Gates: Defense Pork Proponents Hurt the Troops


Noah Schachtman offers up some wise thoughts from Robert Gates:

The grim reality is that with regard to the budget we have entered a zero-sum game. Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity… is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries, and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk that I will not take and one that I cannot accept,” he said.

Gates took particular aim at proponents of the futuristic, $250 million-a-pop F-22 stealth dogfighter. Senior military leaders all say they have plenty of the planes, to ward off any potential foe. Congress keeps trying to force the Pentagon to pay for more — despite the threat of a Presidential veto of any defense bill which contains more F-22 cash. It’s typical, he observed, of a Beltway process that keeps defense programs going forever, regardless of their military value. It’s exactly why Gates’ largely common sense overhaul of the Pentagon’s arsenal is, in its own way, so radical.

This is fundamentally what the F-22 debate is all about. Barack Obama and Robert Gates are trying to bring an end to years of magical thinking about defense spending. George Bush took a federal budget that was in short-term equilibrium but facing large long-term deficits, and decided that the thing to do was to cut taxes dramatically and simultaneously scale up defense spending. Ronald Reagan did the same thing. That’s conservative governance. But in the real world, you have to make decisions. If the country is going to fix its budgetary problems then the Pentagon is going to have to live on a budget. That means choices have to be made.