The Five-Sided Money Pit: Is Hagel A Hope Or GOP Blackmail To RaiseTaxes?

Writing for Wired Magazine’s “Danger Room,” Spencer Ackerman recently explained why Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel needs to deliver on his promises to reform the Pentagon:

“In March 2012, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative agency, took a look at the 96 highest-priority defense programs in the Pentagon acquisitions system. The watchdog organization found that the acquisition programs represented an estimated total cost of $1.58 trillion, and had actually ‘grown by over $74 billion or 5 percent in the past year.’ The sources of that increase were everything from changes in the per-unit costs of all the planes, guns, trucks and ships; upticks in R&D expenses; or plain ‘production inefficiencies.’… To put it in context, if all that hardware cost growth were a sovereign nation, it would spend more money on its defense sector in a year than Russia does… In Washington, the rising price of defense programs happens so routinely that it seems normal, like a natural cost of doing business, rather than an indicator of money being mismanaged.”

Ackerman was following up on his earlier report on Hagel’s speech promising reform (as well as his MSNBC roundtable discussion). But, while he expressed hope, I think Ackerman knows better than to expect Hagel to change anything. He pointed out that Hagel’s speech included

“… an olive branch to congressional hawks who don’t like Hagel. ‘If we get time and flexibility to implement savings, we could limit the impact of spending reductions on force structure and modernization while still making a significant contribution to deficit reduction,’ he said. Translated from the politician, Republicans need to raise taxes if they don’t want deeper defense cuts.”

Consider our history. The comedic stylings of Kelsey Grammer (of Frasier) and Cary Elwes (Princess Bride) were used to expose and yet sugar-coat the realities of Pentagon budgeting in The Pentagon Wars, based on the non-fiction book of the same title. I realize many of you won’t have time, but the entire movie is available on YouTube and shows that military brass was happy to spend amazing amounts of money on death traps for enlisted men in order to ensure a successful military career and a retirement working for the defense contractors they overpaid.

Then, on September 10, 2001, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added to the picture by openly admitting that the Pentagon couldn’t find $2.3 trillion (Yes: with a “t”). He promised to find it and save the Pentagon from itself. The next day that news was forgotten as the Twin Towers were destroyed.

The profligacy got worse. The documentary, Iraq For Sale focuses mainly on the incredible corruption involved in civilian contractors, but it is all part of the same problem. That full movie is also available online, if you have the time.

It is revealing that, during Ackerman’s appearance on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes, Hayes played the clip of Rumsfeld promising to reform the Pentagon’s budgeting but left out the reference to the never-found $2.3 trillion. It seems to me that even the people who say they want “reform” in the mainstream media don’t really want to acknowledge the scope of the problem or the danger it represents.

People talk about icebergs, but those enjoying their deck chairs are really incapable of believing the Titanic can ever be at risk. It is human nature and it is suicidal. No superpower, no matter how buoyant, can stay afloat with that large a five-sided hole leaking cash and corruption. Raising taxes won’t fix it either.