Another anti-defense liberal has utterly discredited himself

Yet another anti-defense liberal has utterly discredited himself. His name is Josh Barro, and his article of 8th June 2010, written for “RealWorldMarkets” (it should be called Alternate Universe Markets) claims that Senator Tom Coburn has tacked America’s supposed “runaway defense spending”.

The claim that America maintains “runaway defense spending” (i.e. “out-of-control defense spending”) is merely the first of the many lies included in his defense-bashing article. The truth is that defense spending – unlike entitlement spending – is tightly controlled by the OMB and the Congress, which carefully scrutinizes defense budgets, often refuses to authorize many programs and weapon orders, and usually authorizes less defense spending than what the executive branch requests. Not to mention the fact that ever since FY1995, defense spending has constantly remained below 4% of GDP and below the record Reagan-era levels.

Burro claims that defense spending is the second-largest cause of America’s debt and deficit. He’s lying. After the splurge of entitlement costs, which he correctly named as the biggest cause, the second-largest item in the federal budget (and therefore the second-largest cause of budget deficits and the federal debt) is welfare spending, not defense funding. This FY, welfare spending reached a record-high level – $888 bn, that is, much more than defense spending ($534 bn).

He claimed that defense spending “often gets short shrift”. He’s wrong. Defense spending is always the favorite “whipping boy” of almost every politician whenever the federal government posts a yearly budget deficit. This is also true today – very few politicians promise to reduce civilian programs and agencies, but almost every politician is calling for defense spending cuts.

He then falsely claimed that

“That national security is important does not mean that the Pentagon should be exempt from fiscal oversight or off the table when we talk about balancing the federal budget. This is especially true because higher defense spending does not always make us safer.”

This is NOT true. And yes, the DOD should be off the table when people talk about balancing the federal budget, because 1) the DOD is not to blame for the current budget deficits; 2) the DOD is responsible for the government’s most important, constitutionally-ordained, no-fail task: national defense. Any reduction of defense spending makes it hard for the DOD to execute that task.

Barro is apparently nostalgic about Clinton and his treasonous defense cuts, because he claimed that:

“With the Soviet threat eliminated, the “Peace Dividend” allowed a reduction in defense spending as a share of the economy, bottoming out at 3% of GDP in 1999 and 2000. This restraint was one of the key drivers of the budget surpluses of the Clinton-Gingrich era.”

Every defense issues expert recognizes that the “Peace Dividend” (which should be called “the procurement holiday”) was a foolish mistake. Over a period of 12 years, the first Bush Admin and the Clinton Admin literally massacred the US military and instituted a procurement holiday from which the US military still hasn’t recovered due to insufficient weapons spending. The US military was decrepit by 2001. As of 2000, the then Joint Chiefs of Staff complained that their services needed permanent budgetary increases measured in tens of billions of dollars. When the FY2001 defense budget was signed, liberals and defense conservatives alike estimated that it was inadequate. Some estimated that it was too small by $100 bn per annum. The Air Force Association wrote back then that the FY2001 DOD budget did not even begin to address the military’s financial and equipment requirements.

The deep reduction of defense spending was indeed a key driver of the Clinton-era budget deficits (because civilian spending wasn’t reduced significantly – vested interest groups defended it and singled out defense spending for reductions), but it was a foolish mistake.

Burro also claimed that:

“In 2010, defense spending will again reach 4.9% of GDP, the same level as in 1980. About half of this increase has been driven by specific costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rest by growth in base military spending faster than economic growth. With deficits expected to run in the range of 4% of GDP over the next decade, a 2% of GDP rise in defense spending is a huge deal.”

All of these claims are false. This year, defense spending will not exceed 3.65% of GDP ($534 bn divided by a GDP of $14.61 trillion is 3.65%). Defense spending does not include the cost of the Iraqi war and the Afghan war (which have NOTHING to do with defense spending, which is about maintaining the military), but even if you do include these costs, total “military spending” (the defense budget plus the GWOT cost) will reach only 4.5% of GDP this year ($664 bn /14.61 trillion = 4.5%). So the 4.9% figure (whether you count defense spending or total “military spending” is totally false. Furthermore, given that defense spending has risen from 3% of GDP only to 3.65% of GDP, it has risen by 0.65% of GDP, not 2%.

The defense budget, which stands at 3.65% of GDP, is, as a proportion of GDP, the SMALLEST defense budget since FY1948, if you exclude the last few Clinton defense budgets. During the entire Cold War, except FY1948, America’s defense spending was much higher than today. Total “military spending”, as a proportion of GDP, is also lower than America’s defense spending levels of the entire Cold War era (except FY1948).

