4 years ago
In Herschel Smith’s recent post, “What Defense Cuts Can and Can’t Accomplish,” he noted in response to President Obama’s announced cuts to Defense that such cuts were cover to make room for ruinous entitlements spending and ensured a future military that will not be prepared to meet America’s defense needs.
To tag team on that post somewhat, I would like to address two, typical fallacies indulged in by those calling for cuts to Defense spending. The first is the idea that the Pentagon budget is so massive and so stuffed with waste and fraud that any budget increase would almost be immoral. The second notion is that Defense spending is indistinguishable from any, other Federal spending and, so, sacrifices must be made. I offer this in the context of the ongoing Republican nomination season where an amazing number of candidates are espousing the same kind of cuts. Furthermore, I am amazed as I travel the internet and read comments by alleged conservatives that call for deep-sixing much of the Pentagon budget. So, to all those would-be candidates and fellow conservatives who are tempted by the low-hanging Pentagon budget, I say, “No good can come of it.”
And here’s why:
No Federal function will ever be free of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. Live with it.
Conservatives must take it as almost axiomatic that the military, being part of the federal government, is inherently inefficient, wasteful, bass-ackwards, and prone to all the wrong priorities. Herschel’s post detailing the problems with various weapon systems is on point.
That said, the U.S. military is, nonetheless, widely recognized the world over as the best-functioning part of the national government we have. It is, in many cases, the only thing that does, actually work even half the time. When any, significant natural disaster occurs anywhere on the planet and rapid response is required to prevent massive loss of life, who is the one doing the heavy lifting in terms of humanitarian relief? The U.S. military which has the advantage of being everywhere on the planet (or at least within carrier distance) and organized to deliver critical logistics in short order. For all its many, many faults, the U.S. military still gets the job done in far less time and in far better fashion than any, other alternative known to mankind at this point.
Money will be wasted by the federal government just as a teenager will blow at least some part of that $20 bill you give them on a Big Mac and fries. There is simply no way around it. Yes, fraud/waste/abuse must be rooted out as far as possible and contracting must be improved blah blah blah, but there is no way this side of Paradise to put as many people in the field, all around the globe with as many types of weapons/units/vehicles et al without substantial waste. I am sick of Obama or any GOP candidate who puffs and preens about reducing waste at the Pentagon as if that is going to solve our national spending addiction. All of the waste and fraud at the Pentagon in a year is still a pittance compared to the entire, federal budget. The problem is in the very budgeting and spending process. Raging about government waste is performance art. Worse, when it comes to government and waste, the two are too often synonymous.
Perhaps a better way of viewing Defense spending is to liken it to a huge pipeline. The U.S. government is like a huge pipe with lots of spigots and also a bunch of holes, leaks and cracks: water is going to leak out all over the place. Amazingly enough, however, due to the sheer volume and force, enough water will still manages to get through. Tightening down the spigot called the U.S. military does not save any, actual water. That water will just flow to other spigots like welfare, “green energy,” public employee unions, TSA harpies, bridges to nowhere and genius programs like “Fast and Furious.” To actually save water in this illustration, the entire plumbing system has to be re-engineered.
Some Federal functions are more legitimate than others. Prioritizing is key.
President Obama and the other Defense cutters act as if every federal undertaking is on an equal footing much as a family may decide to spend less on expensive orange juice and shift those dollars to cereal instead. For those of us who continue to believe that we live in a constitutional republic, however, the U.S. military in one of the very few legitimate functions that the federal government performs under the U.S. Constitution. Rather than starting the discussion about budget cuts with the one department that is actually in the U.S. Constitution, how about talking first about real, immediate cuts to the plethora of departments, agencies, programs and funding that are completely outside of any Constitutional mandate. Entitlements are the place to start, not the military.
Like Obama, John Huntsman is particularly annoying in this regard. Worse yet, to hear Huntsman talk about Defense spending, the U.S. can treat it like putting off a leaky roof: we can put off needed spending for some period of time, hoping that the roof will not collapse, and someday get the repairs done. As Herschel’s post pointed out, this has been done with shocking frequency since the 1930’s and has always ended in disaster and tragic losses of life. As night follows day you can rest assured that a major violent international event will follow our budget cuts to defense. That’s not scaremongering, it is just history. Sure, we can try ramping up like we did all those other times, but history may be less forgiving this time around.
As this Heritage Foundation paper aptly states, quoting Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:
After each war-driven boom, the defense budget has experienced an extended period of decline. In May 2007, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained:
Five s to times over the past 90 years—after the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and most recently after the Cold War— the United States has slashed defense spending or disarmed outright in the mistaken belief that the nature of man or the behavior of nations had changed with the end of each of the wars, or that somehow we would not face threatour homeland or would not need to take a leadership role abroad.
Time and again, policymakers have tended to neglect defense absent immediate, manifest threats to U.S. interests, and Americans and their military personnel have repeatedly paid the price of being less prepared.
Common sense dictates that the Pentagon should take advantage of peacetime lulls to replace damaged or destroyed equipment, to modernize legacy systems, and to purchase next-generation replacements to avoid predictable shortfalls in future force structure. Yet most Administrations have failed to do so.
The Heritage Foundation paper is well worth reading in its entirety and provides valuable citations and data that emphasize the follies of U.S. Defense spending practices for the past 90 years. The papers leads to the conclusion that the combat forces of the U.S. military are increasingly being hollowed out by decades of short-sighted cuts, binge spending and misallocations, with increasing shares of the budget going toward entitlement-like benefits and mushrooming bureaucracies.
The United States is playing not only with fire but a can of gasoline nearby. Any one of a dozen international hot spots could ignite in the next years and the combat arms of the military are increasingly made to get by with aging equipment and insufficient numbers of soldiers and marines. In a bitterly comic twist, Democrats like Obama, who only 3 short years ago were complaining that President Bush was wearing out the U.S. military, are now cutting funds needed to re-build it. More shocking is that this defense-cutting contagion seems to have spread to conservatives. We seem to be watching our leaders flinging lighted matches at the gas can with little, apparent alarm.