Best Defense

Defense spending: I’m a hawk, but give me a break

I believe in a strong national defense. But I don’t think buying jets, ships, and anti-missile systems is necessarily the best way to improve the nation’s security right now. In the long term, one of the best ways to make the country strong is to spend more on national infrastructure and especially education. Without the ...

RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images

I believe in a strong national defense. But I don’t think buying jets, ships, and anti-missile systems is necessarily the best way to improve the nation’s security right now. In the long term, one of the best ways to make the country strong is to spend more on national infrastructure and especially education. Without the GI Bill, my father probably wouldn’t have gotten to college. As it happened, he wound up going from growing up poor in rural Wyoming to teaching at Harvard.

I also understand that military operations are expensive. Got it. I want to support soldiers, give them what they need. I am all for building day care centers on military bases and buying good body armor. I can even live with $1.2 billion being given to combat commanders for CERP money (i.e., "walking around money"). 

But there is a whole lot of defense spending that simply stuns me. Here are a few examples from the current FY 2010 defense appropriations bill:

  • $4.4 billion for two Navy destroyers and one littoral combat ship. Yow. Maybe it is time to start buying warships from South Korea, or at least invite competitive bids? Folks, this is billions, not millions. Imagine what $4.4 billion could do to rebuild our highways, or send deserving kids to college, or rebuild New Orleans. 
  • $2.6 billion for V-22 aircraft for the Marines and Air Force. I wish the Marines had just gone with the UH-60 Black Hawk two decades ago. Now the Marines have dug a hole that is killing the rest of their aviation. It makes me wonder whether the Marines, the smallest of the armed forces, should be in the business of technology innovation. 
  • $1 billion for Navy F-18s. Lots of money for an airplane that is, well, yeeehh. Better spent on unmanned combat aircraft?

This list makes me wonder just how out of touch with the country’s economy our military leaders are. This makes it more understandable how they could think that that the scandal over triple-dipping generals being paid millions of dollars to "mentor" is no biggie. 

(HT to National Priorities Project for the spending summary)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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