[pjw] INFO/HEADS UP: Expanded off-book war budget (Reuters 7/31), IAG meeting day & other info
Peace and Justice Works
pjw at pjw.info
Mon Aug 17 18:19:21 EDT 2015
Greetings Iraq Affinity Group supporters
We had a lot to talk about last week at the Iraq Affinity Group meeting.
First thing to give you all a heads up about: We moved the September
meeting backwards on the calendar to Thursday, September 3 at 7 PM for
various reasons; we will return to second Wednesdays (presumably) in
We also noted that coming up in January is the 25th anniversary of Gulf
War Part 1, and that Hiroshima day this year marked 25 years since the
Sanctions were put on Iraq that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.
(Side note-- August 12 marked 10 years since a judge ruled that Voices in
the Wilderness, a campaign I went to Iraq with twice, should pat a $10,000
fine for deliberately violating sanctions and bringing medicine and toys
for children; the campaign dissolved and the government has now officially
waited too long to collect any fines.)
Meanwhile, in our political update there were at least three articles we
wanted to share out. One is a book review of "Genocide in Iraq" which
appeared in the British publication Morning Star on June 15, tracing back
Another is an analysis in Common Dreams noting that the line coming from
the White House on the Iran Deal carries belligerent overtones that are
not helping the diplomacy angle (July 26):
Obama's Line on the Iran Nuclear Deal: A Second False Narrative
Thanks to all who went to the protest in favor of the negotiated deal on
Saturday-- I heard there were over 100 people there and great energy.
And finally, below, is a Reuters piece showing how the "emergency war
fund" started after 9/11 has grown as bloated as the regular military
Stay tuned for more...
peace and justice works iraq affinity group
How Pentagon war fund became a budget buster Washington can't resist
Reuters Friday, July 31, 2015
By Warren Strobel
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of U.S. troops deployed in battle
zones is at its lowest level since before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Still, Congress has authorized a 38 percent increase in the war budget
over last year.
The contradiction is the legacy of an emergency war fund, started in
the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, that has become a favorite
Washington way to sidestep the impact of fiscal constraints on military
The Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO, has been tapped to
fund tens of billions of dollars in programs with questionable links,
or none, to wars, according to current and former U.S. officials,
analysts and budget documents.
The mutation of the fund's original purpose has long been tolerated by
Republican and Democrats. But its central role in a looming U.S.
government budget showdown has brought fresh focus to the war fund,
which is little known outside Washington.
This spring, Congressional Republicans abandoned any pretense that OCO
should be used for its stated purpose - the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan and related operations. In a maneuver to increase defense
spending, they simply approved adding $38 billion in other, non-war
Pentagon spending to the account, bringing the total to $89 billion.
In doing so, lawmakers tapped OCO's budget magic: as a contingency
fund, it doesn't count against budget caps on defense and non-defense
spending imposed in 2011.
Sen. John McCain acknowledged the move was "a contradiction of what OCO
was supposed to be all about many years ago, when we started it as a
result of Afghanistan and Iraq."
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto defense spending bills
over what the White House calls the OCO "gimmick." The administration
wants budget caps lifted for both defense and domestic spending. It's
one of the major sticking points in a Washington budget struggle that
could leave part or all of the U.S. government unfunded after Sept. 30.
More is at stake than an accountants' dispute over different pots of
money, officials and analysts say.
"It's the worst thing that could happen to budget discipline," said
Gordon Adams, a former White House Office of Management and Budget
Pentagon leaders warn that the budget uncertainty will undermine
planning as Washington confronts challenges from Islamic State
militants to China's expansion in the South China Sea.
Obama campaigned for president in 2008 promising to end what he called
President George W. Bush's "abuse" of supplemental budgets to fund
wars. He has reined in OCO spending, which peaked in 2008 at $187
billion - but only to a point.
"The difficulty was putting the genie back in the bottle," said a
former White House official, particularly after the budget caps were
imposed in 2011.
Obama proposed $51 billion in OCO spending for the fiscal year
beginning Oct. 1, along with a regular $534 billion defense budget.
But only about $25 billion of that would directly fund U.S.
combat-related operations, essentially the cost of keeping about 9,800
troops in Afghanistan this year, and fighting Islamic State in Iraq and
Syria, Reuters has learned from U.S. officials.
Another $25 billion represents long-term Pentagon costs that have
gradually found their way into OCO, an administration official told
Reuters. Those costs, all sides agree, belong in the Pentagon's normal
annual spending - called the base budget.
For 2016, Obama requested $789 million in OCO funds to reassure
European partners worried about Russia and $2.1 billion for a
Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund to boost allies' security forces.
Such programs don't meet the definition of war spending, said former
OMB official Mark Cancian, who in 2009 helped write non-binding
criteria detailing what the war fund should pay for.
"Both sides, Congress and the Executive, contravened the criteria when
it was in their interest to do so," said Cancian, of the Center for
Strategic and International Studies think tank.
EXPANDING "GRAY AREAS"
The United States spent $1.6 trillion on the Iraq and Afghan wars and
related operations between fiscal years 2001 and 2014, the nonpartisan
Congressional Research Service (CRS) said in December.
But $81 billion of that was spent on "non-war" costs, CRS found. The
true figure is likely much higher: OCO money isn't audited to ensure it
was used for war operations.
"There's a lot of money in the OCO that should probably be in base
(budget)," Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work acknowledged last year.
"It just happened over 12 years."
Robert Hale, a former Pentagon comptroller, said budget supplemental
bills are supposed to pay "the added costs of war." Special danger pay
for troops and replacements for destroyed vehicles could be included
legitimately, but not regular salaries or new weapons systems.
Over time, more and more OCO expenditures fell into "gray areas," he
Experts say that a complete accounting of questionable OCO spending may
be impossible. But based on interviews and budget documents, examples
- This year, Congress added $1 billion for a National Guard and Reserve
equipment account the Pentagon hadn't requested, as well as $532
million for military construction worldwide. That includes a hangar in
Italy for a Navy submarine-hunting aircraft.
- Several billion dollars to transform the U.S. Army beginning in 2004
from a division-based force to a brigade-based one.
- $351 million this year for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense shield.
Former officials and analysts pegged October 2006, as the date the
definition of war spending began to be stretched. Then-Deputy Defense
Secretary Gordon England instructed the military brass to use
supplemental budget funds for prosecuting "the longer war against
terror," not just the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The message was just think more broadly about what you put in your war
budget. Put more in there. And they did," said Todd Harrison, of the
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Gordon could not be reached for comment.
Administration officials dispute they have violated the 2009
war-funding guidelines, arguing that Obama's programs meet OCO's
underlying premise of funding unanticipated costs.
In today's uncertain world, some kind of contingency fund will likely
be needed for years, experts say. OCO helped pay for the U.S. response
to West Africa's Ebola outbreak, for example.
"It's time to step back and redefine OCO," Hale said. But with a budget
battle and presidential campaign looming, that's unlikely to happen
soon, he added.
(Fixes name to England (not Gordon) in paragraph 32)
(Editing by Stuart Grudgings)
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