Tiger, the Turkish Government.

The history of the Kurds is one of constant betrayals by larger powers. And now they are pleading on the pages of The New York Times not to be betrayed again, since they see the writing on the wall:

“…[President Trump] give us your word that even after Raqqa’s liberation [in Syria] you will prevent attempts by Turkey to destroy what we’ve built here.”

Of course Trump’s “word” is meaningless (and even this he won’t give publicly). The Kurds are being used as battlefield pawns in a greater game. As Trump aligns with the Kurds in Syria, he simultaneously calls the Turkish Kurds “terrorists,” even though the Turkish and Syrian Kurds are closely aligned ideologically and militarily.

Like all “boots on the ground,” the Kurds are most useful to the U.S. as cannon fodder, while more powerful people profit from the fighting. The political power of the Kurds pales in comparison to their enemy Turkey, whose government has long-term interests (the destruction of the Kurds) that will outlast the short-term military objectives Trump.

The above contradictions are sharpening across the Middle East, nearing the point of yet another explosion. The Trump Doctrine is a flamethrower at a gas station that can instantly spark an even greater conflagration, beyond the horrors we’ve already witnessed across the Middle East. If the Trump resistance movement in the United States doesn’t quickly prioritize a real anti war strategy, there will be little resistance left to speak of as we descend into war.

Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty

Robert Reich:

Trump’s actions violate every ideal this nation has ever cherished — and we have a moral responsibility to stop it

Robert Reich: Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty
(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)
This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.

The theme that unites all of President Donald Trump’s initiatives so far is their unnecessary cruelty.

1. His new budget comes down especially hard on the poor by imposing unprecedented cuts in low-income housing, job training, food assistance, legal services, help to distressed rural communities, nutrition for new mothers and their infants, funds to keep poor families warm and even Meals on Wheels.

These cuts come at a time when more American families are in poverty than ever before, including one in five children.

Why is Trump doing this? To pay for the biggest hike in military spending since the 1980s. Yet the United States already spends more on its military than the next seven biggest military budgets combined.

2. His plan to repeal and “replace” the Affordable Care Act will cause 14 million Americans to lose their health insurance next year, and 24 million to lose it by 2026.

Why is Trump doing this? To bestow $600 billion in tax breaks over the decade to wealthy Americans. This windfall comes at a time when the rich have accumulated more wealth than at any time in the nation’s history.

The plan reduces the federal budget deficit by only $337 billion over the next ten years — a small fraction of the national debt, in exchange for an enormous amount of human hardship.

3. His ban on Syrian refugees and reduction by half in the total number of refugees admitted to the United States comes just when the world is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Why is Trump doing this? The ban does little or nothing to protect Americans from terrorism. No terrorist act in the United States has been perpetrated by a Syrian or by anyone from the six nations whose citizens are now banned from traveling to the United States. You have higher odds of being struck by lightening than dying from an immigrant terrorist attack.

4. His dragnet roundup of undocumented immigrants is helter skelter and includes people who have been productive members of our society for decades, as well as young people who have been here since they were toddlers.

Why is Trump doing this? He has no compelling justification. Unemployment is down, crime is down, and we have fewer undocumented workers in the United States today than we did five years ago.

Trump is embarking on an orgy of cruelty for absolutely no reason. This is morally repugnant. It violates every ideal this nation has ever cherished. We have a moral responsibility to stop it.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie “Inequality for All” is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war?

It could happen sooner than we think

Our president wants to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and “take the oil”; his key adviser longs for World War III

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war? It could happen sooner than we think
(Credit: Getty/ Chip Somodevilla/everlite/Salon)

On Wednesday NBC News released a poll reporting that 66 percent of Americans surveyed were worried that the United States will become involved in another war. One might think that’s surprising since President Donald Trump has famously been portrayed as an old-school isolationist, an image mostly based upon his lies about not supporting the Iraq War and his adoption of the pre-World War II isolationist slogan “America First.”

