Just this month, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told a crowd in Auburn, NY, that Obama’s plan to cut $1 billion from missile defense–[….]–was somehow a sign of weakness. Would you be surprised to learn that the Obama defense budget is actually $20 billion bigger than the last one signed by President George W. Bush?
Last April, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates set off a firestorm with a new military budget that stripped funding from certain weapons systems and moved dollars into other priorities. The announcement was the fulfillment of a campaign promise by President Barack Obama, who had pledged to eliminate Cold War weapons systems we no longer need.
For their trouble, Secretary Gates and the President have been accused of gutting America’s defenses and even undercutting our troops in a time of war. Just this month, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told a crowd in Auburn, NY, that Obama’s plan to cut $1 billion from missile defense–just 10 percent of its budget and only part of the program dedicated to repelling a mass missile attack from the Soviet Union–was somehow a sign of weakness.
Would you be surprised to learn that the Obama defense budget is actually $20 billion bigger than the last one signed by President George W. Bush? Moreover, the actual cuts proposed to specific programs are minor in scale compared to the $700 billion-plus total. And when you consider a report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office showing $300 billion in taxpayer money wasted on over-budget weapons systems, the idea that we are somehow “cutting” defense seems exaggerated.
The problem is that the behemoth defense budget, geared more toward expensive high-tech weaponry than fighting our current wars, is precisely what we should be cutting in the face of spiraling deficits. For example, the new Obama defense budget halted production of the F-22 Raptor fighter, which never found a real combat use since the Cold War. However, the Pentagon made up for it by doubling expenses for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, yet another troubled procurement with serious cost overruns.
The administration also zeroed out $60 million in funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), a Bush-era program to build more nuclear warheads. Ending the RRW will help the US stop the spread of nuclear weapons and potentially save billions required to support expanded production. But the US spent an estimated $52 billion last year on nuclear related activities, much of it just to maintain our current arsenal. According to Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, reducing America’s nuclear arsenal to 1,000 warheads could save up to $20 billion without compromising our deterrent.
We could also question the need for an extra $11 billion, as Obama proposed, to expand the Army and Marines when we are, in theory, drawing down in Iraq. Building up permanent forces takes time and would be of little use to our present conflicts, unless of course, we are planning on occupying Iraq indefinitely or invading another country.
And as for missile defense, we could go even further than Mr. Gates’ modest $1 billion in cuts and not affect our defense against threats like North Korea–much to the chagrin of Gov. Palin’s efforts to keep federal pork in her home state.
The truth is that shoveling billions at the Pentagon is a big business, with lobbyists, politicians and officials invested in making sure that the money continues to move with no questions asked. Even Secretary Gates’ intention of reining in the dysfunctional weapons procurement process is being administered by a former lobbyist for Raytheon, a major defense contractor, who had previously fought against reform.
That’s why the mere shifting of dollars and simple demands for accountability from the Obama administration are meeting such fierce resistance.
But when you look at the full range of reforms needed in the Pentagon budget, you might wish that a president could be accused of making deep cuts in defense and have it actually ring true. —
Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (ret.) is the former commander of the US Second Fleet.