Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 5, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

PENTAGON SPENDING....Fred Kaplan notes that the FY2009 Pentagon budget includes $184 billion for major weapons systems and that not a single one is even a candidate for termination:

Is it remotely conceivable that the Defense Department is the one federal bureaucracy that has not designed, developed, or produced a single expendable program? The question answers itself.

There is another way to probe this question. Look at the budget share distributed to each of the three branches of the armed services. The Army gets 33 percent, the Air Force gets 33 percent, and the Navy gets 34 percent.

As I have noted before (and, I'm sure, will again), the budget has been divvied up this way, plus or minus 2 percent, each and every year since the 1960s. Is it remotely conceivable that our national-security needs coincide so precisely — and so consistently over the span of nearly a half-century — with the bureaucratic imperatives of giving the Army, Air Force, and Navy an even share of the money? Again, the question answers itself. As the Army's budget goes up to meet the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force's and Navy's budgets have to go up by roughly the same share, as well. It would be a miracle if this didn't sire a lot of waste and extravagance.

You know, I wouldn't even mind the waste all that much if we were actually spending the bulk of this money on contemporary threats — like, say, global terrorism — that are supposedly our top priority. But if that's the case, why do we keep spending vast sums on weapons systems designed to fight a massive conventional war against Russia or China? Money talks, and I'm pretty sure that F-35s, new carrier groups, and Virginia-class subs aren't going to root Osama bin Laden out of his cave. Gives you pause, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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Comments

Wasn't there some sort of statistic that said if we didn't increase our military spending so much after 9/11, the economy would have produced even fewer jobs than it has since Bush took office...or something similar to that? If that's the case, might it have something to do with it?

Posted by: Brian on February 5, 2008 at 12:13 AM | PERMALINK

Dang, to hear you talk, you'd think that democratic government is all about serving the needs of the people it supposedly represents, rather than fleecing them for the benefit of the true, corporate, clients of government.

Posted by: Jennifer on February 5, 2008 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

We have a military which can pound the living crap out of any conventional army, navy or airforce in the world.....and we are being humiliated and shredded by impoverished angry people armed with looted surplus artillery shells and garage door openers.

On a purely military basis, it takes about $20 worth of wired together surplus stuff to destroy a tank costing literally millions per unit.

On a fiscal basis, it is bankrupting us.

On a human basis, it is destroying our democracy.

Semper Fi!!!

Posted by: DWEB on February 5, 2008 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

Carrier groups project our power, and allow our forces to have superiority anywhere in the world. They're basically little pieces of US military soil.

In the 1990s, all the aircraft except a small few (carrier, vtol) were moved to the Air Force. The Air Force also operates all missile and orbital tracking. So their job was changed to shift the duties to match the spending.

Why don't we have real plans? I don't know. I don't know why we even use Marines in the desert. That makes no sense. Yet we do.

If we're to be a military power, some amount of money should be spent to be prepared against other conventional forces.

But why don't we have laws against using our reserve forces for adventures like Iraq? Where was out defense in 2001? The National Guard? Where is it today?

I dunno. It's all cool technology, but we don't seem to get the same number of jobs per dollar as we used to.

Posted by: Crissa on February 5, 2008 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

Well, our fleet of aircraft (both Navy and Air Force) is getting insanely old-we really do need to replace the Super Hornet and Eagle. That's pretty normal for any military to do. Granted, our procurement system is screwed up, but that doesn't change the underlying reality that our airframes are getting pretty old.
And, yes, F-35s and whatnot may not be the best counterinsurgent weapons, but I think you'd be pretty naive to think we're never, ever going to get involved in traditional nation state, mano a mano conventional wars in the future.

Posted by: Amanda on February 5, 2008 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

We need eleventybillion more nuclear powered Aegis-class destroyers to defend us from...Mexico. Or something.

Destroyers. Remember those things? They're these little boats that float around. Small. Tiny.

Each Aegis costs upwards of a billion dollars.

The Navy used to use destroyers to drop depth charges on German U-boats.

In World War II.

60 years ago.

The last time they were useful.

Oh yeah, we also have a ton of battleships around.

