Yesterday a coalition of thinkers from different progressive and libertarian organizations (including CAP’s Larry Korb) released their Sustainable Defense Task Force report (PDF) calling for steep cuts in defense spending as a key element of creating a long-term sustainable fiscal situation. Some of this is what you might call Gates Plus, cuts that are in the spirit of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposals for reaping efficiencies. But Gates really is looking for efficiencies—to spend less on certain weapons systems so he can spend more on other stuff. This crew, by contrast, is really looking to curb unnecessary spending which involves taking a much deeper axe.
Notably, as Spencer Ackerman observes, the report calls on policymakers to be more careful about the missions they undertake, rejecting adventures “that exhibit a poor cost-benefit payoff and capabilities that fail the test of cost-effectiveness or that possess a very limited utility.”
This is the key thing. When Generals Petraeus and McChrystal formulate their strategies for Afghanistan they don’t ask “would it make more sense to spend all this money on healthy school lunches for American children?” And it’s not their job to ask those questions. But it is the President’s job and it is Congress’s job. What’s more, though it’s not military officers’ job to undertake that sort of broadly intermodal cost-benefit analysis it is their job to recognize that they deserve to be subject to that kind of scrutiny just as much as any other public agency.