Burro complains that the level of military spending will be “the same as the level of 1980”. I guess he believes that the tragically inadequate defense budgets of the Carter Administration (1977-1981) were also excessive, because he decried those defense budgets. During the Carter era, the US military was decrepit, and America’s adversaries were emboldened by Carter’s defense cuts and pacifist foreign policy.

Burro then claimed that “Senator Tom Coburn made these points last month in a letter to the chairmen of the president’s deficit commission. Coburn, who sits on the commission, puts a spotlight on rapid, inflation-adjusted growth in military spending and the lack of oversight at the Pentagon as that money is spent.”

Both of these claims are false. SECDEF Gates does exercise oversight on how the money is spent, and there has been no rapid growth of military spending during the last 20 years. See below.

Burro wrote that

“In his letter, Coburn notes that inflation-adjusted base Pentagon spending (that is, the figure excluding the additional costs for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan) rose from $407 billion in 2001 to $553 billion — a 36% increase — by 2011. “Supplemental” spending to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will add a further $159 billion in 2011.”

This is utter gibberish. Firstly, spending levels for FY2011 have NOT been authorized yet and FY2011 hasn’t begun yet, so no one can honestly claim that defense spending already has risen  to “2011 levels”. Secondly, the figure proposed by the Administration is $549 bn, not $553 bn. Thirdly, that 36% budget increase – if it happens – will be an increase conducted over ten fiscal years, not over one year. (By comparison, Obama has increased federal welfare spending by 70% during the last 16 months.) Fourthly, even if the $549 budget for FY2011 is approved, it will nonetheless stand at only 3.75% of GDP, and, like the current defense budget, will be the lowest since FY1948 (excluding the last few Clinton budgets). Fifthly, the FY2001 defense budget – as stated earlier – was tragically inadequate, and the current levels of defense spending are absolutely necessary to enable the US military to recover from the 1990s procurement holiday imposed on it by two idiotic presidents.

Burro then asks, “Is all this spending necessary to protect America? Coburn gives reason to believe that it isn’t.” And that’s a lie, because Coburn has given no reason to believe that it isn’t. Quite the contrary, it is necessary to protect America. It is necessary to enable the US military to recover from the 1990s procurement holiday. Some savings could be made in the DOD (on unneeded bases and bureaucracies, as well as fuel costs, personnel costs and healthcare program costs), but all of these savings should be reinvested at the DOD.

Burro wrote that

“Coburn notes first that even though military spending has risen significantly in real terms — and will continue to do so under the Obama administration’s current plans — we are spending more to get less.”

Coburn is lying. Military spending has not risen significantly in real terms. Like I wrote earlier, that 36% increase from a dismally low level (the FY2001 level) is an increase over 10 fiscal years, which means it’s small.

Burro then claimed,

“For example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has experienced a cost overrun from $226 billion projected in 2001 to $328 billion projected today. This is despite the fact that the number of F-35 planes to be purchased has gone down by 14%; the overrun is driven by a unit-cost increase of 68%. And yet, there are serious concerns about the F-35’s suitability for combat operations currently performed ably by its nine-times-cheaper predecessor, the A-10.”

This is utter gibberish which proves that Burro knows nothing about defense issues. One of the chief reasons why the cost of one F-35 and the total F-35 program cost have grown is that the order for F-35s has been significantly reduced from 2001 levels. Moreover, the F-35 type is, by all metrics, superior to A-10 aircraft, which are obsolete, large, unstealthy, and very expensive to maintain. Plus, there are almost no spare parts for A-10s at AMARC any longer – the spare parts supply has already been depleted.

Burro noted that

“Coburn is likely to find an ally in the White House, which has sought to rein in the Pentagon’s spending culture. Obama used significant political capital to kill the overrun-plagued F-22 fighter program, threatening to veto any defense spending bill that did not terminate it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been encouraging military brass to reevaluate their decisions about what purchases are useful for today’s wars, including an emphasis on widely used — and less expensive — unmanned aircraft.”

The F-22 program was absolutely necessary to protect America from peer competitors (Russia and China, one of whom has already flown a 5th generation “Raptorski” fighterplane and the other is projected by the US intel community to field a domestic 5th generation fighterplane by 2018), and the chief cause of its cost overruns was the deep reduction of the number of planes ordered by the DOD: from 750 in 1989 to 187 in 2008. Every credible defense expert now recognizes that the decision to close the F-22 program was a foolish mistake.