Battleships were pretty useful. In World War I.

Posted by: Old Hat on February 5, 2008 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

You know, I wouldn't even mind the waste all that much if we were actually spending the bulk of this money on contemporary threats — like, say, global terrorism — that are supposedly our top priority.

This is just silly, Kevin. Waste is waste, no matter what it's going to be wasted on.

It is a fact that our military budgets have been way out of line, taking hundreds of billions that we should be spending on domestic matters or more productive diplomatic efforts, for decades. And no President in that period, D or R, has done anything worth a damn about it.

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on February 5, 2008 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

General Eisenhower warned against the military industrial complex. He had every reason to know. He was there when it was invented.

Do you realize that after ever war before WWII the American military was reduced to very low levels. Predominantly the military was reduced to a training school for future generals and admirals and a way to project power to a tiny bunch of protectorates.

After WWII we had an excuse. We jumped straight into the cold war. But after the cold war there no enemy worthy of the name left, but we kept on building F-35s and all those other goodies designed to run the Russians out of Western Europe.

The difference. The defense contractors have plants in every congressional district. Think about your own district for a minute. How many people are employed at the local weapons plant, military base, or shipyard. How many of you don't have some kind of military related facility in your district. I bet the number is exceedingly small. That's no accident. No congress critter will ever vote against jobs in his or her own district.

The Defense budget is just like the Ag budget -- mostly pork and the politicians know it.

Posted by: corpus juris on February 5, 2008 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

Even if you discount the possibility of McCain getting us involved in a land war in Asia, you're all forgetting about the dual use possibilities of nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, battle tanks, and cyber insect armies.

Historically military spending provided completely unexpected benefits in the form of widely used civilian technologies like nuclear power, the internet, GPS, and vaccines. Also don't forget civilian applications of the Humvee and advances in prosthetics and brain injury science.

Posted by: B on February 5, 2008 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's very important to be accurate when criticizing (quite reasonably) Bush's absurd military budget, so I should point out to Harry that (a) there are no battleships in commission; the Iowa is sitting in Suisun Bay waiting to find out where it will be moved as memorial, but that's it -- and the only gun cruiser left is in the same situation (different place), (b) destroyers do (and did) a lot more than drop depth charges, and (c) destroyers, not necessarily with all the frills they like to put on them, are still extremely useful for patrol, surveillance, detection capacities, ASW capacities (hardly just depth charges), AA, interdiction, and force projection. What I am concerned about, and have not seen addressed, is the apparent significant decrease in the time in service of major naval vessels.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on February 5, 2008 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

We have a military which can pound the living crap out of any conventional army, navy or airforce in the world.....and we are being humiliated and shredded by impoverished angry people armed with looted surplus artillery shells and garage door openers.

What are you, trapped in the sixties? Yeah, the rest of us, too.

Posted by: thersites on February 5, 2008 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK


Historically military spending provided completely unexpected benefits in the form of widely used civilian technologies like nuclear power, the internet, GPS, and vaccines. Also don't forget civilian applications of the Humvee and advances in prosthetics and brain injury science.

It's just possible that there are slightly more cost-efficient ways of achieving these benefits. Consider, too, the opportunity costs of the things we could have, but chose not to do, with the trillions of dollars spent on the military. (For instance, I'd think we could make a pretty good stab at providing global health care for that amount of money, an initiative which would probably do more for our national security than the alternative we chose.)

Posted by: dob on February 5, 2008 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

Here's one Fred Kaplan didn't mention: as bloated and ridiculous as that defense budget is, it doesn't include at least a couple hundred billion we're borrowing to throw at Iraq and Afghanistan. And several hundred million in the Energy Dept and other areas that are really for DoD purposes.

Our real deficit, if you include the social security surplus and the off-budget items, is probably a trillion or so, a quarter or more of what's actually being spent. Where's the "waste, fraud, and abuse" that'll cut into *that*?

Posted by: Altoid on February 5, 2008 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

The military-industrial complex must be fed. Fact of political life.

Stewart Brand's excellent suggestion: make it eat its greens.

