The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: defense spending

Will Biden Dare To Cut Pentagon Spending?

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

Now that Joe Biden is slated to take office as the 46th president of the United States, advice on how he should address a wide range of daunting problems is flooding in. Nowhere is there more at stake than when it comes to how he handles this country's highly militarized foreign policy in general and Pentagon spending in particular.

Defense spending increased sharply in the Trump years and is now substantially higher than it was during the Korean or Vietnam War eras or during the massive military buildup President Ronald Reagan oversaw in the 1980s. Today, it consumes well over half of the nation's discretionary budget, which just happens to also pay for a wide array of urgently needed priorities ranging from housing, job training, and alternative energy programs to public health and infrastructure building. At a time when pandemics, high unemployment, racial inequality, and climate change pose the greatest threats to our safety and security, this allocation of resources should be considered unsustainable. Unfortunately, the Pentagon and the arms industry have yet to get that memo. Defense company executives recently assured a Washington Post reporter that they are "unconcerned" about or consider unlikely the possibility that a Biden administration would significantly reduce Pentagon spending.

Read Now Show less

McCain Backs Trump Criticism Of Lockheed’s F-35 Program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said on Monday he backed President-elect Donald Trump’s criticism of the costs of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program, but said a president does not have the authority to cancel it because funds have already been appropriated.

In an interview with Reuters, McCain, a leading Republican voice on national security and outspoken critic of Pentagon cost overruns, said, however, that Trump would have the power to reduce future purchases of the new-generation fighters if he decides to do so.

“He can reduce the buy over time, next year, as we look at it again,” McCain said. “But right now, the acquisition … of lots of them is already taking place, and I’m happy to say at fixed-price contract. The president, I’m sure, can examine it.”

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

IMAGE: U.S. Senator John McCain speaks to reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan July 4, 2016. REUTERS/Josh SmithU.S. Senator John McCain speaks to reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan July 4, 2016. REUTERS/Josh Smith

Must America Pick Up Everybody’s Defense Bills?

It seems strange that so few of my fellow TV binge-watchers have submitted to the fascinating Norwegian political thriller, “Occupied.” Friends, this is eight hours of your life you won’t mind not getting back.

In the story, an idealistic Norwegian prime minister stops his country’s huge oil production in the name of confronting climate change. To get the oil flowing again, the European Union asks Russia to invade and reopen the taps. Russia complies and proceeds to occupy Norway in a humiliating velvet-glove manner.

The United States plays a central role by virtue of its absence. In this near-future tale, America has become energy-independent and left NATO. Once expected to dive headlong into any crisis, especially where the Russians are involved, the U.S. has decided to watch from the sidelines.

Such scenarios are sounding less fantastical as populist American candidates question the long-held assumption that the U.S. military must maintain order everywhere. They’re addressing the growing distress at seeing rich allies warmly applaud or critique our performance while happily not paying.

That the bombastic Donald Trump is condemning this setup does not strip the complaint of all merit. But it does give “responsible” opinion the luxury of bashing Trump’s remark that “NATO is obsolete” without much elaboration.

These days, our allies — spooked by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its advances in eastern Ukraine — are proclaiming the Atlantic alliance anything but obsolete. Norway, a preacher of peace, has rekindled its love for NATO as the Russian military swarms over the Arctic Circle (in real life, not on TV).

Russian warplanes are flying down the Norwegian coast with in-your-face impunity. And Norway, which had been cutting its defense budget, is finally raising it.

Which brings us to one of Trump’s points about NATO — a point all but glossed over by those incensed by the word “obsolete.”

Americans are paying for 75 percent of NATO’s military spending. And only six of the 28 NATO members have met U.S. demands that they devote at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product to defense. We spend 3.6 percent. For the record, the combined GDP of our NATO allies is about equal to ours.

Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. stop buying Saudi oil if that country’s government doesn’t start contributing ground troops to the fight against ISIS was also greeted with derision. “Without us,” Trump said with a trademark threat, “Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist for very long.”

What he didn’t say was that the Saudis have also refused to take in Syrian refugees. Nor did he note that they are funding the jihadis threatening the West.

And what about the West? Some of our rich European allies have become so passive and so lazy they’ve barely bothered monitoring known terrorists living off their social benefits. (Belgium, by the way, spends 0.9 percent of its GDP on defense.)

On the left, Bernie Sanders treads some of this territory, rightly questioning America’s seeming addiction to military intervention. He does go off course in arguing that we should spend less on the military so we can spend more on social priorities.

The No. 1 job of the federal government is national defense. We spend whatever we have to. We don’t say: “Oh, there’s a budget surplus this year. Let’s have a war.”

But both Trump and Sanders are solid in asking what all this defense spending is doing for us. Are we Americans obliged to both police the globe and pay for the service? We pick up the bills that other prosperous countries are perfectly content to leave on the table. Let’s ask ourselves why.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at


Photo: File photo of a soldier standing guard in a tower overlooking Camp Delta  at Guantanamo Bay naval base

Failing Programs Kept Alive By Lawmakers

By David Willman, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — By his own account, Patrick J. O’Reilly was at times “a cheerleader and an advocate” for the Missile Defense Agency during his four years as director. But he broke ranks with his predecessors at the agency by questioning flawed programs that cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

In a series of interviews, O’Reilly said members of Congress whose states or districts benefited from missile defense spending fought doggedly to protect three of the programs long after their shortcomings became obvious.

He described how Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., reacted when he outlined his reservations about the Airborne Laser project, envisioned as a fleet of Boeing 747s that would be modified to fire laser beams at enemy missiles.

O’Reilly, who led the agency from 2008 to 2012, said he told McKeon in private Capitol Hill briefings that the planes would have to fly so close to their targets that they would be defenseless against anti-aircraft fire.

