Obama's Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish Defense Budget

COMMENTARY Budget and Spending

Obama's Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish Defense Budget

Apr 14th, 2009 3 min read
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

It is the year 2019. A speechwriter rummages through a pile of reports and press clips, preparing to draft testimony for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hers is not a happy task. For months now, reporters have documented the continuing decline of military readiness. It has been 10 years since Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled his plan to slash spending on programs meant to assure the long-term security of the nation. Since his historic, April 6, 2009, announcement, it's become plain that Gates' short-term savings plan short-changed future readiness.

Nowhere is this more evident than in missile defense. Gates had ordered a $1.4 billion reduction in funding for that program, effectively stopping the development of more advanced missile defense systems. His rationale was that they were not needed because countries like Iran and North Korea had not yet successfully demonstrated that their missiles could reach U.S. soil.

Unfortunately, while Washington gutted its defensive program, Tehran and Pyongyang plowed full speed ahead with their offensive efforts. Encouraged by U.S. inaction, they shared Technology and lessons learned (and received covert assistance from other countries).

As a result, their ballistic missile programs had raced ahead even faster than anticipated. Now both nations boast of robust arsenals and the will to use them jointly against the United States. America is more vulnerable to missile attack than ever. The speechwriter sighs.

The picture for conventional forces is no prettier. Gates had rejected buying additional F-22 fighters, opting instead to acquire less expensive F-35 fighters. Both aircraft had state-of-the art capabilities, but one was not a substitute for the other. They were designed to work together: The F-22 conducting long-range strikes, penetrating the most sophisticated enemy air defenses and clearing a path for the F-35.

The decision to shut down F-22 production was strictly budget-driven. The Air Force clearly needed about 60 more to provide global coverage. Without them, there was more demand than planes. But while our Air Force took a step back, countries like Iran, China, and North Korea had taken two steps forward.

Now, they are ringed with the most sophisticated air defenses on the market. If a crisis breaks out in the Middle East, the Taiwan Straits, or the Korean peninsula, America might find itself blocked out of the airspace. Uncle Sam can forget about establishing the air supremacy it had enjoyed in every conflict since World War II.

Life is no better at sea. Gates had ordered the Navy to delay investments in next-generation destroyers and aircraft carriers. Other countries, however, poured money into new anti-ship missiles and mines. Over the course of the decade, America's blue water navy has been pushed further and further out to sea to avoid these growing threats.

"The Navy is fearful to enter critical sea lanes or approach enemy shores," the speechwriter muses. "How can I write around that?"

The land force situation offers no solace. Gates' decision to scrap the Army's development of the next-generation of combat vehicles had proved penny-wise and pound-foolish. Starting over had only increased the time and money needed to develop new vehicles. It left the Army with more manpower and less useful tools. Ten years on, they are saddled with equipment that's too old, too heavy, and almost impossible to deploy rapidly to far-off trouble spots.

Okay, back to today. I've painted a bleak future, but it doesn't have be that way. There is no need to make draconian cuts in the Pentagon's procurement budget.

That budget represents less than one-fifth of Washington's spending. It is neither the cause of the federal deficit, nor a cesspool of wasteful spending (as Defense critics so often portray it).

Even with a war on and an all-volunteer force, U.S. Defense spending today totals less than four percent of our gross domestic product. That's only about half the level of Defense spending maintained during the Cold war.

Defense is not the source of our national economic woes. In fact, cutting defenses just cuts more jobs.

Congress and the White House have had no problems ponying up hundreds of billions of dollars for such "vital" programs as bailing out bankers and hedge-fund managers, paying gentlemen farmers not to grow food, building neighborhood bike trails and removing tattoos. How can they countenance short-changing the people prepared to fight and die to keep us free?

One of the few duties assigned to Congress under our Constitution is to "provide for the common defense." That doesn't mean leaving our men and women in uniform to defend us with rusty swords and broken shields.

James Jay Carafano is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and the author of GI Ingenuity: Improvisation, Technology and Winning World War II.

First Appeared in the Washington Examiner