Put photovoltaics in DARPA's budget. Windmills on every Navy base. Fuel-cell powered Humvees. Hydrogen-powered ships. Lard the Defense Budget with things that actually benefit humans rather than killing or poisoning them.

Contracters will make just as much money.

To a small degree, this has started. But it should be a budget-writer's strategic stance.

Let's recall HDTV was a Defense project!

Posted by: Emphyrio on February 5, 2008 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

Well, even if you damn libs aren't grateful for our men and women in uniform, I am.

I am proud of the way they leapt to our defense on that early morning of 9/11. It was stirring, how USAF fighter squadrons were valiantly defending the tarmac on which they stood, with proudly silent engines.

And the Secret Service for doing absolutely nothing while planes were flying into buildings, and our nation's highest officials were in public places at scheduled appearances.

And how our National Guards immediately set about defending our nation from our own citizen refugees from New Orleans.

And how the Coast Guard refused to let a silly little hundred-thousand gallon fuel spill in the San Francisco Bay interrupt their weekend. And to repeat that inaction immediately afterward during a sewage spill, that takes dedication.

Men and women in uniform, I salute you as promptly as when you come to our aid.

Posted by: anonymous on February 5, 2008 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

The DOD spending at its worst is a good jobs program for engineers and many other mid-level managers.

Why do liberals hate engineers?

Posted by: gregor on February 5, 2008 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

While Kaplan makes some good points, it's not nearly as simple as it's being made out here.

To take the example of the F-35, there are several points not being taken into account:

* Every time you change a development project, you increase the cost. Delaying a project will do so.
* R&D makes up a major cost of these projects, and is essentially fixed regardless of the number you build.
* Fighter planes have a finite life, and the F-15, F-16, Harriers, and whatnot that the F-35 is to replace are wearing out.
* There are a bunch of international partners on the F-35 project, and they face the same issues that the US military faces with its fighter planes. They will not be happy if the USA reneges on the deal to develop them, and will either turn to Europe or even Russia for their supply.
* Just because fighter planes are of limited use against insurgents doesn't mean that they are of no use. Conventional armies and air forces haven't gone away.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on February 5, 2008 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

Crissa, Amanda, Old Hat, I'm sorry, your facts are off. Robert Merkel has pointed out that it's really not that simple.

One thing that's not covered is that, outside of the major programs, a lot of the work done by the various armed services are blurred. I've personally known Navy engineers building bases in the middle of Indiana, and Army warrant officers that flew radar aircraft in the first gulf war, and Marines in charge of major weapons programs. "Jointness" is very big in the armed services.

As for the major weapons systems, let's see here:
F-15: WINGS FALLING OFF. Probably should fix that.
F-22, F-35: To those who say "we're #1 now...", well, except for the fact that late generation Russian Sukhoi aircraft are being sold to anyone with cash, and these aircraft are newer, and better than our. Are their pilots as good? Not right now. Are they going to shoot down our F-15s and 16s in droves? No, but I do NOT want to sit idly by while the Russians innovate and continue to incorporate improved electronics.

Fighter planes not useful against insurgents? I'm sorry, that's just plain wrong. Modern targeting pods (LITENING, Sniper) on aircraft turn any asset into a very competent and precise attack platform. Aircraft in Iraq don't fly without them, and they can be in an area before the enemy knows they're there, employing everything from loud engines to highly precise bombs.

New ships? The Navy is looking for smaller ships (LCS) to handle the inshore grunt work so present these days of boarding ships, patrolling, mine sweeping, special forces insertion, everthing.

New subs? Let's see, a Virginia-class sub lurking right off the coast of an enemy power with a boatload of cruise missiles and a SEAL team is a nice low profile alternative to a freaking huge carrier group.

Are there problems with the military budget? Yes, absolutely. The DoD has shown itself time and again unable to control scope creep and maintain costs, while shooting for unrealistic technological goals. That's nothing to new to anyone that's work in large engineering or IT projects though. All the methodologies in the world don't mean crap when company executives and generals and admirals ignore them.

