The era of large-scale U.S. misadventures in the Middle East seems to have come to an end. Our military pulled out of Afghanistan last year, ending the longest war in American history. The military’s combat mission in Iraq ended years ago, although 2,500 troops remain in the country in an “advise-and-assist” role. The United States is a long way from being at peace, but at least we’re not engaged in major land war at the moment.
So why, then, did the U.S. House of Representatives recently pass the largest defense budget in U.S. history?
At a price tag of $839 billion, the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a 7% increase over last year’s NDAA, which came in at $777 billion. It’s even $37 billion more than the Biden administration asked for from Congress. The fate of the bill was never in question, as it cruised through the House on a 329-101 vote. The entire Connecticut House delegation voted for the bill. In a Politico article, US Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama described passing the bill as “the definition of a bipartisan bill.”
Meanwhile, representatives and senators across the political spectrum have balked at social spending programs for decades. They’ve lamented their impact on inflation and demanded offsets in spending with budget cuts to other programs. Yet these concerns fall away when it comes to the always-growing defense budget.
It seems that the only bipartisanship to be found in Washington these days is the perpetuation of endless war, even when there are apparently no wars being fought. Why is the United States military getting more money when there are fewer active engagements?
To be clear, the NDAA is an annual budget bill. Even the most expensive projections for President Biden’s Build Back Better program, which failed in the Senate last year, had it costing $5 trillion over 10 years, which works out to $500 billion a year. At current levels, the US military will receive over $8 trillion during that same ten year period.
Bloated military spending was used to fund surges and fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, but what is that money being spent on now? The text of the NDAA comes in at a mind-blowing 784,000 words (for comparison, Tolstoy’s War and Peace is only 587,000 words). I didn’t read the whole bill, but it includes procurements for Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, continued funding for the F-35 program, money for developing new amphibious assault vehicles, and other weapons systems. There’s also funding for personnel pay and benefits, U.S. Energy Department security issues, and a host of other programs.
The U.S. military is a global enterprise, with over 750 bases worldwide. As of 2019, the United States was conducting military operations in 80 countries, or 40% of the world’s nations. Fighting across the world absorbs huge amounts of resources, and directs them toward the infliction of death and destruction in places many Americans don’t even know we’re operating in.
Constant military expansion has become an axiom in Washington, while other concerns receive almost no attention from our leaders. The current extreme heat wave shows the dire need for dramatic action on climate change. There needs to be further action on gun control. Voting rights are being curtailed around the country. Inflation has driven the cost of all of life’s necessities to painful new levels. There is no bipartisan basis for solving these pressing issues, but Democrats and Republicans come together quickly to ensure bombs continue to fall all over the world.
The unfortunate truth is that all of this spending may be preparing us for the next phase of large-scale wars in the Middle East and beyond. During his recent visit to Israel, President Biden declared that the United States is “prepared to use all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That implicit threat of force follows President Biden’s explicit statement earlier this year that the US would defend Taiwan militarily if China attacked. We may simply be putting an $800-billion down payment on our next military catastrophe.