Bob Gates tries to have it both ways and thus discredits himself yet again

Yesterday, Bob Gates delivered a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, during which he tried to have it both ways. On the one hand, just like he did during the Reagan Gala a few days earlier, he underlined the importance of a strong military and the need to protect modernization spending. He also cited statistics which prove that – as he said during the AEI speech – defense spending is not the cause of America’s fiscal woes: the defense budget for FY2011 constitutes only 3.5% of GDP and less than 15% of the total federal budget, and even total military spending constitutes only ca. 4.5% of GDP.

On the other hand, he falsely claimed that “defense spending must be part of the solution”, i.e. that defense budget cuts must be made in order to reduce the budget deficit. He said: “I have long believed — and I still do — that the defense budget, however large it may be, is not the cause of this country’s fiscal woes. However, as matter of simple arithmetic and political reality, the Department of Defense must be at least part of the solution.” This is false.

Defense cuts constitute no solution at all. Any budget plan calling for defense cuts would constitute no solution. It would be a damaging policy, not a solution. Defense spending – as Gates has acknowledged – is not the cause of America’s fiscal problem, so cutting it will not solve that problem; it would only weaken the US military.

Defense cuts, no matter how deep, would only slightly decrease the budget deficit – as Gates himself has warned time after time. As he has rightly warned, even cutting the defense budget by 10% would reduce the budget deficit by nothing more than a rounding error, yet it would be “catastrophic” for the military.

The FY2011 defense budget constitutes less than 15% of the FY2011 total federal budget, so even eliminating it entirely would not even significantly reduce, let alone eliminate, the annual budget deficit (1.65 trillion USD per year). Cutting the defense budget by 25% (as Barney Frank has proposed) would render the US military totally impotent, and yet, even if made from the FY2012 planned baseline (553 bn), would only slightly reduce the annual budget deficit – by 137.5 bn USD per year.

The federal budget can and must be balanced without defense spending cuts – by significantly reducing domestic spending, discretionary and nondiscretionary alike.

But that’s not the only ridiculous thing Gates has said. He has claimed that the US should keep three Army BCTs in Europe, even though the probability of a Russian invasion of Western Europe is almost 0% and the EU is capable (though unwilling) of defending itself.

Gates has claimed that Pakistan is a crucial ally fighting against AQ and the Taleban and that the money given to it was not wasted. The contrary is the truth. Proof:

He has said that he understands those who believe that the only reason the nation faces tough choices in defense spending is that the Pentagon’s budget isn’t as large as it should be. ”

Absent a catastrophic international conflict or new existential threat, we are not likely to return to Cold War levels of defense expenditures, at least as a share of national wealth anytime soon,” he said. “Nor do I believe we need to.”

The threats and potential adversaries the nation faces today are dangerous and daunting for their complexity, variety and unpredictability, Gates said. “But as a matter of national survival,” he added, “they do not approach the scale of the Soviet military threat that provided the political and strategic rationale for defense expenditures that consumed a significant portion of our economy.”

But Gates has offered a straw man argument. AFAIK, no one has argued for reinstating Cold War era levels of defense spending. Most analysts have argued only for raising the level of defense expenditures to 4% of GDP. Throughout all of the Cold War, except the late 1940s, America’s defense spending was higher than that. Throughout most of the Cold War, it was much higher than that. The FY2011 defense budget is woefully inadequate, and even the FY2012 DOD budget request is insufficient if the Heritage Foundation is to be believed.

And China is a bigger threat than the Soviet Union. It has the weapons to challenge the US across the whole spectrum of warfare – ground, aerial, naval, nuclear, cyber, and spacial. It has a much larger population and a much larger economy. It can challenge the US with regular and irregular weapons, while the USSR could only mount a conventional invasion of other countries and threaten the US with nuclear weapons.

Of course, China isn’t the only threat to the US. There’s also Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Syria. But Gates is a veteran in downplaying the capabilities of America’s enemies.

Gates then lied that:

“We cancelled or curtailed modernization programs that were egregiously over-budget, behind schedule, dependent on unproven technology, supplied a niche requirement that could be met in other ways, or that simply did not pass the common sense test:  A $200 billion future combat system for the Army that, a decade after IEDS and EFPs began to kill or maim thousands of our troops, was based on lightweight, flat-bottomed vehicles that relied on near-perfect information awareness to detect the enemy before he could strike.  Or a missile defense program that called for a fleet of laser-bearing 747s circling slowly inside enemy air space to get off a shot at a missile right after launch.”

Most of the programs he killed in 2009 and last year were not egregiously over-budget, egregiously behind schedule, dependent on unproven technology, nor meeting niche, narrow requirements. The F-22, MKV, KEI, CSARX, AC-X, Next Generation Bomber, and Zumwalt class programs were absolutely necessary and were designed to meet a wide range of missions. The MKV, for example, would’ve enhanced GBIs and and SM-3s.