Posted by: Alex on February 5, 2008 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, right. Our 'cool' military and their 'cool' toys stopped being cool when they failed us on THE DAY WE WERE ACTUALLY ATTACKED.

Go back to your basement military hardware fanwanking, geekboy.

Posted by: anonymous on February 5, 2008 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

The one thing that enrages me when talking about the military budgets is that all the costs of creating and maintaining our nuclear bombs aren't even included. That's in the DOE budget.

Posted by: Rich McAlister on February 5, 2008 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK

$184B for weapons systems R&D and procurement out of a total DoD budget of ~$500B (not counting those fun little wars we're fighting) doesn't seem excessive. One could argue the merits of individual weapons systems investments, but the bottom line is we still need major weapons systems.

However, one could also argue that the total DoD budget, and the size of the DoD itself, is too large for the size and nature of the threats we're likely to face in the 21st century. The reason? It's the Bush administration massive incompetence in managing national security. No matter what the challenge, the Bush response is military force. The result is obvious: a military bogged down in unwindable wars with no end in sight. As a nation we spend more on defense that the rest of the world combined. But in spite of this, Bush and his congressional enablers have managed to squander this investment on counterproductive military adventures against imaginary threats while neglecting to take the actions needed to address the actual threat of global terrorism.

There is a role for military force in fighting terrorism, but it's a limited role. (It may be appropriate to use military force to strike a terrorist training camp is Afghanistan, but our military is useless against a terrorist cell in Liverpool.) The tools needed to address the terrorist threat are intelligence gathering, surveillance, and for want of a better term, good old police work. That's where we need to make our investment, not just in major weapons systems.

aa

Posted by: aaron aardvarka on February 5, 2008 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK

All right, I'll grant you carriers and subs, but F-35s are OMGWTFBBQ cool. The best part? They very very, slightly transform.

I may be a lefty, but you will always get me when it comes to stuff like awesome jets and space-borne weapons or ships. It's just too cool not to fund.

I know that makes me a bad person.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 5, 2008 at 3:11 AM | PERMALINK

Students of history know that nearly all of the world's great empires down through the ages have collapsed from overreach and excessive military spending. Sound familiar?

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 5, 2008 at 5:33 AM | PERMALINK

One thing I've heard from people who work on military projects is that the costs are grossly blown out by the insistence on spreading the workload over as many congressional districts (and in the case of international projects like the JSF, countries) as possible.

Furthermore, setting realistic requirements and sticking to them as much as possible might help.

Furthermore, there seems to be an assumption that just because a military capability is not currently involved in killing people it has no geopolitical effect. Decommission the American carrier fleet, and Taiwan (and probably Japan and Korea) start a nuclear weapons program immediately. Heck, a country like Australia would seriously consider one under those circumstances.

Yes, there are quite reasonable questions as to whether the USA still needs a dozen supercarriers, the B-1 and B-2 bombers (if you're really trying to hit a well-protected target, you use a $500,000 cruise missile, not a $2 billion bomber - about its only unique use is a long-range stealthy delivery platform for bunker-busters), 14 ballistic missile submarines (whose only purpose is to launch nuclear weapons). And you wonder whether roughly half the US fighter fleet could be replaced with a subsonic, non-stealthy, and possibly uncrewed smart-bomb carrier. And it might be worthwhile telling some allies that they need to look after their own defence a little more in the future.

But it's not just a matter of saying "we haven't used the high-tech parts of our armed forces lately, maybe we don't really need them".

Posted by: Robert Merkel on February 5, 2008 at 6:20 AM | PERMALINK

It's not just the Defense Department that slurps up our tax dollars in the name of "defense." The energy department is in charge of maintaining our nukes. Homeland security (which really should be called The Department of Defense and the current DoD should be Department of Offense), the VA (which of all of the departments should have more funding) and the State Department.

The State Department is where you see the Military/Industrial Complex in full light. They send out foreign "aid" to nations like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. and then turn around and make weapons deals for that same money. Why they even bother with the money, it's nothing but a lame attempt to hide the intent. Just send the weapons, we all know what's up. Or rather, STOP sending the money or the weapons, do we really need to arm other nations with our tax dollars (or national debt)?

