At the risk of sounding like some crazy flaming liberal who is writing for some left wing online magazine, let me say this: “Well done Robert Gates.” I will admit that I was tepid, at best, when President Obama kept Gates as the Secretary of Defense. Not that I had specific opposition, just that I was more interested in a clean slate for our national defense. Yesterday, Secretary Gates took his place in the new administration as an agent for change and an advocate for a more responsible approach to our defense budget. Strangely enough, the supposed champions of fiscal responsibility have been the first to cry foul.
I realize that I am going to have to carry my weight on this one, so I want to examine why I believe that the proposed budget by Gates is a step in the right direction. One of the difficulties that his proposal is going to face is that it cuts spending, the very reason that I like it, and that spending cut has to happen on the ground somewhere. That somewhere is also a district of voters, and reducing a work force that is supplied by defense spending is going to be pretty unpopular with some people during a time when unemployment is at a high and there is little relief in sight. That is going to put several Congressmen on edge, and it will likely derail many of the reforms that Gates is trying to implement. This is one of the main issues with our current proposals to fix the economic crisis that we are in – we are a culture that avoids the pain of the present in exchange for the misery of the future. When things are broken, we tend to medicate them rather than suffer the inconvenience of a cast and crutches to truly heal the problem. Defense spending is a perfect example. Many of our defense programs are antiquated and irrelevant, but we continue to manipulate them to save jobs rather than critically evaluate them and make decisions about their funding. If we were more responsible, we would invest in retraining the individuals who work at the jobs in question and use their skill and work experience to shore up other areas. I am sure that there are competent engineers that work on the F-22 project that would be excellent teachers of engineering or partners in projects that address oil dependency, climate change, energy efficiency, etc. Change is hard and it is painful sometimes, but if we put it off rather than facing it, we only amplify the pain when the time to change comes overdue.
So, Gates is facing the pain of change head on, knowing that he will be unpopular in many circles and that he faces a political machine that is head strong in maintaining the status quo. He has demonstrated brevity and integrity. But he also made some hard decisions that are good for national defense on a more specific level. I mentioned the F-22, and that is the subject of much debate. Most of the opponents to ending the F-22 program take the position that the fighter jet is critical and that “killing it” would jeopardize national security. The two main chinks in the armor for this position are that (1) We still have just under 200 of these planes in operation, and they are not being incinerated, we just aren’t buying any more. Gates himself defined the move as fulfilling the program requirements rather than destroying a powerful defense tool. (2) There is no proof that this specific piece of defensive hardware is more or less effective in ensuring national security than any of the other parts of defense spending that Gates has proposed to increase. Attempting to classify Gates as anti-security or lacking the understanding of complex security issues is both trivial and transparent. Those statements say more about the priorities of the person speaking than the rationale of keeping or ending the program.
The most important element of the unveiling of the pentagon’s budget proposal was that Robert Gates is ready for reform, and that he is serious about challenging our assumptions and paradigms about national security to achieve those reforms. Our defense spending is out of control, and as much as we want to believe that parts of the world are wrong in viewing the United States as empirical and war-hungry, we don’t want to evaluate the fact that our budget supports those claims. I am not saying that those claims are true, I am suggesting that if we want our actions to match up with our values, then we have to look at where we spend our time and our money. In a brief video for TrueMajorityAction.org, Ben Cohen (you know, from Ben and Jerry’s) takes a look at the priority problem in relation to national defense:
Let us just be honest with one another and say that Ben’s video has a pretty obvious social agenda and that what he suggests delves into the whole big government, little government debate, as well as creates some serious complications with the role of the federal government in state and local run schools. So, we are being honest, and we like Ben because Chunky Monkey is one of the greatest ice creams ever concocted; can we agree that there are some underlying truths in this video that are impossible to ignore? if you don’t like the cartoon style, you can see Ben in the real person, more in depth version of that video here. I just wanted to give you the condensed version for time’s sake. The federal budget for defense spending is grossly out of proportion with the realities of the world that we live in, and most of the analysts and professionals that objectively evaluate the numbers and world politics would agree. We are still preparing to fight Russia and China, and they show no signs of invading Alaska or California (insert your own Sarah Palin punchline here, that is not my area.) Plus, they have a fraction of the military might that we have, so even if they did invade San Fransisco or Anchorage, we could just get the NRA folks to go out there to send them back where they came from, and they could come up with and entirely new bumper sticker series about how gun control is about using both hands or something. Everyone would win.
Congress and the defense contractors that profit from the continuation of these programs have used fear tactics to secure money for thier projects, and Robert Gates has answered them with reason and responsibility. The metaphorical ball is now in their court, and I truly believe that the American people are watching. Hypocrisy will reign high; accusations filled with the stuffing of patriotism and security will be divied out in generous helpings, and, likely, the big money and the lobbyists will win back much of the lost ground that Gates took from them yesterday. But there has been a voice, and Robert Gates gave it a microphone and a national audience. Change will come, and reform is imperitave; it is only a question of how long we allow the patch to cover the wound while it bleeds our tax dollars into irrelevant military programs.