As for the ABL program, although a B747 serves as a prototype for it, it envisions a fleet of laser armed Hercules planes flying OUTSIDE an enemy’s airspace and shooting his ballistic missiles shortly after launch – because that’s when they’re most vulnerable. The ABL plane seeks out the enemy missile’s weakest part – its fuel tank – and shoots it, thus causing it (and the whole missile) to explode. It is affordable and deserves taxpayers’ money. It offers the best chance of intercepting enemy missiles. It works well against TBMs (three successful tests in a row), but it also can intercept ICBMs, which have thinner skins than TBMs.

Gates has also falsely claimed that:

“At the same time, we made new investments in higher priorities related to the current wars and, in some cases, re-started efforts that filled a genuine military need for the future – such as a follow-on bomber for the Air Force, the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle, and a new Marine amphibious tractor.”

But the truth is that Secretary Gates closed the nascent NGB program in April 2009 – thus not allowing it to exist on anything other than drawing boards – and did not request any money for it until 2010. Even now, though, he requests too little funding and calls for too few bombers – 80-100 when the USAF needs hundreds. So Gates is behaving with the NGB program like Robert McNamara behaved with the ABM program: he has publicly acqueisesced to it, but he’s privately sabotaging it. As for the USMC’s amphibious tractor – he has cancelled that program.

Gates then said that:

“The goal is that any new weapons system should meet benchmarks for cost, schedule and performance while minimizing “requirements creep” – the kind of indiscipline that leads to $25 million howitzers, $500 million helicopters, $2 billion bombers, and $7 billion submarines. “

But there have never been any $2 billion bombers or $7 billion submarines. Even a single B-2 didn’t cost $2 bn – even if you include R&D costs, in which case the unit cost is $1.2 billion. And they would’ve been much cheaper if the Air Force had received the 132 planned B-2s instead of the 21 it got. The decision to end the production of B-2s did not save taxpayers a single cent. As for submarines – the planned unit cost of next generation SSBNs was indeed, initially, $7 bn per unit, but that has been brought down to $5 bn per unit and would’ve been brought down even further, to $2 bn per unit, if the DOD had chosen the Virginia class design as the basis for the SSBNX design, because the DOD would’ve skipped the R&D phase this way.

Gates also tried to defend Obama’s indefensible call for further radical defense budget cuts:

“What’s being proposed by the President is nothing close to the dramatic cuts of the past.  For example, defense spending in constant dollars declined by roughly a third between 1985 and 1998.  What’s being considered today, assuming all $400 billion comes from DoD over 12 years, corresponds to a projected reduction of about 5 percent in constant dollars – or slightly less than keeping pace with inflation.”

The truth is that these cuts WOULD be dramatic. They would be large, in nominal terms and per year alike. Obama has proposed to cut defense spending by $400 billion over the next 12 FYs, i.e. by about $33 bn per fiscal year. As Gates has acknowledged, mere efficiencies will not produce enough savings. To meet this arbitrary goal, which was dictated before any review had taken place, the DOD will have to weaken the military itself, e.g. by giving up some crucial capabilities.

So Gates is lying.

During the 1970s, defense spending shrank from ca.$500 billion in FY1968 to slightly over $320 billion in FY1981, that’s true. During the 1990s, defense spending was more than halved. But these defense budget cuts proposed by Obama WOULD be dramatic, and Obama has proposed to impose them on top of the cuts he has already administered. Gutting the US military is Obama’s goal. These cuts would not weaken the military accidentally; they are DESIGNED to gut the military.

Gates has once again done the DOD and the US military a great disservice by defending and rationalizing defense cut proposals. His words will undoubtely be cherry-picked and used by liberals, libertarians, and other opponents of a strong defense.

Gates has flip-flopped even faster than I predicted he would. In April, after Obama delivered his ridiculous speech, I wrote:

“When Obama first announced his plan to cut defense spending by $400 bn over the next 12 FYs and gut America’s defense completely (a process he begun in 2009), on April 13th, 2011, I asked publicly how Robert Gates would respond. Gates has spoken out against further defense cuts, especially significant ones, calling them “math not strategy”, so I asked whether Gates would oppose Obama or flip-flop again (as he has done many times as SECDEF). Of course, I suspected what the answer would be: that he will flip-flop again and insist that Obama’s new round of defense cuts (motivated by the need to find money to finance Obama’s bloated socialist domestic programs at the cost of America’s defense) is justifiable.

Gates has not yet said so, but he has already begun to weaken under Obama’s pressure, and he’s now acqueiescing (spl?) to Obama’s defense cut demands.”

The answer is clear now: Yes, Secretary Gates has flip-flopped. He’s now rationalizing the very defense cuts he originally opposed and warned against.

And so, he has utterly discredited himself yet again, thus proving that he’s the absolutely worst Secretary of Defense America has ever had.


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