We saw the news videos recently of Bush literally dancing with a sword on his shoulder with the Saudi prince. Bush sold (actually gave as I've explained above) some more weapons to them and begged for them to open the oil spigots a smidgen more. Pathetic.

Posted by: jon b on February 5, 2008 at 7:30 AM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure that F-35s, new carrier groups, and Virginia-class subs aren't going to root Osama bin Laden out of his cave.

Thank you for that rousing lecture, General Drum, but I will now take a few moments to explain the significance of "commanding the four corners of the battle space" to you.

If the United States is to maintain battlefield supremacy, the projection of our power must be total and complete. Those F-35s will strike from on high, delivering ordnance to the target space. We project our air platforms into the theater of operations with the awesome might of our blue water Navy, stationed aboard floating airfields called "aircraft carriers." And we sneak up on our enemies and rain cruise missiles down upon them with attack submarines.

Once the Democrats have a go at the defense budget, we'll all be learning how to work stone age tools once again.

Posted by: Norman Rogers on February 5, 2008 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

Why has there been no focus in recent years on the Star Wars missile defense boondoggle. I clearly recall physicists who are experts in the field (actual rocket scientists) saying that a missile defense shield will never work, yet there is no talk about this anymore. Has anyone heard anything different?

Posted by: BernieO on February 5, 2008 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Commanding the "battle space" is one thing. It's rapidly becoming a not very useful thing, especially at the cost of bankrupting the USA.

China is developing a powerful network of allies and access to natural resources around the globe. They're not doing it with guns and bombs; they're doing it with aid programs and business investment. If there's a battle for Taiwan, the Chinese will win it without firing a shot. When push comes to shove, they'll start selling their US securities and start dumping dollars into the international markets and we won't be able to buy oil, steel, computers, light bulbs, or cars.

Posted by: Owned_by_2_cats on February 5, 2008 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives used to say "judge programs on their results". Well, try judging how effective our military has been.

What "war" (declared or undeclared) after 1945 has the US won against an enemy that was capable of fighting?

Posted by: Neal on February 5, 2008 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Eisenhower had it figured out a long time ago...

------------------
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government.

We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Posted by: Buford on February 5, 2008 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Chalmers Johnson had tallied up all the different bugdet items, DOD + DOE + Homeland + ..., and came up with $.9T. He reconned interest on debt from past military spending adds another $200B. But Luntz style polling shows "America should be strong" polls very well, I don't expect this situation to change anytime soon. After the s%$# hits the fan, financialwise, we will probably wake up, but by then it will be too late.

Posted by: bigTom on February 5, 2008 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Old Hat: We need eleventybillion more nuclear powered Aegis-class destroyers to defend us from...Mexico. Or something.

Chalmers Johnson explains it all pretty well in his three books, Blowback, Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis.

This is what I get from reading Johnson and being around Marines all day: Boys with their toys.

Posted by: Sharon on February 5, 2008 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

I mentioned to someone, a W. Bush American, last night that the defense budget was nothing but wasteful spending. They said that as soon as the US stopped building its huge defenses we would be attacked. When asked who would attack, they could name no specific enemy, but invoked the attack on Pearl Harbor as a reason why the US had to spend more on defense care than the rest of the world combined.

Posted by: Brojo on February 5, 2008 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

dob: It's just possible that there are slightly more cost-efficient ways of achieving these benefits. Consider, too, the opportunity costs of the things we could have, but chose not to do, with the trillions of dollars spent on the military. (For instance, I'd think we could make a pretty good stab at providing global health care for that amount of money, an initiative which would probably do more for our national security than the alternative we chose.)

Exactly, my daughter is doing ground-breaking HIV research on a stipend of $20,000/year in a lab at the University of New Mexico medical school that hasn't had heat for 3 weeks. (It's been 13 degrees there.) I work at a single Navy base with a budget that state governments would envy.

Posted by: Sharon on February 5, 2008 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin's comment and this thread point up one of the problems with restraining military spending: the most likely constituency for it is not particularly interested in the military.