As I laid out for Salon a few weeks ago, that assumption is wrong. Trump is anything but an isolationist. He’s not much on alliances, preferring to strong-arm other nations into supporting the U.S. “for their own good.” But if they are willing to cough up some protection money, he might agree to fulfill our treaty obligations. His adoption of the phrase “America First” reflects his belief that the U.S. must be No. 1, not that it should withdraw from the world.

In other words, while Trump has no interest in perpetuating the global security system under which the world has lived since the dawn of the nuclear age, that’s not because he believes it hasn’t worked. He doesn’t know what it does, how it came to be or why it exists. He simply believes other countries are failing to pay proper respect and he is aiming to make sure they understand that America isn’t just great again; it’s the greatest.

This has nothing to do with American exceptionalism. Trump is happy to admit that American pretenses to moral leadership are hypocritical, and he’s openly contemptuous of anyone who believes that the U.S. should try harder to live up to its ideals. If you want to understand what Trump believes, “to the victor goes the spoils” pretty much covers it. He means it in terms of his family, which continues to merge the presidency into its company brand all over the world, and he means it in terms of the United States, believing that this is the richest and most powerful nation on Earth and we can take whatever we want.

One of his goals is to “defeat ISIS.” And when he says defeat, he means to do whatever it takes to ensure it does not exist anymore. That does seem like a nice idea. After all, ISIS is an antediluvian, authoritarian death cult and the world would be better off without it. The question, of course, has always been how to accomplish such a thing.

Thoughtful people rationally understand that “defeating” radical extremism of any kind isn’t a matter of killing all the people. Indeed, the more extremists you kill, the more extremists you tend to create. But while Trump simply sees the world by playground rules, his consigliere Steve Bannon sees the threat of ISIS as a preordained apocalyptic confrontation between Western countries and the Muslim world. In a notorious speech he gave at the Vatican in 2014, Bannon put it this way:

We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict . . . to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

He has called Trump his “blunt instrument” to bring about this global conflagration. Bannon is now a member of the National Security Council and is said to be running a parallel national security agency called the Strategic Initiatives Group, which he has stacked with kooks who share his views. He is a powerful influence.

Trump has promised to take the gloves off, and I think we all know exactly what he meant by that. He said it many times during the campaign: He favors torture. And he reiterated it just last month in his interview with ABC’s David Muir saying, “When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

And Trump went on to grudgingly promise that he would listen to the secretary of defense and hold back on torture if that was his recommendation. But Trump also claimed that he’s talked to people at the highest levels of the intelligence community who told him that torture works like a charm. So we will have to see if the president is really able to restrain himself. (His CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, has been all for it in the past. Maybe they’ll simply decide to leave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis out of the loop.)

But what about Trump’s promises to “bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take the oil?” What about Bannon’s desire to bring on WorldWar III? Will that really happen? It might, and sooner than we think.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday:

More American troops may be needed in Syria to speed the campaign against the Islamic State, the top United States commander for the Middle East said on Wednesday.

“I am very concerned about maintaining momentum,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, told reporters accompanying him on a trip to the region.

“It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves,” he added. “That’s an option.”

Despite his unfounded reputation for isolationism, it’s obvious that Trump is itching for a war. Responding to a debate question about whether he would follow a military commander’s advice to put troops on the ground, Trump said, “We really have no choice; we have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them.” When asked how many troops he thought might be needed, he replied that the number he had heard was 20,000 to 30,000.

Nobody thought much of Trump’s bluster at the time. But now he’s in the White House with an apocalyptic crackpot whispering in his ear and generals on the ground talking about taking on “a larger burden.” Whether his administration’s military advisers, Defense Secretary Mattis and his newly installed national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, are as eager for this battle remains to be seen. But it appears that the two-thirds of Americans who are worried that we’ll be dragged into another war are anxious for good reason.

 

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

The dismal U.S. military record: Killing people, breaking things and America’s winless wars

“We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost”

Killing people, breaking things and America's winless wars: Details of the dismal U.S. military record
Nellis Air Force Base military police block the road at the intersection of North Las Vegas Boulevard and North Hollywood Boulevard after an aircraft crash near the area on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Las Vegas. An official says a veteran pilot had just completed an exercise with a military weapons school at an Air Force base near Las Vegas when he ejected as the plane went down. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)(Credit: AP)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Winning: it’s written into the DNA of the U.S.A. After all, what’s more American than football legend Vince Lombardi’s famous (if purloinedmaxim: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”?

