Why Increasing The Pentagon Budget Isn't Real Change
For what it's worth, I thought Joe Sestak did an admirable job explaining why we need to change funding of the military based on the wars we fight and the threats we face, not based on the threat of a USSR that doesn't exist.
Which is fine, but he dances around the larger point that, for example, we don't NEED 187 F-22 fighters, which is the level AFTER this shift in emphasis in the Pentagon budget. I would go further and hint that we don't need troops based in 130 countries either, unless we are planning a major imperial expansion anytime soon. Similarly, Robert Gates explained, to his credit, that we don't need each armed service to have duplicative machinery and personnel when fighting jointly in a theater, but he nonetheless has increased the Pentagon budget even when accounting for this duplication, or at least being mindful of it for the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.
Now, Matthew Yglesias makes a moderately compelling argument that you have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run, on this issue.
I would urge progressives who are having trouble getting themselves excited about this fight to recognize two points. One is that it really is nice to reorient a given quantity of military spending in more useful directions even if it doesn’t lead to cuts in the headline number. But the other is that if you ever do want to see further-reaching reform, we need to pass something like this budget first. It’s a key political test of whether it’s even possible to defy what the defense contractors and the joint chiefs want. If that does prove possible, then in years to come many things are possible, including a long-term trajectory that has defense declining as a percent of GDP. If it’s not possible then nothing is possible, and no future president will tackle it.
I recognize the first point and strongly disagree with the second, especially in light of the initial reaction. Conservatives and those who want to protect their parochial interests were ALWAYS going to characterize this as a cut. They know they can score political points off of it, and furthermore they have sufficiently brainwashed the media into believing that military spending is magic and doesn't affect the budget. In this way, Republicans can very easily call spending on giant weapons programs stimulus after arguing for months that federal spending isn't stimulative. They have wired the political establishment to orient themselves this way. Heck, they have media embeds who extoll the virtues of various weapons systems in the media without having to disclose how they profit off of them.
That being the case, why would anyone want to have this fight TWICE? If you're going to provoke the reaction that your Administration is cutting military spending, why not actually cut military spending in the process? This is a familiar Democratic technocrat argument, where they argue for a half-measure and a go-slow approach because we'll have the upper hand on talking points. "See, it's really an INCREASE!" And thus progress gets delayed and eventually denied.
It may hold that the Obama Administration doesn't actually want to cut military spending, which is my view, based on the fact that as a candidate, the President consistently said that he would increase the budget. While I appreciate the logic behind transformation and the need for more efficiently orienting our military toward actual things that could happen, I don't appreciate so-called progressives assuring me that this is some step toward a less insane balance in the military budget as a percentage of GDP. There's no evidence for that whatsoever, and it strikes me as the typical Democratic skittishness to actually embrace real change.