It's not that liberals (or, for that matter, isolationist liberarian conservatives) are hostile to uniformed servicepeople or even to the military as an institution. They just aren't interested. All sorts of highly questionable weapons systems and other procurement items get appropriated billions of dollars every year by Congress, with very little push-back. This is why.

I don't mean to pick on Kevin Drum, who has never claimed to be a military expert, but as a couple of people noted above the case for replacing the aging naval aircraft now in service is powerful -- unless you think we ought to take aircraft carriers out of service and reorient a major aspect of American foreign policy in the defense budget, we have to do this. The F-35 Kevin mentions has some issues, but it can fly off ships. It's the F-22, the high-performance air superiority fighter intended to replace the F-15, that we can't afford -- not just because it is very expensive, but because the Air Force can use it and the Navy can't.

That's one of many procurement issues where the lack of interest in the military (particularly in much of the Democratic Party) postpones the day we make the hard choices needed to bring the defense budget under control. Another one was the air refueling tanker deal from a few years ago that Sen. McCain justifiably talks about on the campaign trail. McCain is a reliable vote for just about every weapons system out there, but when the Air Force tried to slip an expensive tanker leasing scheme designed by a corrupt civilian Air Force official McCain was the one who had to stop it. There just weren't a lot of Congressional Democrats interested in what the Air Force does.

Just for fun, let's drive this point home: in the early years of the Bush administration the Navy had gotten far enough along in the plans for a new aircraft carrier to reach the point where it had to name the ship. It chose to name it after the sitting President's father, ignoring a Congressional suggestion from back in 2000 to name the ship USS Lexington. This was an egregious piece of sucking up even by the standards of the Navy brass, way outside the scope of naval tradition, a decision that didn't even pretend to have any pride or dignity. The reaction among President Bush's most devoted critics was dead silence. The Democrats even nominated a Navy veteran for President in 2004, and it didn't occur to John Kerry to mention it. So after all the damage done to the military over the last seven years, there will shortly be an aircraft carrier called the USS George Bush visiting ports all over the world.

If you want to say Republicans ought to have been outraged by this, fine. I agree with that. But right now there are about 100 politically active Democrats who think making the military more welcoming to homosexuals is a top priority for every one who thinks the Defense Department's demands on the federal budget are inflated by waste and outdated priorities, and knows what to do about it. If the next Democratic administration is going to make any progress at all securing a strong national defense that doesn't cost as much as we're spending now, that's going to have to change.

Posted by: Zathras on February 5, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Neal,

What "war" (declared or undeclared) after 1945 has the US won against an enemy that was capable of fighting?

The war against unions. The war for a global economy. The war against our middle class. The war for access to oil. The war for fewer safety nets. The war for looser regulations on financial institutions.

Posted by: Tripp on February 5, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Bin Laden is probably clean shaven, well dressed and living within walking distance of his bank, in a country with running water and other ammenities. It is ludicrous to think he is living in a cave.

Posted by: * on February 5, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Why has there been no focus in recent years on the Star Wars missile defense boondoggle. I clearly recall physicists who are experts in the field (actual rocket scientists) saying that a missile defense shield will never work, yet there is no talk about this anymore. Has anyone heard anything different?

It won't work. Ever. Period. fin.

I'm not a rocket scientist and even I can understand the basic physics necessary to see what a ridiculous boondoggle the whole thing is.

Posted by: uri on February 5, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Historically military spending provided completely unexpected benefits in the form of widely used civilian technologies like nuclear power, the internet, GPS, and vaccines. Also don't forget civilian applications of the Humvee and advances in prosthetics and brain injury science.

That seems like a rather wasteful and inefficient way to go about things. If we wanted advances in fields like nuclear power, vaccines, prosthetics and brain injury science, etc. a more direct and effective way to go about it would be to fund research in those areas directly, instead of hoping for some incidental and unforeseen benefit from military spending.

Posted by: Stefan on February 5, 2008 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah, we also have a ton of battleships around.

No we don't, unless you're counting the antiques being used as museums . . .

http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/ships/battleships/bb-list1.html

(And a ton of battleships wouldn't be very many, you know . . .)