Americans expect to be number one. First Lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the “greatest country on Earth.” (Take that, world public opinion, and your choice of Germany!) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, touting America as “the greatest country that has ever been created.” Her rival, Donald Trump, who for political gain badmouths the country that made him rich and famous, does so in the hope of returning America to supposedly halcyon days of unparalleled greatness. He’s predicted that his presidency might lead to an actual winning overload. “We’re going to win so much,” he told supporters. “You’re going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President … don’t win so much’ … And I’m going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again … We’re gonna keep winning.’”

As Trump well knows, Americans take winning very seriously. Look no further than the U.S. gold medal count at the recent Rio Olympics: 46. The next highest total? Great Britain’s 27, almost 20 fewer than those of the country whose upstart rebels bested them in the eighteenth century, the nation’s ur-victory. The young United States then beat back the Brits in the early 1800s, and twice bailed them out in victorious world wars during the twentieth century.

In the intervening years, the United States built up a gaudy military record — slaughtering native tribes, punishing Mexico, pummeling Spain — but the best was yet to come. “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,”boasted President Barack Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. In this he echoed his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, in May 2001, declared that “America today has the finest [military] the world has ever seen.”

In the years between those two moments of high-flown rhetoric, the U.S. military fought in nine conflicts, according to a 2015 briefing produced by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the umbrella organization for America’s most elite forces including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets. The record of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, according to SOCOM: zero wins, two losses and seven ties.

This dismal record is catalogued in a briefing slide produced by SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate last September and obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act. “A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges” — a timeline of conflicts ranked as wins, losses and ties — examines the last 100 years of America’s wars and interventions.

“Gray zone” is an increasingly popular term of the trade for operations conducted somewhere on the continuum between war and peace. “Traditional war is the paradigm,” the briefing slide asserts. “Gray zone conflict is the norm.”

While he finds a great deal to fault in SOCOM’s analysis, retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, believes its assessment of post-9/11 conflicts “is quite accurate.” Although American politicians like Hillary Clinton regularly insist that the United States possesses “the greatest military” on the planet, they avoid addressing the question of what the country’s armed interventions have actually accomplished when it comes to policy goals — the true measure of success in war. “We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost,” Bacevich says. “That’s simply a fact.”

The greatest journeyman military in history?

Twelve wins and nine losses. In baseball, it’s the annual record of a journeyman pitcher like Bill Caudill of the Seattle Mariners in 1982, Dave LaPoint of the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1983, or Norm Charlton of the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, to mention just three examples. It’s certainly not the record of an ace.

Likewise, 12 victories and nine losses is a far-from-dazzling stat when it comes to warfare, especially for a nation that prides itself on its martial prowess. But that was the SOCOM Intelligence Directorate’s assessment of the last century of American war: 12 and nine with a mind-boggling 43 “ties.”

Among those 64 conflicts, the command counts just five full-fledged wars in which the United States has come up with three wins (World War I, World War II and Desert Storm), one loss (Vietnam) and one tie (Korea). In the gray zone — what SOCOM calls “the norm” when it comes to conflict — the record is far bleaker, the barest of winning percentages at nine victories, eight losses and 42 draws.

“If you accept the terms of analysis, that things can be reduced to win, loss and tie, then this record is not very good,” Bacevich says. “While there aren’t many losses — according to how they code — there’s a hell of a lot of ties, which would beg the question of why, based on these criteria, U.S. policy has seemingly been so ineffective.”

The assessments of, and in some instances the very inclusion of, numerous operations, missions and interventions by SOCOM are dubious. Bacevich, for example, questions its decision to include pre-World War II U.S. military missions in China (a draw according to the command). “I don’t know on what basis one would say ‘China, 1912 to 1941’ qualifies as a tie,” he adds, noting on the other hand that a good case could be made for classifying two of SOCOM’S gray zone “ties” — in Haiti and Nicaragua — during the same era as wins instead of draws based on the achievement of policy aims alone.

