Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Liberals See Opportunity for Big Cuts in Defense

So reads a headline from this morning's Washington Times, and while it does me no good within the "vast right-wing conspiracy", I am inclined to agree with them, though the Devil as they say, is in the details.  What Larry Korb, John Podesta and Barney Frank all have in common (besides presenting a pretty reliable bellwether of what NOT to do on most things) is that they approach DoD as if it were an ATM, sitting there chock full or money just waiting to subsidize the rest of the economy.  Their collective desires to denude DoD of nearly $1 trillion spring not from a sense of what is best for the national defense of the US strategically, but primarily from the standpoint of how to find money within the existing discretionary budget to keep from making real choices on entitlements.

How then, do I agree with them?  Well, I believe that a roughly $600B base budget for defense is unquestionably too much.  How can I say this?  Because I watch the sausage get made, and I see the inefficiency.  Not Bob Gates inefficiency, mind you, where bureaucrats chase around overhead reductions that invariably will have to be reversed at some point--but inefficiency born of cowardice.  And in this case, it is cowardice wrapped in the fuzzy mantle of "Jointness", wherein as long as no service deigns to make its case more loudly than the others, none has to make any really tough choices.  And as long as the Services aren't making noise, OSD doesn't have to referee any unseemly behavior. 

Yes indeed--there's a conspiracy of silence at work in the Pentagon, an omerta-like code that promotes unity above strategy, duplication above decision, and conformity above economy.

When you don't know where you are going, all roads will get you there--and this is the approach to what passes for strategy in the Pentagon.  Lacking in requisite political direction and without the internal tools (or will) to prioritize, DoD lumbers along, occasionally forced to defend its total spending against other discretionary outlays, but never really having to defend how it allocates what it spends internally.  Adding to the dysfunction is the sorry state of our political system, in which one party's adult leadership (the Democrats) is terrified to take on DoD for fear of looking weak, and the other party's adult leadership (the Republicans) is unable to apply its flinty aversion to government growth to national security apparatus of the country.  Both parties are also complicit in the kabuki theater that is military entitlements, convinced that the provision of healthcare at $20 a month and paying for Major Boffamotta's children's private school tuition are necessary pillars of national defense (yes, I realize that the second part is likely not a DoD expense, but work with me.)

I look to my friends in the Republican Party to lead on this issue, but so far without any result.  I say this because like Nixon going to China--real change will only come when the Republicans call for it.  Representative Ryan's roadmap is a wonderful and politically courageous attempt to rein in entitlement spending, but it's always easier to gore the other guy's ox than it is to take on your own caucus--something Ryan recognized by punting on cuts to the defense budget.  Were I to ply Representative Ryan with one of his famous $300 bottles of wine, I feel pretty sure he'd fess up to the ridiculous and strategically vapid allocation of resources within the Defense Department.  There's an opportunity here for the Republican Party to take a measured and strategic approach to national security, one that forces DoD to make decisions--or makes them for it.  Such an approach would start from four propositions:

1.  The United States of America spends too much on defense.  We know this not because it amounts to $600B, but because the process by which that amount is arrived at is irredeemably broken.

2.  There is little linkage between defense spending and national strategy.  The lack of a coherent strategy is reflected in DoD's bloated budget.

3.  DoD will not reform itself.  It is incapable of such a thing--something of which the 25th anniversary of Goldwater Nichols this autumn should remind us.

4.  That wasteful defense spending does not deprive other programs of necessary funding--rather, it deprives the taxpayer of his/her own money.

Yes, there is indeed an opportunity for big cuts in defense spending, whether driven by liberals or conservatives.  The issue though, is not one of simply reducing a budget; rather it is one of resourcing a military consistent with our view of what we wish to be in the world.  We need to get that view right, and then have the courage to implement it.

Cross-posted at Information Dissemination.

1 comment:

"The Hammer" said...

They already killed off NASA, may as well go for DoD as well.
The mob is insatiable.

Newer Post Older Post Home