Posted by: rea on February 5, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

"You know, I wouldn't even mind the waste all that much if we were actually spending the bulk of this money on contemporary threats — like, say, global terrorism — that are supposedly our top priority. But if that's the case, why do we keep spending vast sums on weapons systems designed to fight a massive conventional war against Russia or China?"

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want. Therefore, I suspect the thrust of our foreign policy under the next Republican will be to go to war with one of the big powers, so we can use the equipment we have. You know, as Bob Dylan put it in one of his early numbers, "Lots of folks have knives and forks on the table -- gotta cut something."


Ed

Posted by: Ed Drone on February 5, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Historically military spending provided completely unexpected benefits in the form of widely used civilian technologies

I took an economic history course many moons ago, and the propaganda theme that military spending provides great technological benefits has many academic disproofs. Most defense spending produces intangible public goods. These goods provide absolutely no benefit to the society that produces them. Whatever tangible goods or knowledge is obtained through defense spending, have huge opportuinty costs.

Posted by: Brojo on February 5, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

I like having 7,000 troops and support personnel to guard 275 prisoners at Gitmo. Makes me feel secure.

Posted by: Mart on February 5, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

If the right just wants to let the US decay and spend no money on our own people then why spend so much money trying to protect it.

Posted by: john john on February 5, 2008 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

And we outsource alot of our military buying of weapons.So 10 billion to some little country in South America will get them some guns too.

Posted by: john john on February 5, 2008 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

john john,

If the right just wants to let the US decay and spend no money on our own people then why spend so much money trying to protect it.

The people in power don't want to make the US spend money to protect us. That would be silly.

They want to loot the US treasury as we go down.

Posted by: Tripp on February 5, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

You tell the men from the boys by the price of their toys.

If you don't like it, vote for Ron Paul since you missed out on Barry Goldwater and Pat Buchanan.

Posted by: Luther on February 5, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, yes, missile defence.

Completely useless. Cancel most of it right now.

Why? Because it has to be at least 99% effective, and it'll have to be 99% effective the first time it is ever used for real, and there's no good way to realistically test the system (I'm not a physicist, but I am an expert in testing).

About the only BMD program worth having is local defence for ships and possibly for troops - for one thing, a 90% effective system is actually useful in those circumstances.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on February 5, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Dude, Alex, I don't know why you lumped me in there. I said the Navy was used to project our power. Nothing I said was wrong. Destroyers and Aegis Cruisers and attack submarines are what fire those cruise missiles with the least spin-up time.

But on the other hand, we have to think about whether that is an appropriate use for our military. Do we want to be the big bully that knocks over random buildings when pissed off? For all out targeting ability - none of these systems tell us which building to blow up. So accuracy is pretty much not in the argument.

Also, we don't get as many jobs per dollar as we used to. Sure, we have engineers bought and paid for - but as I've personally seen, the fact that there funding is so protected doesn't mean these are the best engineers that we have. They cost as much money as the best, but then they make more mistakes. I don't know how to make MacDonald Douglas Boeing engineers as committed to their work as NASA engineers. But that doesn't alleviate the fact that pure assembly jobs are gone. the money doesn't go as far. There are fewer fab plants than ever.

So maybe it isn't the best use of our money.

...Although the new F35 program is going the right direction, looking at how much a system costs to maintain as being highly important.

Posted by: Crissa on February 5, 2008 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

When was the last DoD review of threats? Under Reagan? Bush I? Clinton?
Any comprehensive review will show that, as of February 5, 2008, there are only two potential military opponents - Russia and China. And any potential conflict with either of those powers puts us in the same postition as against the Soviet Union - as soon as one side thinks it is losing, nuclear-tipped missiles will start flying.
There are many locations that may require the use of force to prevent genocide, a conflict from spreading, or just to prevent chaos after an internal collapse. We have more than enough military for those efforts.
There is little need, as of now, for military force in the fight against terrorism; good intelligence and police work are the tools required.
But they aren't shiny and don't go BOOM! Nor do they provide one-liners for politicians at election time.

Posted by: Doug on February 5, 2008 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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