It’s even harder to imagine why, for example, limited assistance to Chad in its conflict with Libya and indigenous rebels in 1983 or military assistance in evacuating U.S. personnel from Albania in 1997 should make the list. Meanwhile, America’s so-calledlongest war, in Afghanistan, inexplicably ends in 2014 on SOCOM’S timeline. (That was, of course, the year that the Obama administration formally ended the “combat mission” in that country, but it would assuredly be news to the 8,400 troops, including special operators, still conducting missions there today.) Beyond that, for reasons unexplained, SOCOM doesn’t even classify Afghanistan as a “war.” Instead, it’s considered one of 59 gray-zone challenges, on a par with the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift or small-scale deployments to the restive Congo in the 1960s. No less bizarre, the command categorizes America’s 2003-2011 occupation of Iraq in a similar fashion. “It deserves to be in the same category as Korea and Vietnam,” says Bacevich, the author of “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.”

Killing people and breaking things

Can the post-9/11 U.S. military simultaneously be the finest fighting force in history and unable to win wars or quasi-wars? It may depend on our understanding of what exactly the Department of Defense and its military services are meant to do.

While the 1789 act that established its precursor, the Department of War, is sparse on details about its raison d’être, the very name suggests its purpose — presumably preparing for, fighting and winning wars. The 1947 legislation creating its successor, the “National Military Establishment” was similarly light on specifics concerning the ultimate aims of the organization, as were the amendments of 1949 that recast it as the Department of Defense (DoD).

During a Republican primary debate earlier this year, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee offered his own definition. He asserted that the “purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” Some in the armed forces took umbrage at that, though the military has, in fact, done both to great effect in a great many places for a very long time. For its part, the DoD sees its purpose quite differently: “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.”

If, in SOCOM’s accounting, the United States has engaged in relatively few actual wars, don’t credit “deterrence.” Instead, the command has done its best to simply redefine war out of existence, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favor of those “gray zone challenges.” If one accepts that quasi-wars are actually war, then the Defense Department has done little to deter conflict. The United States has, in fact, been involved in some kind of military action — by SOCOM’s definition — in every year since 1980.

Beyond its single sentence mission statement, a DoD directive delineating the “functions of the Department of Defense and its major components” provides slightly more details. The DoD, it states, “shall maintain and use armed forces to:

a. Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
b. Ensure, by timely and effective military action, the security of the United States, its possessions and areas vital to its interest.
c. Uphold and advance the national policies and interests of the United States.”

Since the Department of Defense came into existence, the United States has — as the SOCOM briefing slide notes  — carried out deployments, interventions and other undertakings in Lebanon (1958), Congo (1964 and 1967), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1975), Iran (1980), El Salvador (1980-1992), Grenada (1983), Chad (1983), Libya (1986), the Persian Gulf (1987-1988), Honduras (1988), Panama (1989), Somalia (1992-1995), Haiti (1994-1995) and Albania (1997), among other countries.

You may have no memory of some (perhaps many) of these interventions, no less a sense of why they occurred or their results — and that might be the most salient take-away from SOCOM’s list. So many of these conflicts have, by now, disappeared into the gray zone of American memory.

Were these operations targeting enemies which actually posed a threat to the U.S. Constitution? Did ceaseless operations across the globe actually ensure the safety and security of the United States? Did they truly advance U.S. policy interests and if so, how?

From the above list, according to SOCOM, only El Salvador, Grenada, Libya and Panama were “wins,” but what, exactly, did America win? Did any of these quasi-wars fully meet the Defense Department’s own criteria? What about the Korean War (tie), the Bay of Pigs (loss), the Vietnam War (loss) or the not-so-secret “secret war” in Laos (loss)? And have any of SOCOM’s eight losses or ties in the post-9/11 era accomplished the Defense Department’s stated mission?

