I once had a rough-hewn buddy from West Virginia who would say, “I’m gonna tell you something what’s gonna shock yuh!”. Well, here are some figures “what’s gonna shock yuh!” The Iraq war’s estimated cost is a trillion dollars (the President’s figure). By the time Iraq and Afghanistan are returned to peacetime status, the tab could hit a couple of trillion. Lost money in Iraq $9 billion (ABC News).
Our Defense budget is in the neighborhood of $700 billion annually. Number 2 China is at $143 billion. The U.S. has military bases and installations in 150 countries around the world, a count that flirts with imperialism. I’m going to examine just one of these countries, actually a U.S. Territory, and see how a tiny island can chew up money like a giant paper shredder.
In my last contribution on the subject of appropriations, I promised to write about the pittance of money for a possible face-off we’ve heard little about.
Truth be told, it’s not a pittance. We’re sending a shit-pot load of green to today’s subject, Guam, a gorgeous little island in the Pacific. Guam is home to a massive military presence. Air, land and water ordnance abounds.
One of the many revelations that jumped off the page of the recent Republican House Appropriations Bill H.R. 933 was Section 8104.
There were 2 expenditures listed; the first was a modest (by government standards) $13 million for construction of a Regional Health Laboratory. Then there was the more eye-popping $106,000,000 for “Addressing the need for civilian water and wastewater improvements.” The population of Guam is about the same as Huntsville, Alabama; roughly 160,000 or so. Huntsville’s Public Works budget, which I assume covers civilian water and wastewater improvements, is a tiny fraction of $106 million. Exactly where is the 106 million going in an island 3 times the size of our nation’s capital or 22,000 acres?
Here’s a hint. Since 2000 the U.S. has built up its military presence in Guam to protect its Asian allies against possible aggression from China and North Korea.
Aggression indeed! North Korea’s newest nutcase leader, Kim Jong-un, a pie-faced 30-year-old kid from the family that has essentially ruled North Korea since its inception, is attracted to missiles and all things nuclear. His late Grandpa led a move into the South that claimed over 36,000 American lives and Jong-un’s tiny daddy, Kim Jong-il, who passed in 2011, was the goofiest head of state in modern history.
And, there’s always the deep rift between China and Taiwan and other disputed islands. Updating global concerns were Chinese naval exercises uncomfortably close to Okinawa and the unprovoked North Korean torpedo sinking of a South Korean naval ship 3 years ago that killed 46. It was not the first confrontation instigated by the North Koreans. Constant military alertness to these two bad and crazy actors is in both the U.S., Japan and South Korea’s best interests.
Somewhere, however, somebody has tiled over the true fiscal and military numbers in Guam. It’s difficult to pin down an accurate troops count. My guess is well over 30,000. The president publicly backed off a plan a year ago to commit $21 billion to transfer at least 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam. 21 BILLION? The Queen Mary 2 can float those 17,000 humans trans-Atlantic in high style in a dozen one-ways for about $10 MILLION for the lot of them, probably a lot less from Okinawa to Guam given the nautical miles differential. Fortunately, after talking with the new Japanese political hierarchy, the 17,000 number has been reduced to 4,500 Marines for a lot less money. I would assume about the same number of dependents would transfer as well. The new cost tally for the move is $8.6 billion; Japan kicks in $3.1 billion of that number. That still leaves many billions.
Reduced numbers aside, it will be a costly venture. Soldiers and their dependents must have housing. The Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) allows $2,200 month rental money for an E 1 living on base, plus $809 monthly in utilities and maintenance and another $482 stipend for a Move-in Housing Allowance (MIHA). OHA’s can vary dramatically. Multiply those expenses by even 9,000 or so and you’re spending real money.
There remains about 50,000 American troops, support personnel and dependents in Okinawa, though nearly 10,000 of the latter left the island after the 2011 Tsunami. Japan has been paying ongoing billions of the tab for the privilege of U.S. “protection.” Most recent polling seems to indicate that the vast majority of Japanese people would like that era to come to a close.
U.S. Military bases and facilities now occupy fully one-third of Guam’s land area. Strategically, Guam is roughly 1900 miles or 4 hours from Shanghai as a fairly speedy crow flies. Hightailing it to North Korea would require about a 2,100-mile schlep. That’s a trip to the corner store for a top-dog dogfighter, F-15 Eagle. Missiles from either country can reach Guam; conversely the opposite holds true as well. And remember, we’ve still got about 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea.
Back in May of 2012, the House passed a bill funding the realignment of incoming Okinawa military to the tune of $230 million, so again, what was with the $21 billion? Here’s the problem. Legislation is flying around all over the place. Millions here, billions there. The average citizen has no idea what’s sitting in Boehner’s desk drawer and what’s being fast-tracked and whether the House and Senate can compromise on a final bill. Even a full read of an appropriations bill references so many sources unavailable to most laypersons that Congress could stick Hundreds of billions of taxpayer money into some paranoid defense scheme and those who pick up the tab would never know it.
Oh, to be a government defense contractor. I’m sure most people are unaware that the U.S. has an incredible arsenal of weaponry on Guam for instance. You name the sophisticated hardware and you’ll find it in various quantities on Guam: working up from your father’s B-1 and B-52 bombers with 20 cruise missiles as part of their cargo, B-2 Stealth Bombers, F-15, F-16 and F-22 stealth fighters, KC-135 tankers (you’ve got to feed those aging Stratofortresses somehow), a half-dozen aircraft carriers and about 60% of the submarines in the Pacific including at least 3 nuclear attack subs to the latest in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) drones. Ammo, Bombs and missiles are stored over many acres of land. Multiply Guam’s nut by 150, at least half of which we could abandon with no negative consequences.
As one pundit pointed out, you could lop off $100 billion a year from the defense budget and that would still only represent 15% of the total. Might also want to close loopholes and pay some attention to domestic programs.
My exhortation remains fixed; all Democrats all the time come 11/4/2014.
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