A full accounting of the annual costs of “permanent war” goes far beyond the official defense budget. But that is a good place to start.

The proposed 2006 defense budget is $419.3 billion. An additional $81 billion or so will be requested to conduct military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this $500 billion is only the beginning.

Significant military-related spending is scattered throughout other departments: $41.1 billion for homeland security; $69 billion for veteran affairs; a significant percent of NASA’s $15 billion-plus budget; $245 million for the CIA; $44.6 billion for defense civilian programs (e.g. military pensions); $6.6 billion for the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration; and $4 billion for the State Department’s foreign military financing.

In addition, interest on accumulated debt-financed military spending is about $139 billion a year and rising, according to Robert Haggs, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle. All told, military and military-related spending in FY 2006 will exceed $800 billion.

Spending considerably more on weaponry than the entire world combined can give rise to geopolitical illusions. Journalist Ron Suskind discovered in an October 2004 interview with a Bush aide that imperial thinking had indeed taken root in the White House. The aide said that guys like Suskind live in what the White House called “the reality-based community.” Such people “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality.” The aide went on to say: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. … We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left just to study what we do.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh refers to those who exercise power in Washington as a “cult,” bound only by the “law of empire.” As neo-con Max Boot observed in the Financial Times: “America must not be tied down by Lilliputians.” International treaties, conventions and laws merely stand in the way of decisive action.

In a recent New Yorker issue, Jane Mayer discloses the history of America’s “extraordinary rendition” program, a practice of sending suspected terrorists to, among other places, Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Jordan, where they can be tortured outside the constraints of international law. And the Pentagon, Hersh reports, is back in the assassination business. The president has issued a number of findings that authorize Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to set up “secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorists … in as many as 10 nations in the Middle East and South Asia.” It seems we’ve returned to Central America in the 1980s. How fitting that John Negroponte has just been appointed to the new post of director of national intelligence.

None of this bodes well. The threat of a militaristic, unilateral America can only hasten the formation of competing blocs anxious to defend their interests through military alliances. We have been down this road before.