William D. Hartung: Crises don’t justify Pentagon spending | Opinion – Rhode Islanders speak out on issues | Providence Journal


Hawks in Congress and the think-tank world are using the current crises in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine to press for higher Pentagon spending. Their arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny.

The United States already devotes massive resources to Pentagon-related spending, both in the department’s base budget and in the related Overseas Contingency Operations account, more commonly known as the war budget.

Some analysts have suggested that the war budget for 2014 contains up to $30 billion in “slush” that has nothing to do with the conflict in Afghanistan. And at nearly $500 billion, the current Pentagon budget request is one of the highest since World War II. By contrast, recent operations in Iraq have cost $550 million — a large sum for the taxpayers who are footing the bill but well under 1 percent of the funds the Pentagon has in hand.

A second reason to resist the growing calls for higher Pentagon spending is that the most important security threats facing the United States do not lend themselves to traditional military solutions. U.S. airstrikes in Iraq may have had some short-term impact in blunting the advance of Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS). But an accelerated bombing campaign that grows to include Syria, or is accompanied by significant increases in the roughly 1,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq, is likely to drag the United States into a wider war with little prospect of destroying Islamic State. The 2003 U.S. intervention in Iraq helped spark the current chaos — another substantial military commitment is likely to make a difficult situation worse.

In Ukraine, no U.S. president, no matter how hawkish, would consider countering Russia’s intervention by sending in U.S. troops. There has been some debate about whether or not to provide lethal equipment to Ukraine, but even if that were to be done it should be made through a separate appropriation for foreign assistance, not by an increase in the Pentagon budget. And the amounts involved would be dwarfed by the hundreds of billions of dollars already in the Pentagon’s coffers.

The best route to long-term security in both Iraq and Ukraine is to utilize economic and diplomatic tools to slowly but deliberately weaken the aggressors. ISIS is currently flush with cash, and well-stocked with weapons already purchased or captured, but there is no reason that should be the case indefinitely. No nation in that part of the world — from Lebanon and Turkey to Iran and Saudi Arabia — benefits from the growth of ISIS. A coordinated effort to cut off financing and impose an arms embargo could, over time, weaken the group. And region-wide efforts to support the development of a non-sectarian government in Iraq could help reduce the tactical support that is being provided to ISIS by Sunni organizations that were alienated by the repressive rule of the al-Maliki government.

Last but not least, there needs to be a concerted global effort to help provide economic and educational assistance to the states of the Middle East and North Africa. Obscenely high rates of unemployment and a lack of economic opportunity or political representation have led too many young men and women to join ISIS and other extremist groups. This will not be easy, but it has more likelihood of succeeding than the trillions of dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at far lower cost.

In Ukraine, expanded sanctions combined with a pledge to support formal treaty partners in the Baltics and beyond are far preferable to saber rattling, much less military intervention.

President Obama faces multiple crises not of his own making, many of which are tied to the ill-considered military actions of prior administrations. He should resist the calls to increase the Pentagon’s already bloated budget in the service of an expanded military response to complex security challenges that have no military solution.

William D. Hartung (whartung@ciponline.org) is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

via William D. Hartung: Crises don’t justify Pentagon spending | Opinion – Rhode Islanders speak out on issues | Providence Journal.