If you follow national security you know that the first Monday in February is the big, big day when the President typically submits his defense budget requests to Congress. And Monday night is the long, long night when people like Travis Sharp, our resident defense analyst, fight the paper monster to deliver us a cute, little brief we can all actually read and understand. (Ed: Travis does not endorse use of the word “cute” or “little” to describe his brief).
But this year Sharp has so far been spared the heroic duty, as the Obama administration delayed submission of its defense spending request to take an “exhaustive line-by-line” look at the federal budget. So, to kill some time he prepared a new report that documents the skyrocketing recent growth in defense spending, catalogs calls for budget cuts by key policymakers, looks at the complicated procedure the fiscal year 2010 budget is set to follow, and provides background information on four weapons systems to watch in 2009.
Speculators expect the new President to file for a $527 billion request for fiscal year 2010, 10 percent less than a $584 billion fantasy budget suggested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the Bush administration. Critics of defense thrift are already up in arms. “It doesn’t make fiscal sense to cut the defense budget when everyone is scrambling for measures to stimulate the economy,” Robert Kagan argued in today’s Washington Post. On Iran, he added that “the already-slim chances of success will grow slimmer if Iranian leaders believe that the United States may soon begin pulling back from their part of the world.”
In reality, these arguments make little sense. First, military spending may provide some economic stimulus, but there are other types of spending – such as on infrastructure – that would better jumpstart the U.S. economy. Second, Obama has shown no sign of withdrawing from Iran’s neighborhood. Quite the opposite, in fact – Obama has pledged unprecedented engagement in the Middle East. Of course, it helps to remember that the United States is on track to spend 99 times more than Iran on defense in 2009.
Statements by administration officials reveal that the President is actually intent on making defense budget choices that will boost the U.S. ability to wage stabilization and reconstruction missions such as those we face in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are the missions that the United States is likely to face in the Middle East and around the world in the years ahead. And, just in case, the U.S. military’s unmatched supremacy in naval and air forces will provide insurance against any potential big-state challengers.
So the ax instead may fall this year on expensive toys such as the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, which hasn’t performed a single mission in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and the Navy’s DDG-1000 destroyer, a vessel originally designed to support land-based troops but that now is more appropriate for blue-water open naval warfare.
Other candidates for resizing are the Army’s Future Combat Systems and the missile defense system, which has yielded mixed results in various operational tests. During the campaign, then-candidate Obama promised to “responsibly deploy missile defenses that would protect us and our allies,” but “only when the system works.”