Tilting at Windmills

January/February 2012 The Pentagon is a spoiled brat

By Charles Peters

I have mostly been an admirer of Leon Panetta during his long career of public service, but I worry about his recent statement that budget cuts could “hollow out” the military. Anyone who takes over a government agency has a natural desire to win the loyalty of his subordinates. Unfortunately, at the Pentagon saying yes to any weapons system is the best way of winning their favor. Whatever it is, they tend to favor the most costly version available. The mere hint of a budget cut will prompt them to conjure up new dangers to American security, threats that must be countered. Can you remember a general or admiral ever saying, “Not to worry, we already have enough stuff. There’s absolutely no danger of a big war”?

Indeed, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times recently found that Pentagon officials are “not even planning for the spending reductions, which are to take effect in 2013.”

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.