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Posted by on Apr 7, 2009 in Politics | 7 comments

Misinformation and Overblown Rhetoric About Defense Budget

James Inhofe grandstands about the Gates defense budget without having any clue what he’s talking about, and blames Obama instead of Gates (because, of course, how could he blame Gates when he and his fellow far right Republicans have spent the last eight years demonizing the Democrats for “not listening to our military leaders”?). Now, the man in charge of the entire defense budget is calling for a more reality-based defense budget that actually prioritizes legitimate military needs over forking over mounds of pork to greedy defense contractors — and Inhofe does not like it one little bit (emphasis in original):

In a YouTube video that is getting linked around the conservative blogosphere, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) attacked Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ 2010 defense budget recommendations, though he aimed his criticism at President Obama instead of Gates. Speaking from Afghanistan, Inhofe declared that “President Obama is disarming America. Never before has a president so ravaged the military at a time of war.”

Specifically, Inhofe charged Obama with cutting funding for “our troops in the field during an ongoing war”:

President Obama’s budget, the largest in the history of America, triples the public debt in 10 years, funding every welfare program imaginable, but cuts funding for our troops in the field during an ongoing war.

Here in Afghanistan, while the war is intensifying and the number of US forces increases at the direction of President Obama, he undercuts those he sends into harm’s way. It is not just unbelievable…it is unconscionable.

The truth is that (as Matt Corley, who wrote the above-linked piece, explains at some length), the overall defense budget is being increased, not cut — but it’s also being reconfigured so that funds are allocated to programs that are cost effective and truly needed rather than being wasted on slushy stuff:

The big news from yesterday (still settling in across Washington) is that President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates teamed up to propose a sweeping overhaul of the defense budget–calling for the elimination of unnecessary systems and spending the savings on special forces, intelligence equipment, and other tools of counterinsurgent warfare.

In other words, by retooling the Pentagon, Obama and Gates plan to move a lot of money around, but they also plan to increase the overall defense budget. In the final year of the Bush administration (and excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) the defense budget was $513 billion. In FY 2010, if Gates and Obama get their way, it will be $534 billion–$534 billion that will be spent much differently than last year’s outlays were.

But you’d never know that from the news coverage.

The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial in today’s edition, opines that the objections to proposed program cuts may have more to do with “Where’s the pork?” than with “Where’s the beef?

President Obama released his $534-billion military budget proposal weeks ago, but Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates fleshed it out Monday by listing specific programs to be cut or expanded. The plan would increase spending by 4% over fiscal 2009, though judging from the reaction of congressional hawks, one would think the Pentagon were being gutted. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) commented in a blog post from Afghanistan that “President Obama is disarming America” and betraying our troops abroad. The fear-mongering won’t end there.

Still, the opposition in Congress has a lot more to do with money than with national security concerns. Defense contractors have spread their operations across the country, and program cuts mean lost jobs. On Monday, Gates announced that production of the F-22 would be halted at 187. That shouldn’t be too controversial given that only 183 were ordered, but components for the Lockheed fighter jet are built in 44 states, giving it a great deal of political support.

Gates also proposed scrapping new helicopters, next-generation armored vehicles for the Army and high-tech Navy vessels. At the same time, he would increase spending in other areas, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, F-35 fighter jets and special forces troops. The eminently sensible goal is to shift priorities to fighting insurgencies like those in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than continuing to pour money into systems intended for fighting conventional wars against great powers like Russia and China.

Gates and Obama hardly aim to disarm America, but there’s no question that they intend to buy less ammo. Given that the United States spends nearly as much on defense as every other country on Earth combined, that’s not a bad plan. In the late 1990s, defense spending was about 3% of the nation’s gross domestic product; today that number is closer to 4.5%. Whether that has made us safer is anybody’s guess, but there’s no question that it has made us poorer. And if being the world’s sole superpower isn’t enough of a deterrent against foreign attack, it’s unlikely that being the world’s sole super-duper power will either.

Joe Lieberman, predictably, is terribly upset about Gates’s proposed cuts and spending shifts, because his pet project — missile defense — is one of the programs for which funds are being cut. He, along with Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, and Republican senators Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jon Kyl (Arizona), Jeff Sessions (Alabama), and James Inhofe (Oklahoma), sent a letter to Pres. Obama beseeching him not to cut the missile defense program’s funding:

“Cooperation on missile defense is now a critical component of many of our closest security partnerships around the world,” Lieberman wrote in [the] letter. … “We fear that cuts to the budget for missile defense could inadvertently undermine these relationships and foster the impression that the United States is an unreliable ally.

“Moreover, sharp cuts would leave us and our friends around the world less capable of responding to the growing ballistic missile threat.”

How odd that Sen. Lieberman would care more about offending our allies than about shortchanging our national security by continuing to throw billions of dollars at a missile defense program that has already cost the U.S. at least $150 billion over the last 25 years without getting any closer to being operational than it was in 1983, when Pres. Reagan started it — even if the concept of antiballistic missile defense in and of itself made sense, which it does not.