Response to a ridiculous article in the AF Times

A short, but ridiculous article, factually incorrect from the beginning to the end, was published in the Air Force Times on April 23rd, 2011. The article states:

“Defense Secretary Robert Gates seemed taken aback by President Obama’s call to find another $400 billion in defense budget savings over 10 years as part of a broader effort to tame the nation’s growing budget deficit.

After all, Gates already saved over $300 billion by ending or scaling back more than 50 major weapons programs two years ago. Last fall, he cut another $78 billion over five years.”

This is a blatant lie. Obama’s proposed defense cuts are not “part of a broader effort” to reduce the budget deficit. The truth is that like other opponents of defense spending, Obama couldn’t care less about the budget deficit. His intention is to gut the US military. It is important to note that this is the same man who sat in the pews of the church of Jeremiah Wright for 20 years.

If Obama was really serious about the budget deficit, he would’ve proposed cuts to other categories of federal spending besides defense spending. He hasn’t. Defense spending is the ONLY category of federal expenditures that he has singled out for significant cuts. He has vehemently rejected any serious reforms of the SS, Medicare, and Medicaid programs, and has admitted he intends to shield his beloved socialist boondoggles (such as high-speed rail) from budget cuts. The (misnamed) Committee for a Responsible Budget says in its analysis of his proposals that:

On non-security spending, the President proposes building on the discretionary cuts

from the recent Continuing Resolution that defines spending levels for the remainder of

FY 2011 in order to generate savings similar to what was recommended by the Fiscal
Commission. Though the President does not specify how he would achieve this, locking
in this year’s spending levels and then growing them a bit below the rate of inflation
would likely accomplish that goal. On security spending, the President calls for holding
growth below the level of inflation. The Administration estimates these changes would
save nearly $1.2 trillion over 12 years."

The source:

In short, Obama plans to cut defense spending by $400 bn over the next 12 FYs, and reduce the broader category of “security spending” (which is much broader than the defense budget and includes the DHS, the DOJ and the DOE) to below-inflation levels, while continually adjusting nonsecurity discretionary spending to inflation and then growing it above inflation! This is, in other words, a recipe for a repetition of the budget cuts of the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1970s, the late 1980s, and the 1990s, when defense spending was the ONLY category of spending which was cut.

Moreover, the author of that ridiculous AF Times opinion article, whose name has not been revealed, has omitted the fact that almost all of the over 50 weapon programs Gates closed in 2009 were crucial, necessary weapon programs which shouldn’t have been closed but which the Obama Admin did not like – crucial modernization programs such as the F-22, the Zumwalt class, the MKV, the KEI, the CSARX program, and the NGB design project.

The article further states that:

“But even after adjusting for inflation, the defense budget is bigger today than at the peak of the Korean or Vietnam wars, consuming half of all discretionary federal spending.”

In absolute numbers, the first claim barely correct. The FY1968 defense budget, passed at the peak of the Vietnamese war, was $501.13 bn in FY2011 dollars, just $12 bn less than the FY2011 defense budget. But as a %age of GDP (which is a better measure for long-term comparisons), it’s flat wrong. At the peak of the Korean War, the defense budget amounted to 14% of GDP, and at the peak of the Vietnamese War to 9% of GDP.

The second claim, that the defense budget “consumes half of all discretionary spending” – is a blatant lie. The FY2011 discretionary budget is ca. $1.070 trillion. The defense budget ($513.1 bn) accounts for just 47.9% of that. So that claim is a blatant lie.

The author then proposes his/her efficiencies, which, while worth pursuing, would, by themselves, be inadequate to meet Obama’s hard-to-achieve, politically motivated, arbitrarily chosen and imposed goal of a 400 bn cut over the next 10-12 FYs. There isn’t much waste left in the defense budget after all the cuts of the last 22 years. The author says:

Finding another $400 billion in spending cuts — about $40 billion a year, or 7 percent of today’s base budget, not including war costs — won’t be easy. But it can be done. For starters:

• Hold future annual defense spending growth at or below the rate of inflation, and cut the contractor labor force by 10 percent. The Pentagon doesn’t even know how many contract employees it supports.

• Conduct a comprehensive force structure review, looking not only at how many people are needed in each unit, but how to make better use of each individual’s time.

• Continue Gates’ efficiency reforms through such actions as unifying the fragmented military medical system and consolidating commissaries and exchanges into a single retail system. Together, those moves would save about $1.5 billion a year.”

The first proposal is downright troubling, and it’s not a specific efficiency at all. It’s an arbitrary budget cut goal: “hold defense spending at or below inflation level”. It would mean severe pain for the military.

The author then claimed that:

“Obama’s target is conservative — and realistically, probably just a starting point for further cuts.”

The truth is that Obama’s target is NOT conservative. It’s an arbitrary order for huge budget cuts, which he intends to impose on top of all the drastic budget cuts already imposed on the DOD, and in parallel with, not instead of, the savings resulting from the planned withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The author concluded the article with these false claims:

“America has the best military in the world. It can and should maintain its edge. But DoD must manage its resources better. Even with these cuts, America will account for half the world’s defense spending. That ought to be enough to buy the very best.”

These claims are blatant lies. Firstly, America no longer has the best military in the world. It used to, but no longer does.

Secondly, the US, as of 2009, ALREADY didn’t account, and STILL doesn’t account, for “half of the world’s defense spending”. According to the SIPRI, as of the end of 2009, the US accounted for merely 43% of the world’s total military spending (including America’s annual GWOT budget), even if one accepts the vastly understated figures for China and Russia. As of today, the US  STILL doesn’t account for more than 43% of the world’s total military spending. After these budget cuts (if they are enacted – let’s hope they aren’t), the US would account for an even smaller share of global military spending than 43%. Moreover, what share of global military spending does the US account for, and how much other countries spend, is totally irrelevant. America’s defense budget and force structure should depend on what America’s defense needs are, not on how much other countries spend on their militaries. As the Heritage Foundation rightly said in the concluding remarks of its exhaustive study of America’s defense needs:

“Some may argue that the U.S. spends more than all other countries combined on national defense and therefore can drastically cut defense budgets. This analysis makes it clear that America’s military requirements should depend on a careful analysis of threats, capabilities, and requirements, not on superficial comparisons of countries’ defense budgets. America’s military strategy should be determined by the global requirements involved in meeting the objectives of its strategy, not by how much other nations spend.”

And thirdly, no, America’s current share of the global total is not enough to “buy the very best”, nor to provide for the strongest military in the world, and neither will the drastically smaller defense budgets that Obama has called for. A strong military costs; the strongest military in the world would cost a considerable sum of money; high-quality weapons, people, and facilities are expensive. That is an unavoidable reality. Defense on the cheap is not possible. European countries have been trying defense on the cheap for 21 years, and now none of them, other than France, can even muster a single attack aircraft squadron to bomb Libya. Britain’s airforce has been decimated so badly that the RAF had to rob its pilot school of instructors to replenish a squadron of just 18 men. To fund America’s defense properly, one will need an annual defense budget of no less than 553.1 bn in CY2011 dollars (according to SECDEF Gates and myself); the Heritage Foundation estimates that the annual defense budget should be larger than that. In any event, the FY2011 budget is inadequate, and the defense budgets Obama plans for the DOD post-FY2012, if enacted, would be vastly inadequate. The US military cannot tolerate any further budget cuts. Period.

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