Defense Spending Correction

In the podcast posted today on Cato’s main site, I say that it appears likely that Obama will accept a massive increase in defense spending foisted on him by the Pentagon for its FY 2010 budget. It did appear that way a week ago when I recorded the podcast. Bill Lynn, the Raytheon lobbyist Obama nominated to be Bob Gates’ number two at the Pentagon, had said as much, and I figured he knew what the administration was planning.

Turns out, he didn’t. Over the weekend, various news outlets reported that the Office of Management and Budget told the Pentagon to forget the $70 billion bump they hoped for, which would have brought non-war defense spending from about $513 billion to $584 billion, and accept a far smaller increase - about $14 billion, which is about what Pentagon plans called for before this gambit.

As I wrote here a couple months ago, the Pentagon, and the services within it, presumably hoped that they could present Obama with a fait accompli. If he ordered the Pentagon to roughly hold spending level, neoconservatives on the Hill and the Washington Post’s oped page could spin it as a cut and scream “surrender!” Bob Kagan, Max Boot, and others fell right into line.

Boot defends himself here by saying A. he doesn’t know enough about defense spending to know when FoxNews is misleading him, so it’s not his fault, and B. $584 is what the Joint Chiefs say they need to defend the nation, so it really is a cut. He asks, “Are Obama and his budget director prepared to say they understand the military’s needs better than the senior military leadership?” One would certainly hope so, given the concept of civilian control of the military. Boot is apparently unaware that the military organizations usually ask for what they think they can get and call it what they need.

Missing from all this discussion is a fact I only see hidden behind a subscription wall at Inside the Pentagon – the Obama team is going to increase the planned amount of spending over five years. Rather than the leveling off in defense spending that Bush administration had planned, the Obama administration plans to keep it growing mildly.

Hopefully that report is premature or the decision will be reconsidered – and historically these plans rarely hold up. The Pentagon’s budget should be drastically reduced. See the defense budget chapter of the Cato Policy Handbook for details. The bottom line is that it starts with restraint. Do less to spend less. That would avoid needless wars, which is the category of most of those we might fight these days, and the cost incurred by preparing for so many.

*I also say in the podcast that: “We spend more on research and development on new weapons systems than any other country other than China.”

I meant to say “We spend more on researching and developing new weapons than any other country spends on its entire military, other than China.”

Big difference.