In the Arena

Pentagon Cuts

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The usual suspects are whinging about SecDef Robert Gates’ plan to eliminate the Joint Forces Command and reduce the number of Pentagon bureaucrats and contractors. Actual military experts like Abu Mook don’t seem very upset. JFCom mostly existed to expedite inter-service relations–the sort of thing that’s nice but not exactly crucial.

Actually, the most important thing here is context: the JFCom budget is $240 million in a Pentagon budget of over $700 billion. Gates intends to seek annual Pentagon budget increases of 1% per year; the savings from axing JFCom would be used to help fund the actual combat services being performed. That’s good, but there’s a larger question: How much of that $700 billion is actually necessary these days? How many cold war weapons systems are being sustained simply to keep Congressional members happy? (It is no accident that the Virginia delegation is up in arms about the end of JFCom–which is located in Norfolk.) And wouldn’t it be better if the federal government were spending money on things that might actually help the economy–infrastructure, for one–rather than anachronistic weapons systems? And, while we’re at it, why does the U.S. need to deploy troops in places like Germany and Okinawa? Is it really necessary to spend more on military stuff than the entire rest of the world combined?

If the deficit situation is so dire–and the need to create real economic growth, through new programs or tax cuts, so important–aren’t these questions we should be asking? This is a topic I’ll be exploring in some depth over the next several months.