How Much Waste Is There In the Defense Budget?

Ezra Klein offers an interesting tidbit from a deficit reduction event today:

I’m at the Peterson Foundation’s Fiscal Summit today, and one of the big themes is “everything on the table.” As part of that, Rep. Paul Ryan got asked about defense spending. “There are a lot of savings you can get in defense,” he said. “There’s a lot of waste over there, for sure.”

It’s always good to see people acknowledge that defense spending needs to be part of the spending conversation. And it’s also true that there’s some waste in the defense budget. But I do think that here, as in the domestic budget, we shouldn’t exaggerate its extent particularly because there’s no such thing as a gigantic waste-free organization. The main reason defense spending is high is that the American military does a lot of stuff. Obviously you can be cute and point out that since invading Iraq was strategically counterproductive, all the money we’ve spent on the war was “wasted.” But this isn’t really an issue of efficiency, it’s an issue of fighting too many wars.

Right now we’re trying to be the dominant military power in North America. And also the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf. And also the dominant military power in Northeast Asia. And also the dominant military power in South America. And also the dominant military power in Europe. And also to maintain robust expeditionary capacity throughout Africa and Central Asia. That’s expensive stuff. To seriously curb defense spending, we need to restrain the mission.