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August 1, 2012

The Only Way to Cut Defense Spending is by Sequestration
by Jon Basil Utley
fitzgerald griffin foundation

Fighter planes

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just like with base closings, taking cuts out of the hands of Congress is the only, repeat “only” way to cut waste from our trillion dollar defense/militarism spending. Reading and hearing how The Complex screams, here are a few points about the distortions and half-truths being put out by it and by Big Government Conservatives–Republican congressional leaders, Neoconservatives, Heritage Foundation, National Review, Fox TV,  Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Their big government program is unending wars, imperialist foreign policy, and ever expanding Homeland Security.

The cuts to the Pentagon budget will be only 7% or some $40+ billion, not the $500 billion they bandy about! Anyone who confuses the (unlikely) ten year cut with next year’s cut is just promoting lies. A good example is the Wall Street Journal editorial, “The Coming Defense Crackup,” warning that the cuts would create the smallest navy since 1914. It intentionally confuses next year’s cut with the consequences of 10 year cuts.

Ok, but when every smart bomb and missile hits its target, why does one need as many shells as the old battleships where most shots missed? During the Korean war the Air Force tried futilely for months to bomb a bridge over the Yalu River. Today destroying a bridge takes one cruise missile from a hundred miles away. In Washington we find all the big media opposed to cutting defense spending, waste and all, even the Washington Post. Politico, usually a leftist paper, publishes articles also intentionally confusing 10 years of cuts with a one year cut. Today’s congressmen can’t oblige future congresses on what they will spend; defense apologists use the 10-year number to try to stop the sequestration for one year, 2013. All the big Washington newspapers are full of costly ads from defense contractors.

The money is not all for defense. At least half is for attacking other nations, as Ron Paul called it the defense/militarism budget. Roughly half goes for defense, the rest is for military adventures abroad, most of them quite unnecessary, indeed counterproductive as they just create more enemies for America. Look at Turkey where 90% of the population used to support America; now 85% oppose us. Obviously if we attacked fewer foreigners we could do with much less spending. Firing 250,000 bullets for each dead guerilla can get expensive. As also paying  $400 per gallon to get fuel to the front lines. Total defense costs are now well over a trillion dollars if one includes homeland security, nuclear bombs and off-budget stuff, e.g. $16 billion for the National Reconnaissance Office military satellites, just one of the 16 separate intelligence agencies.

Republican leaders claim that government spending to create jobs is a giant waste. But then they argue that such spending for military jobs is necessary to help the economy. Many openly argue that the defense budget is a jobs program. Think though of how many jobs the talented, ambitious people in the defense establishment could create in the private sector. Cutting fat, not meat is the important need. But faced with even marginal cuts to the defense budget, Republicans threaten voters like big city Democrats warning that the opposition will first cut firemen and policemen while leaving untouched all the fat, waste, pensions and welfare in city budgets. There are places we can cut without sacrificing effectiveness, and sequestration can help us find them. With that in mind, here are eight suggestions:

1) — $50+ billion in free health care for anyone who served in the military for any amount of time for them and their families for the rest of their lives. Former Republican Defense Secretary Gates recommended this cut. It’s also an unfair advantage in seeking jobs over other Americans whose employers’ must pay for their health care. True, America’s obese and partly corrupted health care system inflates costs incredibly, but another constituency without federal subsidies would mean more votes for real reform of medical care, e.g. promoting competition in health care, obliging hospitals and doctors to post prices, stopping payoffs to doctors from Big Pharma, allowing nurse practitioners with data bases to provide basic medical care and so on.

2) – Cut 100,000 civilians out of 700,000 in the military held over since the cold war, a cut suggested by former Republican Navy Secretary Gordon England. Instead we now have 800,000. The Complex loves to equate a few thousand Muslim terrorists with the giant former Soviet threat with thousands of nukes, half of Europe and a vast leftist network in America and Western Europe. The Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute even argue that America should spend more now than even in communist times.

3) — Soldiers and officers now earn more than 90% of Americans with equivalent education, averaging some $50,000 yearly for enlisted men and $94,000 for officers, some 88% higher than civilians with the same education. Comparable civilian wages are far lower and without comparable benefits. See the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation analysis on Military.com. Every few years Congress passes more pay increases, even more than the Pentagon itself wants. Most military jobs are very safe nowadays; many now wear combat boots and uniforms to office jobs in the Washington suburbs. Infantry combat soldiers should maybe still retire after 20 years, but most of the military could easily work another 5 years rather than retire at 20 years and then be paid for another 40 by inflation-adjusted pensions. The retirement age was set in the 19th century.

4) — Weapons manufacturing has become a source of vast corruption and overspending. Fighter planes don’t need to cost some two to three hundred million dollars apiece. They do because contracts are awarded to companies in districts with influential congressmen, based on political expediency not efficiency or comparative advantage. This provides congressmen with donations from manufacturers in their districts and builds a congressional constituency to maintain production of weapons even if later it is found to be unnecessary, unimaginably costly or even dysfunctional. Former Reagan Navy Secretary John Lehman criticized procurement in Wasteful Defense Spending is a Clear and Present Danger.

5) — The F-22 was designed in the 1980’s to fight now non-existent Soviet fighter planes with inputs from over 1,000 manufacturers in 44 states. The F-35’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, now proudly advertises in Washington’s Politico newspaper that it has 1300 suppliers in 45 states. The ad does not say that each plane is now costing some $300 million each, nor that production models are sitting on runways still waiting for properly tested inputs. Some half of defense workers are unionized and contracts are often cost-plus, especially for modifications which always become necessary. The defense industry has not gone through the vast labor and middle management reforms in manufacturing which the private sector adopted. This means there is little competition among producers and many are still saddled with obsolete, unproductive union work rules. Also profits are highest in producing more aircraft carriers, tanks and fighter planes, based on World War II strategies, not for fighting guerrillas, terrorists, religious fanatics and cyber warfare.

6) — Many, many overseas bases are very superfluous and could be closed to save tens of billions. The website G2mil.com published a detailed list of suggested closings to save billions, explaining why each is superfluous and how much money could be saved. Closing more bases in America could equally save more billions. Most were set up in the days of horses, buggies and then railroads, when moving from one to another was slow and costly. The G2 website also published several other excellent suggestions to control and improve military spending.

7) — Do we really need over 50 nuclear submarines, as many as in communist times? This subject needs vetting. The English, with just one such sub, bottled up the whole Argentine navy during the Falkland War.

8.) — Audit Pentagon Spending—every effort to do so up to this point has failed. We just don’t know all the waste and duplication. Also the GAO should report on the cost of using subcontractors in different in different congressional districts compared to the old way of producing major weapons.

The above are just a few of the ways hundreds of billions could be saved. Sequestration is the way to start. Across-the-board spending cuts are a way to force a look at all the waste and thoughtless policies.

Jon Basil Utley is Associate Publisher of the American Conservative.

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A version of this article appeared in The American Conservative magazine's website.

© 2012 by Jon Basil Utley and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.

© 2012 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation