In for a Penny

The good news is that Defense Secretary Bob Gates is going to save money by shutting down Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in Virginia. The bad news, as the New York Times reports, is that the White House says the money Gates saves will free money that can be “better spent on war fighting.”

Egad. That’s like selling off your garage full of vintage sports cars so you can blow the money on booze and hookers.

Actually, it’s more like selling the cars plus taking out a loan to finance your booze and hooker habit, because Gates’s thrift measures will result in a net defense spending increase; the 2011 budget will top $700 billion, and that just counts the defense dollars spent by the Pentagon. Throw in the Homeland Security budget and the defense-related items from all the other cabinet departments’ budgets, plus the interest owed on money borrowed to fight our wars and the interest on the accrued interest, and pretty soon, to channel the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, you’re talking real money.

That’s not to say that making JFCOM fade away isn’t an overdue measure. A descendant of the once-proud Atlantic Command that fought the Battle of the Atlantic against Hitler’s U-Boat force in World War II, JFCOM (pronounced “jiffcom”) was a boil in dismal need of lancing.

JFCOM is America’s premier military-industrial welfare program. JFCOM directly employs 2,800 civilians and active-duty military members, and is supported by over 3,000 contractors. It openly advertises itself as the gateway where prospective defense contractors can climb aboard the cash caisson.

The keel of this gravy boat is JFCOM’s “battle laboratory” directorate, a massive conflict-of-interest Ponzi scheme in which retired military defense contractors work hand-in-pocket with soon-to-retire active-duty types who hope to go to work for defense contractors to “test” favored doctrines and weapons systems. The war games get rigged to produce the desired results, appropriation bills are passed, contracts are signed, and the wild blue budget continues to soar.

The most notorious of these pre-fabricated battle “experiments” was Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02). MC02 purported to simulate a war with one of the powers in the Persian Gulf. Initially, the play-enemy commander, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul van Riper, used low-tech, asymmetrical tactics to pull off a David-spanks-Goliath victory by tucking the U.S. Navy in with the fishes. The game gurus didn’t like having their network-centric warfare dogma and shock-and-awe gizmology defeated by a dollop of cunning and a pinch of common sense. So they screeched “What a world!” and halted the game, and cast a spell that re-floated the fleet, and changed the rules so they couldn’t lose.

The next year, America unleashed its network-centric shock and awe on Iraq and we’ve been getting our baby-makers stomped by guile and sagacity ever since.

According to Gates’s “savings” plan, JFCOM’s responsibilities will be “reassigned.” That shouldn’t be too difficult.

We can easily find other places to fritter the money we presently blow on JFCOM. Its annual operating budget of $704 million won’t even finance half a week’s worth of our fire drill in Afghanistan, which in fiscal year 2010 will cost about $105 billion, roughly $287 million per day. In FY 2011, Afghanistan will weigh in at $117 billion. And, of course, JFCOM’s budget barely amounts to one tenth of 1 percent of the aforementioned 2011 defense budget.

JFCOM’s civilian and military government employees can’t lose their jobs; they won’t miss a paycheck as they transfer to another unit or agency. And there’s enough gold mother’s milk sloshing around the Commonwealth of Virginia to keep JFCOM’s 3,000 contractors from starving. In 2009, Virginia firms won more than 60,000 government contracts worth over $51 billion, an amount roughly 72 times greater than JFCOM’s entire operating budget and enough to finance almost six months of the Afghanistan war.

If you wonder how Gates considers axing JFCOM to be a serious step at reining in the defense budget, keep in mind that he’s been arguing for months that, as the New York Times puts it, “if Congress and the public allow the Pentagon budget to grow by 1 percent a year, he can find 2 percent or 3 percent in savings within the department’s bureaucracy to reinvest in the military.” That’s the sort of line you’d use to sell encyclopedias door to door in a trailer park.

JFCOM’s counterfeit battle lab function can be absorbed by institutions like the U.S. Naval War College, which already runs a jiggered exercise each summer called the Global War Game. Here’s the sort of thing that went on at the Global Game during the Cold War:

The chief umpire, a member of the faculty, would ask the admiral in charge of the game, who was also the president of the college and hence the umpire’s boss, how many aircraft carriers he thought the U.S. would lose in a war with the Soviets. The admiral would say “two or three.” So the result became three lost carriers if the dice rolled odd and two if the dice rolled even. Hence, the Global War Game “proved” that the U.S. would only lose two or three of its 12 or so aircraft carriers in World War III.

We no longer need a battle lab of any kind to figure out how to trap ourselves into inextricable wars of invisible merit. The Long War may have become a permanent component of the American psyche. The warmongery has so desensitized the populace to the realities of war that no one is paying particular attention to urgent notices that Obama’s withdrawal timelines for Iraq and Afghanistan have gone the way of dial-up Internet connections. Club Combat spokesmodels aren’t even bothering to offer coherent arguments why we need to stay in those two sinkholes.

In a twitty analysis for the New York Times, Tim Arango says we may not pull out of Iraq “because many American and Iraqi officials deem the American presence to be in each nation’s interest.” The officials he cites are former ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, Gen. Ray “Desert Ox” Odierno, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, all of whom have a personal stake in continuing the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Arango also references Joe Biden, which journalistically is akin to quoting a stoned parrot and identifying him as a “senior official.”

Plus, the cost of the Iraq war has plummeted to a bargain-basement price of $183 million per day, making it cheaper than the Afghanistan conflict. So, by Gates’s fuzzy accounting methods, we can’t afford not to stay in Iraq, huh?

Neocon jackanapes Josef Joffe boldly insists that we need to “stay forever” in Afghanistan, even though he baldly confesses the conflict is “indecisive” and “a difficult war of choice” in which our interests are “remote” and “abstract.” But “once we go in,” Joffe insists, “we have to be willing to stay sine die” (i.e., until brown cows give chocolate milk). Sure, it sounds loopy, but throwing good tax dollars after bad on ill-advised high jinks abroad is a core tenet of neoconservative grand strategy. “King David” Petraeus, who has dictated U.S. foreign policy since young Mr. Bush put him in charge of it, told NBC fop David Gregory on Sunday that he won’t seek a “graceful exit” from Afghanistan, which means he won’t seek an exit of any kind from Afghanistan, so staying there forever is a fait accompli (i.e., bend over and try to relax).

It’s thanks to the persuasions of Pentarchs* like Joffe and Petraeus that we Americans, who spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined, are, of our own volition, engaged with foes who have no defense budget at all in a contest to see who can urinate on a car battery the longest.

And we insist on going first!

*Pentarchs are the oligarchs of the Pentarchy, that cabal of sandbox generals, bathtub admirals, beltway bandits, AIPAC rats, Warlord Fauntleroys, New American Centurions, Long War legislators, Dr. Strangeloves, G.I. Joe Six-Packs, Pavlov’s dogs of war, and other patriotic psychopaths whose narrow self interests and well-funded efforts have made the long dreamed of permanent American security state a reality.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.