Change I Can Believe In

Lots of noise over Obama's proposed defense budget: Pentagon Pushes Weapon Cuts., leading to the expected wails of protest from appropriators in Congress and their benefactors in private industry and trade unions (no joke, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers were loud in their disenchantment), as well as defense hawks and other persons of good will:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday unveiled a sweeping overhaul of weapons priorities to reorient the U.S. military toward winning such unconventional conflicts as the war in Afghanistan rather than fighting China, Russia or other major powers.
With thousands of jobs at stake, political battles over the proposal are likely to be intense. The defense secretary is seeking a wide range of cuts, affecting pet programs at almost every major U.S. contractor, as well as several high-profile contracts with European companies.
Mr. Gates's proposed baseline 2010 Defense Department budget of $534 billion is up 4% from last year. But it signals a major departure from business as usual at the Pentagon, with a heavy emphasis on overhauling a procurement process that he and congressional leaders have decried as being too heavily influenced by powerful contractors.

This is hardly a typical anti-military initiative from the Left. Gates has been broadcasting his intent to make changes in weapons systems, strategic focus, and the procurement process - all of which had been adrift and faltering since the end of the Cold War, despite the commencement of the War On Terror.
Mr. Gates said Monday he planned to halt new purchases of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet fromLockheed Martin Corp. after delivery of 187 of the aircraft already ordered. He also said there would be no more orders for Boeing Co. C-17 transport planes beyond the 205 planned.

Mr. Gates proposed boosting certain programs, including Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 Lightning fighter jet, as well as a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Army's $200 billion Future Combat Systems program, led by Boeing and SAICInc., would be trimmed through a call to cancel an $87 billion high-tech ground-vehicle effort. Mr. Gates said plans for the program "do not adequately reflect the lessons of counterinsurgency and close quarters combat in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Other cancellations included an advanced satellite communications program, and the replacement of Air Force search-and-rescue helicopters. Shipbuilding is also getting trimmed, with the Navy holding off on a futuristic cruiser program. An older destroyer design will go back into production.

The above looks like good old-fashioned cost-cutting to meet the reality of combat we face now, rather the traditional standing armies that we always seem to plan to face, but never do. Gates is certainly not cutting our personnel:

Beyond military hardware, Mr. Gates said the Pentagon plans a 5% increase in the number of special operations forces, or 2,800 people. He called for plans to recruit more cyber-warfare experts, and to add Army helicopter pilots and maintenance crews, in a move that will help support operations in Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates also plans to hire more than 30,000 new civilian officials over the next five years, gradually reducing the number of contractors to 26% of the Pentagon work force, down from a current 39%.

Gates' increase in warriors and support staff reflects one of the unspoken lessons of the Iraq War. Before 2003, many of our weapons systems were designed with the partial goal of making combat as safe as posible. This reflected the post-Viet Nam political atmosphere that viewed any combat fatalities as a major liability. The phobia towards combat deaths became terminal after The Battle of Mogadishu when a single corpse being dragged through the streets was apparently enough to send our military - which had seemed invinsible just a few years earlier in Panama and Desert Storm - hightailing it out of town. Even the post-9/11 Afghan War, with its handful of Special Forces and sizable contingent of hired guns, reflected the military's aversion to combat deaths. But, in Iraq, we have seen that a majority of the American public is willing to endure thousands of combat deaths over several years without demanding the sort of skedaddling that previous administrations engaged in. Gates' shift to close-combat weapons and away from over-prices planes and "Future Combat Systems" shows that civilians at the Pentagon view the American public as being much more supportive of real combat, and real casualties, so long as there is some sort of strategic point to it all.

Many fret that we will go "back to the Nineties," in that the military will spend most of its time dealing with sexual harassment and gay rights issues, rather than with actual national defense. It's a legitimate worry in a dollars and cents sense, but the problems that arose from cashing in the supposed peace dividend came from a Clinton administration that couldn't have cared less about military affairs and national defense, rather than a Pentagon that was simply starved for funds. And, Gates is no Les Aspin or William Cohen. He was a dedicated Cold Warrior and successfully implemented the Surge strategy. That should be more than enough to give this some legitimacy.

Here's a list of countries by size of armed forces. If you are literally losing sleep over "defense cuts," I would urge you to go take a look at it. Only 5 nations - China, the US, India, Russia, and North Korea - have more than a million men at arms. Pacifist Japan has a larger military than Great Britain or Israel. ERITRIA has a larger army than Great Britain, not to mention France. Rwanda has managed to become one of Africa's hegemonic military powers, despite having a military that ranks below Yemen's and just above Armenia's.

The truth is that the size and scope of one's military is hardly a barometer for success. What counts is whether you use your military wisely, and whether your resources are used in an intelligent manner. In this decade, the Afghan War, the invasion of Iraq, and the Surge were smashing successes, despite there being relatively few "boots on the ground." On the other hand, the years of the Iraq Insurgency (2004 - early 2007) saw colossal failures, in which Radio Shack level technology and Indian Wars style tactics were used to hobble our expensive equipment and weapons systems. What's the point of building a single warship at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars if it can be sunk by two guys in a boat, as nearly happened to the USS Cole? Why buy fighters at a cost of $140 million each(!) when the Air Force's most effective weapon this decade has been the decades old B-52's and AC-10 Warthogs?

Gates is also promising to "fix" the procurement system to which I say, it's about damned time. Is there anyone more symbolic of our corrupt weapons purchasing system than Jack Murtha, a man who became a national fugure by defaming Marines as war criminals, while also acting as the Democrat's lead appropriator for military affairs? Was there anymore of an absurd spectacle last year - in a year of absurd spectacles - than that of an anti-war Green like Patty Murray rushing to demand that Boeing be given the Air Force's tanker contract, even after Boeing executives had gone to jail for corrupt practices in trying to procure said contract?

Is Gates' plan perfect? Of course not. The cuts in missile defense would not seem to be a good idea, given that ballistic missile technology is within reach of even economically backward nations like North Korea. The Left is famously hostile towards missile defense, for whatever reason, but it looks to me like Gates wants to maintain some form of Missile Defense, but is canceling the most expensive and least proven aspects of it. Also, while the emphasis on small scale insurgencies is probably a reflection of what combat will look like in the next decade, it seems silly not be a at least preparing to fight one traditional standing army. Can't we do both?

I, of course, don't support the president's plans on the budget, Wall Street, bailouts, health care and all the rest of his domestic initiatives. But, I can certainly support a comprehensive and well thought out reform and redirection for our national defense. I hope Obama's plan survives the wave of attacks that it will certainly attract.

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