The Closet Moderate: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Defense Budget

Friday, February 27, 2009

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Defense Budget

One of my enduring frustrations has been the way this country approaches defense spending as a political issue. Since no politician wants to be called an America-hating sissy by his peers, Congress tends to rubber-stamp defense appropriations and we spend a lot of money on stupid projects that aren't relevant to our strategic needs. I'm not going to go off on a lefty rant about how we spend more money than the rest of the world combined, or bitch about how our defense budged prevents us from spending more money on education, or something similar. Well, our global predominance is based on two things:

1. The fact that Europe essentially destroyed its economic and military might in the early to mid-20th century with a series of brutal wars from which the USA emerged relatively unscathed.

2. The fact that since 1945 we have provided security guarantees to the richest parts of the world--Europe and Northeast Asia--relieving a significant portion of their defense burden and allowing them to prosper economically.

Make no mistake, the reason we're able to do #2 is that we have the biggest, baddest motherfucking military machine out there. Snuggled under our nuclear and conventional umbrella, those nations have little or no reason to compete with us militarily and strong incentives to cooperate with us on matters ranging from foreign policy and defense to economic policy.[+]More

That said, there's smart defense spending and stupid defense spending, and the Obama people seem to have figured out which is which. While I love crazy-ass fighter jets as much as the next red-blooded American, there's no reason to think that we're going to be getting into dogfights against, uh, the Taliban airforce any time in the near future. Similarly, while the six-year-old boy in every man loves the idea of a "stealth destroyer," the Zumwalt DDX has been a joke for a while now. The Obama folks also recognize that the Burke-class destroyers we've got are pretty fuckin' badass and half the price of the Zumwalt.

The new administration is also scaling back our missile defense spending. Now, I know, everybody loves missile defense. According to official US mythology, our fake and stupid space-laser missile defense system destroyed the USSR, etc., etc. That's not true, but it's a story for another day. The problem with missile defense is that it makes the rest of the world very nervous because it undermines the MAD paradigm. So, if you're going to upset the post-1949 security equilibrium, you'd better have a system that works. And even if you do have a system that can perform a task as difficult as hitting a bullet with another bullet, it's probably best not to kick off that initiative by taking an enormous, steaming shit on Russia's front porch.

As a final note, a long time ago a professor of mine told me that what wins wars is grunts with rifles. Nothing I've seen over the past 9 years (FCS, the RMA, etc.) has given me any reason to doubt the wisdom of those words. I remember talking to Waldorf in 2002 about the idea of cutting our useless third-world-impoverishing, free-trade-hindering agricultural subsidies and plowing that money into higher salaries for the men and women who are willing to take a bullet for this country. We both agreed that it was politically impossible, but it looks like this crazy new President is going to try.

It's about fuckin' time.

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