“The Pentagon’s spending culture”? Since the defense budget equals only 3.65% of GDP, it’s hardly profligate. As for Robert Gates – he hasn’t been “encouraging military brass to reevaluate their decisions about what purchases are useful for today’s wars”, he has imposed draconian weapon program cuts on them.

For today’s wars as well as for future wars (which are more important than today’s conflicts), the US military needs a very wide range of weapons, ranging from MRAP vehicles and UAVs to high-tech fighterplanes, bombers and submarines. America is facing a very diverse range of enemies ranging from China and Russia, to North Korea, Iran Venezuela, Syria, Al Qaeda and the Taleban. To deter and defeat them, the US military needs a very wide range of weapons. In other words, America needs an “all-of-the-above” weapons purchase policy, just like it needs an “all-of-the-above” plan to wean itself off foreign oil.

UAVs have been oversold. UAVs cannot do anything other than ISR and limited ground attack. The claim that UAVs can replace fighterplanes, attack aircraft and bombers is a fantasy.

Burro praised President Obama for his planned further defense cuts:

“Over the medium term, the president’s budget forecasts a steep drop in defense spending as a share of GDP — from 4.9% in 2010 and 2011 back down to 3.5% in 2015. But projecting that is one thing, and getting there is another. Doing so will require a scaling back of our military operations abroad, and will require that Congress go along with the Administration’s plans to restrain cost growth for personnel and procurement.”

Firstly, it will not be a reduction “from 4.9% in 2010 and 2011 back down to 3.5% in 2015”, because defense spending, as I wrote earlier, is NOT at the level of 4.9% of GDP (it stands at a mere 3.65% of GDP), and even total military spending stands at only 4.4% of GDP. Secondly, that defense spending reduction is unjustified and will badly hurt the US military, which still hasn’t recovered from the 12-year-long procurement holiday (because, since FY1995, defense spending has always been below 4% of GDP). Thirdly, the Obama Admin doesn’t plan to “restrain cost growth for procurement”, it plans to arbitrarily close crucial weapon programs. Missile defense is rumored to be on the chopping block, and the Obama Admin is reportedly talking to the Russians about an agreement that will unilaterally curtail and reduce America’s missile defense.

Burro then noted:

“This assumes that a scaling back of foreign military operations is a good idea. Iraq and Afghanistan are budgeted as “contingency” operations, with the idea being that they reflect temporary spending and should not be included in the ongoing budget baseline. If we expect to have over a hundred thousand troops fighting a war or two abroad on an essentially permanent basis, we should be budgeting accordingly — and adjusting our tax code or other government programs to accommodate a permanently higher level of expenditure.”

I oppose the Iraqi war and the Afghan war, and the sooner they end, the better. However, even a military spending level of 4.4% of GDP (let alone a defense spending level of 3.65% of GDP) DO NOT require the American people to make any additional sacrifices, do not require a tax hike, and do not require “a permanently higher level of expenditure”. It merely requires that the REAL causes of America’s budget deficits and debt – namely, entitlement programs, bloated bureaucracies and welfare spending – are curtailed and reduced. But this must be done anyway, to balance the budget if for no other purpose.

Burro then wrote:

“But regardless of macro-level foreign policy decisions, Coburn’s letter gives reason to believe that we can find significant savings in military spending — though perhaps not as much as 1.4% of GDP — just by increasing accountability and making wiser spending choices.”

Other than ending the Iraqi war and the Afghan war – which should be done ASAP – no significant savings can be found in military spending. Certainly not savings to the tune of 1.4% of GDP. Certain savings could be made (on bases, personnel, socialized medicine, fuel costs, overhead, and O&M costs), and my Defense Reform Proposals Package proposes such savings. But all defense spending savings should be reinvested in the DOD. Moreover, no big savings that could significantly reduce the budget deficit can be made at the DOD.

To reduce and ultimately eliminate the budget deficit, the Congress needs to tackle the REAL causes (if you don’t tackle the causes, you cannot cure the patient): the failed “stimulus”, the TARP program, entitlements and welfare spending. FY2010 welfare spending stands at $888 bn, the TARP program cost taxpayers $700 bn, the cost of the stimulus is over $820 bn, and entitlement programs collectively cost $1.438 trillion per year. These are the real culprits. Defense spending is microscopic compared to these programs.

I’m proud that I’m the only person who has written a comprehensive DOD reform blueprint. Burro and Coburn have not done so. But given that defense spending equals only 3.65% of GDP, no significant budget-rescuing savings can be made at the DOD.

The article I replied to is published at the following address:


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