“I have killed people and broken things in war, but, as a military officer, that was never the end. There was a purpose, a reason, a goal,” wrote Major Matt Cavanaugh, a U.S. Army strategist, in response to Huckabee’s comment. He then drew attention to the fact that “Joint Publication 1: Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States” asserts that “military power is integrated with other instruments of national power to advance and defend U.S. values, interests and objectives.”

Did the wars in Vietnam or Laos defend those same values? What about the war waged in Iraq by the “finest fighting force” in world history?

In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out U.S aims for that conflict. “Our goal is to defend the American people, and to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and to liberate the Iraqi people,” he said, before offering even more specific objectives, such as having U.S. troops “search for, capture [and] drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq.” Of course, the invasion and occupation of Iraq would turn that country into a terrorist magnet, leading to theultimate safe harbor; a terror caliphate extending over swaths of that country and neighboring Syria. The elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would prove impossible for obvious reasons. The “liberation” of its people would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands; the forced displacement of millions; and a country divided along sectarian lines, where up to 50 percent of its 33 million inhabitants may suffer from the effects of trauma brought on by the last few decades of war. And what about the defense of the American people? They certainly don’t feel defended. According to recent polling, more Americans fear terrorism today than just after 9/11. And the particular threat Americans fear most? The terror group born and bredin America’s Iraqi prison camps: ISIS.

This record seems to matter little to the presidential candidate who, as a senator, voted for the invasion of Iraq. Regarding that war and other military missions, Hillary Clinton, as Bacevich notes, continues to avoid asking the most obvious question: “Is the use of the American military conclusively, and at reasonable costs, achieving our political objectives?”

Trump’s perspective seems to better fit SOCOM’s assessment when it comes to America’s warfighting prowess in these years. “We don’t win. We can’t beat ISIS. Can you imagine General Douglas MacArthur or General Patton? Can [you] imagine they are spinning in their grave right now when they see the way we fight,” he recentlytold FOX News’s Bill O’Reilly, invoking the names of those military luminaries who both served in a “draw” in Mexico in the 1910s and U.S. victories in World Wars I and II, and in the case of MacArthur a stalemate in Korea as well.

Neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns responded to TomDispatch’s requests for comment. SOCOM similarly failed to respond before publication to questions about the conclusions to be drawn from its timeline, but its figures alone — especially regarding post-9/11 conflicts — speak volumes.

“In order to evaluate our recent military history and the gap between the rhetoric and the results,” says Bacevich, “the angle of analysis must be one that acknowledges our capacity to break things and kill people, indeed that acknowledges that U.S. forces have performed brilliantly at breaking things and killing people, whether it be breaking a building — by putting a precision missile through the window — or breaking countries by invading them and producing chaos as a consequence.”

SOCOM’s briefing slide seems to recognize this fact. The United States has carried out a century of conflict, killing people from Nicaragua and Haiti to Germany and Japan; battering countries from the Koreas and Vietnams to Iraq and Afghanistan; fighting on a constant basis since 1980. All that death and devastation, however, led to few victories. Worse yet for the armed forces, the win-loss record of this highly professionalized, technologically sophisticated and exceptionally well-funded military has, since assuming the mantle of the finest fighting force in the history of the world, plummeted precipitously, as SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate points out.

An American century of carnage and combat has yielded many lessons learned, but not, it seems, the most important one when it comes to military conflict. “We can kill people, we can break things,” Bacevich observes, “but we don’t accomplish our political goals.”

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Timesthe Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author/editor of several books, including the newly published “Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, War and Survival in South Sudan.”

Obama budget proposes increases in military, security spending

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By Patrick Martin
10 February 2016

The Obama administration sent its final annual budget proposal to Congress Tuesday, beginning a process that is entirely overshadowed by the ongoing escalation of US military operations around the world.

The bulk of the $4.1 trillion budget is consumed by ongoing mandatory expenditures like Social Security, Medicare and interest on the federal debt, but fully half of the $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending goes to the Pentagon and related military and intelligence operations.

Overall spending would rise 4.9 percent, largely because of automatic increases in the mandatory programs. Discretionary spending, under terms of a bipartisan agreement reached last fall between the White House and Congress, is to rise barely one percent.

