Winslow Wheeler: Military Spending versus Competence

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Winslow Wheeler

Washington Post Joins Hysterical Defense Budget Rhetoric

Center for Defense Information, 7 November 2011

Monday, November 7, the Washington Post editorial board published its take on the extreme rhetoric the country has been hearing on the defense budget since Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta starting talking about the “doomsday mechanism” that would reduce defense spending.  Quoting the newer extreme rhetoric of several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff defending their budget ambitions to the eager-to-listen House Armed services Committee, the Washington Post positioned itself foursquare in favor of hysterics.  It was with an editorial titled “Defense on the Rocks: Mandated spending cuts could decimate U.S. military might.”  Find it here  (although at the web link they toned down the title with the more sympathetic “US Defense on the defensive.”)

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In response, consider three Power Point graphs.  Figure 1 below shows the DOD budget in current dollars since 1948 and looking forward to 2021. (“Current” dollars are the amounts actually and planned to be appropriated).  Note that even under the so-called “Doomsday Mechanism,” the US ends up at a post-World War II high.  (Also shown is the first phase of the Debt Deal — already agreed to by the Pentagon.)

Figure 2 below graph shows these dollars in DOD's so-called “constant” dollars that purport to remove the effects of inflation and show spending where all dollars have the same value — normalized to the year 2012.  Note that the “Doomsday Mechanism” would not put defense spending near any of its previous valleys, but instead well above any of them and quite flush with money in historical terms.

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Note also that the Doomsday Mechanism would put the Pentagon at a level of spending significantly above the average annual spending during the Cold War, when we faced hundreds of Soviet divisions in Europe and a dogmatically hostile China and fought two major regional wars in Korea and Vietnam.

Finally, note Figure 3 that simply compares the 2009 DOD budget to that of China, Russia and some others (and all of them combined), according to publically available foreign defense budget data.

“Doomsday?”  “Defense on the Rocks?”  “Decimated?”  You be the judge.

Clearly, politicians — in and out of uniform — are using extreme rhetoric to shape the budget battlefield, establish a new and poorly informed conventional wisdom, and scare off the opposition.  Just as clearly, it has worked with the Washington Post.

There are problems in the Debt Deal that the Republicans and President Obama wrote last summer, and there are even pervasive problems in our defenses, but the levels of spending proposed under these scenarios are not any of them.

Phi Beta Iota:  It is known beyond any dispute that 50% of agriculture, defense, education, energy, health and most other programs of the US Government are fraud, waste, and abuse.  Congress–with only a tiny handful of exceptions–discounts the public treasure by 95%–a 5% campaign contribution is the going rate for a delivered public treasure of no particular merit and often very bad for the public in every possible way.  Add to this the complete lack of integrity among politicians, political appointees such as Leon Panetta, and the senior uniformed and civilian officers, all willing to lie to the public to defend the indefensible, and you have the perfect storm.  Add to that a mainstream media that is at best grotesquely ignorant and at worst complicit in corruption, and you have a Republic in ruins.  Occupy is the public response to what have now become unbearable tyrannies.

See Also:

Chart Attack (TIME Honors Winslow's work)

TIME's conclusion:

Honest people can disagree about whether or not we are spending too much on defense. But honest people cannot have that debate without showing charts like these to generals and lawmakers and suggesting: if this isn't enough money to get the job done, maybe you need to find another line of work.

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