In GM’s case, its market share rapidly eroded as gas prices climbed higher, the economy slowed, and consumers turned to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. GM found itself building a fleet of SUVs and trucks that consumers did not want and could not afford. Similarly, DoD now finds itself saddled with a number of weapon programs whose capabilities are ill-suited for the types of conflict the military currently faces and whose costs have risen beyond what the Department can afford. Many of the new weapons being funded today are optimized for middle-of-the- spectrum conflicts—that is, conventional, military-on-military conflicts such as Operation Desert Storm in 1991. But adversaries are well aware of the United States’ overwhelming advantage in the middle and are instead moving to either end of the spectrum: irregular warfare on one end and high-end, asymmetric warfare on the other. The challenge for DoD, as it was for GM, is that the competition is adapting faster than it can keep up.
That’s Todd Harrison of the Center on Strategic and Budgetary Priorities, arguably the best think tank in Washington for analyzing defense spending in the context of overall national questions. I can also throw Winslow Wheeler at the problem, a man who’s been on the Hill fighting Pentagon bloat longer than I’ve been alive:
The additional $33 billion will bring the total DOD budget for the current fiscal year up to $708 billion. That amount is more than we spent on the Pentagon in any year since 1946 – in dollars adjusted for inflation. It is an amount just under what the entire rest of the world spends for defense. It is about three times the combined defense budgets of China, Russia, Cuba,North Korea, and Iran. The Defense Department spends in a few hours more than al Qaeda spends in an entire year.
The point, in other words, is that the problem’s even worse than Glenn Greenwald portrays it. Everyone in Washington who studies the Pentagon budget quickly finds gobs and gobs of wasteful spending. Not some people. Not dirty hippies. Every. Single. Defense. Analyst. If I was so inclined, I could spend my days doing nothing but attending conferences on the latest defense jeremiad or policy paper about how to cut it. I already spend too much of my time reading this stuff on defense-community email listservs.
For the Obama administration to exempt defense spending from its kinda-sorta-spending-freeze is a position that makes no sense from a policy perspective. None at all. From a political perspective, it only begins to make sense because a brain-dead media would amplify the braying ignorance blasted from a GOP congressional megaphone about Defense Spending Cuts OMG. And even then it doesn’t make sense. A holdover Republican Defense Secretary is now the biggest advocate of an even slightly sensible defense budget in the Obama administration.