Time to terminate ‘the warfare state’

Walter Pincus
Reporter November 7, 2012

With Tuesday’s election results, President Obama and Congress should take steps to end “the warfare state” instituted by the George W. Bush White House.

No one can deny that threats to U.S. security exist around the world. But the Defense Department needs continued reform to meet those varied threats and to cut the most costly elements in the core Pentagon budget that were developed for past wars.

Starting in 2003, the United States for the first time fought wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, without a tax to pay for them. Ironically, the core Defense budget during the Bush administration was supposed to include funds for such events.

The September 2001 quadrennial review, which laid the policy foundation for the Bush fiscal 2003 Pentagon budget, called for forces that could “swiftly defeat aggression in overlapping major conflicts while preserving for the president the option to call for a decisive victory in one of those conflicts — including the possibility of regime change or occupation.” That sounds a lot like foreseeing the invasion of Iraq that came 18 months later. The plan said the military also could, within the proposed budget, “Conduct a limited number of smaller-scale contingency operations.”

Still, supplemental budgets were sought for the two wars, putting the costs, now near $1.5 trillion, on a credit card.

Meanwhile, Defense’s core budget has risen about 4 percent a year, adjusted for inflation, except for the past two years. As Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) points out, President Obama’s plan to reduce 100,000 Army troops and Marines over the next five years will still leave ground forces larger than those existing at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

Then there are the funds wasted on failed efforts to modernize weapons systems. According to a 2011 CSBA study, “Over the past decade, at least a dozen major programs were terminated without any operational systems being fielded. The sunk cost of the terminated programs . . . for example, totals some $46 billion.” The Pentagon also is paying hundreds of millions to upgrade some systems, such as the F-22 stealth fighter plane.

Overruns are a problem at all levels. A recent Government Accountability Office report, for example, found that the Pentagon’s six computer systems that produce auditable financial statements for all the military services “experienced cost increases of $8 billion and schedule delays ranging from 1.5 to 12.5 years.”

No other government entity would have been permitted to continue getting almost unlimited funding in the face of its past lack of fiscal controls.

Wasteful war-zone spending also has been well documented, but the money continues to flow.

Over the past decade, the United States has spent about $11.7 billion on facilities for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). But, as an audit released last month by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found: “The Afghan government will likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF facilities after the transition in 2014 and the expected decrease in U.S. and coalition support.”

On Tuesday I wrote about corruption in Afghanistan with Americans participating. Today’s lesson is that the United States and its allies still build facilities that Afghans can’t sustain.

At an Afghan National Police compound, SIGAR saw corrosion on a pipe in a water treatment system caused by pumping liquid chlorine into the water. “If not replaced with pipe of a chlorine-compatible material, the pipe may fail, resulting in the release of hazardous liquid chlorine into the room,” the SIGAR report said. A contract for $24 million was needed to repair that and other construction flaws, the report said.

Construction goes on. One of the biggest projects is for a new Afghan National Security University underway outside Kabul. It will be a four-year institution, based on West Point, that will graduate officers for the Afghan Army and air force.

The first contract, for $25.6 million, for the facility was awarded in July. It includes construction of an “administration building, barracks, a classroom, support buildings, weapons storage and cleaning, obstacle courses, and all utilities and site grading to serve a population of approximately three thousand personnel,” according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notice.

Last month, a second phase was advertised by the Corps for building additional “barracks, dining facility, library, gymnasium, laundry building, other support buildings, athletic field and parade ground.” The cost could run as high as $100 million for this phase, which could take 15 months to build . I wonder if the Afghan army also has its own U.S. -financed military bands.

Holman W. Jenkins Jr., a Wall Street Journal columnist, wrote Wednesday that Obama voters “are ready neither to reform the welfare state nor pay for it.” It called to mind those Virginia voters who live around and work at the military facilities in Norfolk and Hampton Roads. For months they’d been hit with ads warning about the 200,000 defense jobs that would be lost should Obama and former Gov. Tim Kaine win their elections.

These areas went overwhelmingly for Obama and Kaine, indicating residents are both ready to reform the warfare state and willing to pay for the security provided by what the president described Tuesday night as “the strongest military on earth and the best troops this world has ever known.”

For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.

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