As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Ya Can't Fight City Hall

So much for shrinking the size of the military budget.

President-elect Barack Obama appointed a defense contractor's executive Thursday to become the No. 2 official at the Defense Department, acknowledging that his choice appeared to break with his self-imposed rules to keep lobbyists at arm's length.

William J. Lynn III, Obama's choice for deputy defense secretary, is a former Pentagon official who now is senior vice president for government operations at Raytheon Co. Lynn hasn't been a registered lobbyist since July, meaning he can't personally lobby Congress or the White House. In the first three months of 2008, his lobbying team reported spending $1.15 million to influence issues involving missiles, sensors and radar, advanced technology programs and intelligence funding.

Obama's transition is calling Lynn the "exception" to his long-held policy of discouraging lobbyists who worked in the same field as their appointment from his Administration. But he's not fooling anyone. This is more revolving-door politics.

The military budget is strangling this nation. The US accounts for as much defense spending as the rest of the world combined. And the threats we face are not best countered by large weapons systems anymore.

Doesn't matter. That's why they call it a military-industrial COMPLEX.

It will be difficult for Lynn to avoid defense issues related to Raytheon, said James Thurber, who teaches lobbying at American University.

"I think it's impossible in our system not to have people that have been in the advocacy system," he said. "They're the people who know the issues and have the expertise." The key is for the administration to disclose those connections and avoid financial conflicts, he said.

The key is for everyone to acknowledge the problem - an extreme amount of power handed over to defense contractors. It's just as Eisenhower warned 50 years ago. Stephen Walt writes:

You'd think that this would be the ideal time to rethink our global military strategy and look for some savings in the defense area. I'm not talking radical disarmament, but I don't mean just canceling gold-plated programs like the F-22 or abandoning the chimaera of national missile defense. If America has to tighten its belt, shouldn't that include DOD?

Here's why it won't happen any time soon. As Cindy Williams, former director of the National Security division of the Congressional Budget Office and now a senior research scientist at MIT, points out in an as-yet unpublished paper for the Tobin Project, DOD is insulated from serious cuts by an array of impressive political advantages. First, its budget is more than 50 percent of all federal discretionary spending, and its sheer size gives it a lot of bureaucratic clout. Second, the Pentagon has a large domestic constituency: there are 1.4 million men and women in uniform, 850,000 paid members of the National Guard and Reserve, and 650,000 civilian employees. Forget GM, Ford and Chrysler: the Department of Defense is the largest single employer in the whole country. Now add the companies that provide goods and services for the military. Their employees amount to about 5.2 million jobs, which is a pretty impressive domestic constituency. And don’t forget those 25 million veterans, who are hardly shrinking violets when defense spending is concerned. Finally, a well-financed group of Beltway bandits and Washington think tanks stand ready to question the patriotism of any politician (and especially any Democrat) who tries to put the Pentagon on a diet.

So don't expect the military to take a serious budget hit anytime soon.

Sad, really. That's a sacred cow that is going to take years, even decades, to reverse.

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