Will Obama Gut Defense?
Capitol Hill Democrats want to target the Pentagon.
By Bret Stephens
Barney Frank will not soon be named secretary of defense or,
insha'Allah, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. So
there's really no reason to fear that his recent call to cut defense
spending by 25% is a harbinger of what to expect in an Obama
Then again, maybe there is.
When it comes to defense, there are two Barack Obamas in this race.
There is the candidate who insists, as he did last year in an article
in Foreign Affairs, that "a strong military is, more than anything,
necessary to sustain peace"; pledges to increase the size of our
ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines while providing
them with "first-rate equipment, armor, incentives and training"; and
seems to be as gung-ho for a surge in Afghanistan as he was opposed to
the one in Iraq.
And then there is the candidate who early this year recorded an ad for
Caucus for Priorities, a far-left outfit that wants to cut 15% of the
Pentagon's budget in favor of "education, healthcare, job training,
alternative energy development, world hunger [and] deficit reduction."
"Thanks so much for the Caucus for Priorities for the great work
you've been doing," says Mr. Obama in the ad, before promising to "cut
tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending . . . slow our
development of future combat systems . . . not develop new nuclear
Joe Biden also cut an ad for the group that was even more emphatic:
"I'll tell you what we cannot afford . . . a trillion-dollar
commitment to 'Star Wars,' new nuclear weapons, a thousand-ship Navy,
the F-22 Raptor."
Mr. Biden is right that we can't afford a thousand-ship Navy, not that
anyone has proposed it. Current levels of funding don't quite suffice
to operate 300 ships, or about half the number the U.S. had at the end
of the Reagan arms buildup. The Navy would be satisfied with 313.
Current funding is also just adequate to purchase about 65 new planes
for the Air Force each year, even as the average age of each plane
creeps upward to nearly 24 years. Last year, the entire fleet of
F-15Cs -- the Air Force's mainstay fighter -- was grounded after one
of the planes came apart in midair. Spending on maintenance alone is
up more than 80% from a decade ago.
Is that another defense item Mr. Biden thinks we can't afford?
(As for nuclear weapons, the U.S. hasn't built a new warhead in
decades. Its mainstay, the W76, is widely suspected of being
unreliable, yet Congress has resisted funding the so-called Reliable
Maybe it seems odd that the Pentagon, whose budget for 2009 runs to
well over $500 billion -- not including the supplemental $165 billion
for Iraq and Afghanistan -- should struggle to afford the equipment it
But it's not odd. We've been fighting two wars, straining people and
equipment. Weapons have generally become more complex and expensive.
President Clinton's "procurement holiday" punted the modernization
problems to the present. And even after the Bush buildup, defense
spending amounts to just 4% of gross domestic product. By contrast, at
the nadir of Cold War defense spending under Jimmy Carter, the figure
All this should argue for at least a modest recapitalization effort by
an Obama administration, assuming it really believes a strong military
is "necessary to sustain peace." A study by the Heritage Foundation
makes the case that defense spending should rise to close to $800
billion over the next four years in order to stick to the 4% GDP
benchmark. That's unrealistic in light of the financial crisis. But
holding the line at current levels is doable -- and necessary.
But what if a President Obama doesn't actually believe in the
importance of a strong military to keep the peace? Or has an
attenuated idea of what qualifies as a "strong" military? Or considers
military strength a luxury at a moment of financial crisis? Or thinks
now is the moment to smash the Pentagon piggy bank to fund a second
Does anyone really know where Mr. Obama's instincts lie? During the
third debate, he cited former Marine Gen. James Jones as a member of
his wise man's circle -- which was reassuring but odd, given that the
general made a point of appearing at a McCain campaign event simply to
distance himself from the Democratic candidate.
The Obama campaign has also produced a lengthy defense blueprint on
its Web site. It reads more like a social manifesto, promising to
"improve transition services," "make mental health a priority," and
end "don't-ask, don't-tell." All very well, except the document is
notably vague on naming the kinds of weapons systems Mr. Obama would
And so the question remains: If elected, which Obama do we get? The
nuanced centrist or the man from Ben and Jerry's?
Some voters may like answers sometime before next Tuesday.
Alternatively, they can click the button called "I'm Feeling Lucky."
Check out how that money is actually spent
> Barney Frank will not soon be named secretary of defense or,
With any luck and a little dedicated effort from a few people
who care, Barney Frank can be kept busy trying to explain
his and Herb Moses' roles in the sub-prime mortgage mess.
Who's worse here, Biden or WSJ?
The thousand-ship Navy is coming together today.
Barf. Reagan never had a 600 ship Navy. It would have bankrupted the
budget. Even the Navy was telling Lehman that. It was all smoke and
mirrors and political BS. They ran out a battlewagon for no good use
and retired it soon after.
We can't crew and afford over 300.
They do with the shipyards what the AF did to aircraft production, we
won't have that.
Shouldn't he? This piece of so called "opinion" is nothing more than a
blatant display of the kind of politics that has sunk US of A to such
a low point. Military industrial complex has never been stronger, $800
billions defenses budget? Is this idiot out of his mind or does he
think $10 trillion and rapidly growing debt is something that nobody
should concern? Citing Heritage Foundation? I would rather believing
research done by a African monkey's poo-poo hole than giving any
credit to that religious fundamentalists dumb tank.