While media coverage focused on the election-year wrangling between the Democrat in the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress, comparatively little attention was paid to the real significance of the budget, which lies in its unstinting funding of ongoing US military operations in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, the Pacific and in cyberspace.

There are several eye-popping increases for high-profile military programs:

  •  Quadrupling of funding for US military preparedness in Eastern Europe, labeled “countering Russian aggression and supporting European allies,” up from just over $1 billion to $4.3 billion;
  •  A 50 percent rise in funding for US military operations in Iraq and Syria, to fight the Islamic State group as well as undermine the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. A total of $7.5 billion is earmarked for that purpose, including $1.8 billion to pay for 45,000 GPS-guided smart bombs;
  •  An increase of 35 percent for cybersecurity, from $14 billion to a whopping $19 billion, much of which goes to the National Security Agency and Pentagon cyberwarfare programs, as well as to revamping the entire federal computer network to make it more impervious to hackers.

Overall military spending will continue to escalate, with the total proposed Pentagon budget set at $582.7 billion. Each of the three main military departments will have larger budgets than any other country on Earth will spend on war preparations: $166.9 billion for the Air Force, $148 billion for the Army and $164.9 billion for the Navy (including the Marine Corps).

In the course of the past week, the Obama administration has announced a series of concessions to demands from the Pentagon or congressional Republicans on specific weapons systems. The Air Force abandoned plans to retire the A-10 Warthog attack plane, extending it for another two years. The Pentagon will also continue buying F-18 Super Hornet jet fighters and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The State Department budget was set at $50 billion and funding for the Department of Homeland Security at just over $40 billion, while the overall spending for the intelligence apparatus is believed to be higher than either of those figures, although the number is officially classified. The State Department and DHS budgets include billions in funding for programs to block immigrants leaving Central America or arrest and deport them once they arrive in the US.

When the spending is added up for all the programs involved in military operations, intelligence, homeland security and other repressive purposes, either foreign or domestic—including funding for the FBI, Bureau of Prisons and other Justice Department programs, and grants to state and local police agencies—the total comes to at least two-thirds of all federal discretionary spending.

There is a stark contrast between the lavish spending on war and repression, and the stinginess in the face of acute human need. Humanitarian aid, largely for the refugees fleeing US wars (or US-instigated civil wars), is pegged at $6.2 billion, about one percent of the total being spent on the military. A proposed increase of $158 million for the Environmental Protection Agency, to deal with the crisis in drinking water in Flint, Michigan and other cities, will cost about as much as a single new F-35 jet fighter.

The new domestic social spending proposed by the White House is entirely cosmetic, for electoral purposes, and not taken seriously by anyone either in the Obama administration or in Congress. The Republican leadership was so openly contemptuous that they announced, for the first time since the present budget process was established in the 1970s, that the House and Senate budget committees would not even bother to take testimony from the head of the Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan.

The White House proposed nearly $1 trillion in tax increases on the wealthy to fund about an equivalent amount of new social spending on education, the environment, health care and programs for the poor, knowing full well that the Republican majorities in the House and Senate will dismiss both the new taxes and the new spending out of hand.

The sole purpose of this part of the budget is to provide some raw material for the presidential and congressional campaigns of Democratic candidates in the November elections. It is a brazen attempt to bolster illusions in the Democratic Party as a defender of the poor, the sick and the elderly against the Republicans, when the two parties actually work in tandem to serve the needs of corporate America and the super-rich.

The overall budget numbers do give a glimpse of the precarious state of American capitalism as a whole. Even assuming a 2.6 percent annual growth rate—far beyond what is likely given the ongoing financial shocks and the sharp slowdown in China and Europe—the Obama administration projects large and rising federal deficits.

