Half a billion dollars of US spending evaporated in Syria

There’s one important fact to know in light of recent headlines about Russia’s Air Force bombing US-trained fighters in Syria, which I have pulled from the news from about two weeks ago…

AFP:

Only four or five U.S-trained Syrian fighters remain on the battlefield against ISIS militants, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East acknowledged Wednesday in the face of withering criticism from senators who dismissed the training program as a “total failure” and demanded a change of strategy.

Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. is looking at better ways to deploy the Syrian forces, but he agreed that the U.S. will not reach its goal of training 5,000 in the near term.

Wall Street Journal:

If the Pentagon shifts course to focus on training small numbers of fighters, it would represent a reversal. The military has criticized the Central Intelligence Agency’s lackluster covert effort to train Syrian rebels as ineffective because it produced too few fighters.

When the Obama administration shifted the main training program to the Pentagon, the military sought to train 5,000 Syrian rebels by year’s end. But the program has been slow to get off the ground and the first group of 54 fighters to enter Syria this summer was quickly routed by rival fighters.

 
There’s a second important fact. Here’s the Wall Street Journal on the cost of the failed program:

Under one proposal being crafted at the Pentagon, the $500 million train-and-equip program—a core component of the U.S. Syria strategy—would be supplanted by a more modest effort focused on creating specially trained militants empowered to call in U.S. airstrikes, defense officials said.

 
But at least we had wasted it *before* the Russians bombed the last few guys. Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front took care of that.

How the South Really Operates | The Globalist

This piece is a research essay, co-authored by Carl Bindenagel and Bill. for The Globalist. It is Part II of The Globalist’s American Mezzogiorno series. Part I, by Stephan Richter and Carl Bindenagel, is The American Mezzogiorno: A Thanksgiving Reflection. Part III (“Take the Money and Run”) can be found here.


The American South’s political power manifests itself in the following four dimensions:

1. Congressional Power
2. Agricultural handouts
3. Defense spending as a welcome stimulus
4. Antiquated thinking

Exhibit 1: Congressional Power

Prior to the 2014 mid-term elections, representatives from the American South chaired or represented a majority of members on important permanent committees and subcommittees in the U.S. House of Representatives. At the state level, Republican governors led unified government in 26 states.

American Mezzogiorno

Part I: A Thanksgiving Reflection

Part II: How The South Really Operates

Part III: Take the Money and Run (Friday)

How have these lawmakers used influential policy-positions to affect the welfare and livelihoods of their constituents? Mainly they enriched themselves, protected the powerful, and deliberately harmed the vulnerable in their jurisdictions and states.

They directed federal funding to themselves and to contractors with powerful lobbies and fought against programs to assist the poor, the abused and common citizens. Often, this included children, who are among the impoverished in America and who lack resources, including access to education.

Lawmakers’ self-serving behavior at the expense of their constituents can most clearly be seen on the defense-spending related committees in the U.S. Congress.

Southerners account for 53% of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and 55% of the House Appropriations Committee on Homeland Security (compared to nationwide population share of 38%).

Most tellingly, the membership of the House Subcommittee on Military Construction/Veterans Affairs is now 63% southern. The Chair of the full House Appropriations Committee is a southern Republican as well.

All of this matters greatly: Under the U.S. Constitution, all spending bills must originate in the House and ultimately from its Appropriations Committee. The Republican-dominated House (and the Southern-dominated House Majority) therefore has great control over how and where federal money will be spent.

Exhibit 2: Agricultural handouts

In addition to the defense sector, in rural communities, farmers are frequently subsidized – even in the event of crop-failure or natural disasters (such as floods or droughts).

Historically, this was crucial to prevent small-family farms from collapsing. But today, with the rise of consolidated agribusiness, the picture looks very different.

Many Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House support this type of subsidy, not only for their constituents, but also to enrich themselves.

In September 2013, several of the same House members who voted to cut almost $40 billion out of food stamps over the next decade personally received hundreds of thousands or even millions of federal dollars in farm subsidies.

Take the case of Rep. Stephen Fincher. He cited a passage from the Bible as justification for his vote against providing food stamps, presuming that a needy person was just lazy.

“He who does not work will not eat,” said Fincher. But from 1999 to 2012, the gentleman himself (not his state) received more than $3.4 million in federal farm subsidies.

Fincher’s is not the only case of faulting needy working people while claiming personal privilege from the government:
Read more

The Israeli Military-Industrial-State Complex

On our last radio episode, Persephone made a case that countries that sell weapons around the world as a big revenue source have a conflict of interest on fostering peace, in that it might affect their export revenues.

In many of the British examples we discussed, the sales are generally from private firms. In the United States, it’s a mix of private sales versus government discounted arms transfers and surplus equipment sales to allied armed forces, for strategic and fiscal reasons. A country’s government has an especially strong incentive to sell weapons to other countries when it devotes significant expenditures to research and development of the weapons. It’s a way to make some of it back.

Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, published an article today on the Israeli defense industry’s ramped-up production and foreign sales efforts during the recent bombardment, shielding, and ground operations against the Gaza Strip. Although there have been some major privatizations in recent years, much of the country’s defense industry is still composed of wholly-government-owned state enterprises. They have long been burdened with debt and were facing budget cuts. That means that if the companies — and by extension their government owners — were going to turn things around financially, they had a strong incentive to sell a lot of weapons to other countries. And as the article explores, through repeated examples, nothing sells a new weapons technology like real-life combat tests.

Some of the companies were even rushing brand new products off the assembly lines and into the field. And even as they were being deployed in the Gaza Strip, purchasers were flocking to Israel for explicit sales pitches, Haaretz reported:

“For the defense industries this campaign is like drinking a very strong energy drink — it simply gives them tremendous forward momentum,” says Barbara Opall-Rome, Israel bureau chief for the U.S. magazine Defense News. “Combat is like the highest seal of approval when it comes to the international markets. What has proven itself in battle is much easier to sell. Immediately after the operation, and perhaps even during, all kinds of delegations arrive here from countries that appreciate Israel’s technological capabilities and are interested in testing the new products.”

 
From new light arms ammunition to new tank shells and tank defenses, Israel’s private defense firms (which have excellent lobbyists and ties to the government) and public state defense companies (which are expected to minimize balance sheet losses and turn a profit for the government if possible), there’s a lot of really warped policy incentives in favor of pursuing a very aggressive, even hair-trigger “defense policy” in the Palestinian Territories.

Similarly, with highly experimental, very expensive, and very re-sellable technologies like a missile defense system co-designed by a state defense company, it could be suggested that goading an entity into firing daily barrages of missiles at a shield that will catch virtually all of them is an excellent way to prove to buyer countries that they should purchase the system for their own defense needs.

A country with big, financially struggling, government-owned defense firms puts itself under a lot of pressure to enable situations that will allow for combat demonstrations to foreign observers who can buy products and put money back in the government coffers (or at least reduce the need for direct budget expenditures). It’s possible to resist that pressure, but it’s there.

It’s hard to make peace when your finances are aligned in favor of making war. That’s true to some extent with the United States and many of the other countries we mentioned on our radio segment. But it’s particularly worrying with regard to Israel, where government and the defense industry are even more intertwined.
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March 17, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 77

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Nate and Greg join Bill to talk about the lawsuit alleging the NCAA violates anti-trust laws, Chuck Hagel’s reshaping of the U.S. defense priorities through budget changes, and the Crimean annexation referendum.

 
Part 1: Part 1: NCAA – AFD 77
Part 2: Part 2: Defense Budget – AFD 77
Part 3: Part 3: Crimea Referendum – AFD 77

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