The deficit for the current fiscal year, ending September 30, 2016, is projected to rise sharply from $438 billion last year to $616 billion, mainly because of tax cuts for business that were enacted as part of last December’s bipartisan deal. The federal deficit as a percentage of GDP will jump from 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent, above the 3 percent level regarded as the desired ceiling by the International Monetary Fund and debt-rating agencies.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/10/budg-f10.html

War and the destruction of social infrastructure in America

US_DeclineandFalloftheAmericanEmpire-400x256

28 January 2016

As the water crisis in Flint, Michigan continues to occupy national headlines in the United States, scientists and environmental officials have revealed a dirty secret of American life: the poisoning of drinking water with toxic chemicals is not unique to Flint, Michigan, but takes place all over the country.

Counties in Louisiana and Texas, as well as the cities of Baltimore, Maryland; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Washington D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts all reported that substantial numbers of children have been exposed to elevated lead levels, largely through municipal drinking water.

This week, the head environmental regulator in the state of Ohio called national water regulations “broken,” saying that they dramatically understate the true scale of lead poisoning in American cities. As Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards put it, “Because of the smoke-and-mirrors testing, Flint is meeting the standard even as national guardsmen walk the street.”

Many water pipes in the United States are over 100 years old, and a large number of cities still have 100 percent lead plumbing.

The reasons are not hard to find. According to the Congressional Budget Office, public capital investment in transportation and water infrastructure, already underfunded for decades, has been slashed by 23 percent since its peak in 2003.

The year 2003 is significant as it coincides with the beginning of the illegal invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration. The “war on terror” has entailed a vast expansion of the military at the same time that spending on anything not directly related to the accumulation of wealth by the financial aristocracy has suffered from continual cutbacks.

The response of the political establishment to the poisoning of tens of thousands of people in Flint and potentially millions more throughout the United States has been characterized by indifference. The politicians responsible, from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to local Democratic Party officials and the Obama administration, pull long faces, pretend to take responsibility or seek to shift blame, while doing nothing to address the issue.

Nowhere is there a single politician who has responded to the disaster by demanding what is clearly required: the immediate allocation of a relatively modest sum, $273 billion according to the Environmental Protection Agency, to replace all of the municipal lead pipes in the US. This is equivalent to the annual spending on the US Army, just one of the four branches of the US military. There is simply “no money” for such a proposal to be considered, much less approved.

While politicians pore over any allocation of resources for social spending with a fine tooth comb, almost unimaginable sums are made available to the military without a second thought. How many know that the US military is shelling out over a trillion dollars to defense contractor Lockheed Martin to fund its beleaguered F-35 program? Or that it is spending another trillion dollars to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal by making atomic bombs smaller and more maneuverable?

The US spends more on its military, as Obama boasted in his most recent State of the Union address, than the next eight countries combined. Yet more is continuously demanded.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently evaluated the Defense Department’s so-called pivot to Asia, in which military hardware has been either procured or restationed in the Western Pacific to counter the economic and military rise of China. Strikingly, the CSIS report gave the US military a failing grade. It called for the expansion and development of every aspect of US military capacity in the Pacific if it was to maintain superiority in the event of a shooting war with China.

Since the early 1990s, the US military has operated on the basis of a strategic doctrine that it will allow the existence of no other power that can challenge its military authority on even a regional level. That means that the US must be able to field such overwhelming military force that it would be able to defeat another major power, such as China, in a conventional war far away from the borders of the US.

This is a recipe for the bleeding white of American society in an insane attempt to maintain its military dominance, which can only end in catastrophe for the population of the US and the entire world.

Of course, it would be simplistic to say that war is the only cause of America’s social problems. The most conspicuous element of life in the US continues to be the vast chasm between the rich and the poor. However, the rise of war and militarism are interrelated and have a common root.

In response to the the longterm decline in the global position of American capitalism, the American ruling class responded on the one hand by promoting a wave of financial speculation, mergers and acquisitions, wage cuts, and the transfer of social wealth from the great majority of the population to its own pockets. On the other hand, it has sought to use its predominant military power to counteract the consequences of its economic decline by force.

In the insane and socially destructive priorities of the American ruling class, one sees in concentrated form the inextricable connection between war and capitalism, and at the same time the inextricable connection between the fight for all the social rights of the working class and the struggle against imperialism.

Andre Damon

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/28/pers-j28.html