“Buck McKeon just ripped me apart,” said O’Reilly, a physicist and retired Army lieutenant general. “He’d immediately start talking about, ‘OK, we’ve got a problem. So how much money are you putting towards the problem? How much money do you need?’ I was trying to say, ‘On the technical merits, it doesn’t make sense.'”

McKeon served four years as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and his district adjoined Edwards Air Force Base, where Boeing Co. and other contractors were developing the Airborne Laser. The project was killed in 2012, after a decade of testing and $5.3 billion in spending.

McKeon, who retired in January, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

O’Reilly grew skeptical of another missile defense project, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, after he learned that Navy ships would have to be retrofitted — at a cost of billions of dollars — to accommodate the 40-foot-long rocket. Existing ships could not carry interceptors longer than 22 feet, he said.

“This was unbelievably expensive — to mess with the fundamental structure of a ship,” he said. “The technical issues were not minor; they were revolutionary.”

The project’s backers included Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, then the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, and GOP Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. O’Reilly said the three senators bristled when he suggested that the Kinetic Energy Interceptor was unworkable.

Many of the jobs related to the program were in Alabama and Arizona.

“When I would say things like, ‘I’m having difficulty understanding, sir, how to put this on a ship,’ the answer would come back, ‘We have very smart aerospace engineers and we have the strongest military-industrial complex in the world. We can solve anything,'” O’Reilly said. “And they would hand-wave.”

Shelby, in a May 13, 2009, letter to O’Reilly, said killing the Kinetic Energy Interceptor would be “irresponsible.”

The program nevertheless was discontinued that year. By then, $1.7 billion had been spent on it.

O’Reilly said the same three senators defended another project, the Multiple Kill Vehicle, after he raised questions about its feasibility. The project envisioned a cluster of tiny interceptors that would destroy enemy missiles in space. It was shelved in 2009, after nearly $700 million had been spent.

Neither Shelby nor Sessions responded to emails and phone messages seeking requests for comment.

Kyl, now a Washington lobbyist, said that he did not recall discussing specific defense systems with O’Reilly, and that he supported “the most funding that we could possibly get” for missile defense, regardless of the economic benefit to Arizona.

“I believe that having a robust missile defense to protect the United States is a critical component of not only national defense but our strategic deterrent,” Kyl said. “I’m not pleased that after all this time and a great deal of money spent, we don’t have more to show for it than we do.”

O’Reilly, now 58 and living near Huntsville, Ala., said he regretted that elected officials did not focus on careful consideration of the cost and practicality of the troubled projects.

“These things really didn’t have a lot of merit,” he said. “It was just how they were packaged and sold in Washington.”

Keep reading for a rundown of troubled Missile Defense Agency Programs:

Troubled Missile Defense Agency programs

Airborne Laser
The concept: A fleet of Boeing 747s, each modified to fire an infrared chemical laser through a 5-foot-long telescope in its nose. The laser would incinerate enemy missiles shortly after launch, before they could release decoys that might fool U.S. radar.
Major contractors: Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Early optimism: “We are building forces of good to defeat the force of evil. And in that vein today we are taking a major step to give the American people their first ‘Light Saber.'” _Henry A. Obering III, then-director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Oct. 27, 2006.
Problems: Because of the laser’s limited range, each 747 would have had to fly near or within an adversary’s borders, leaving it vulnerable to antiaircraft missiles. To operate at a safer distance, the laser would have had to be 20 to 30 times more powerful. And the laser’s potassium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide fuel posed severe safety risks to the crew.
Disappointment: “I don’t know anybody at the Department of Defense … who thinks that this program should, or would, ever be operationally deployed.” _Robert M. Gates, then-secretary of Defense, May 20, 2009.
Status: Killed in 2012.
Cost: $5.3 billion

Kinetic Energy Interceptor
The concept: The fastest U.S. rocket-interceptor, to be fired from land or Navy ships at enemy missiles during their early “boost” phase.
Major contractors: Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co.
Early optimism: “That high acceleration with the mobile capability of Kinetic Energy Interceptor is very, very attractive.” _Henry A. Obering III, then-director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, April 7, 2005.
Problems: Extending 40 feet, the KEI would have been longer than anything ever launched from a Navy ship. To carry it, Navy vessels would have had to be retrofitted at a cost of billions of dollars. And the interceptor’s range was too limited to allow it to be land-based. It would have had to be positioned so close to its target that it would be vulnerable to attack.
Disappointment: “No matter how successful tests might one day have been, the system would have had negligible utility.” _National Academy of Sciences review panel, Dec. 31, 2012.
Status: Killed in 2009.
Cost: $1.7 billion

Multiple Kill Vehicle
The concept: A “bandolier” of eight to 20 miniature interceptors that would destroy missiles and decoys.
Major contractors: Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin.
Early optimism: “The Multiple Kill Vehicle is a transformational program adding volume kill capability to the ballistic missile defense system as early as 2013.” _U.S. Missile Defense Agency news release, July 19, 2006.
Problems: The technical challenge of creating and launching tiny “kill vehicles” that could find and destroy far heavier warheads in space proved insurmountable. Among many other obstacles, existing ground-based rockets would have had to be retrofitted or replaced. The concept never reached the stage where a test flight could be conducted.
Disappointment: “To more effectively hedge against future threats, we propose to … terminate the Multiple Kill Vehicle … in lieu of more operationally efficient alternative technology architectures.” _Patrick J. O’Reilly, then-director of the Missile Defense Agency, May 21, 2009.
Status: Shelved in 2009.
Cost: $700 million

Sea-Based X-Band Radar
The concept: A floating radar powerful enough to detect and track long-range missiles and distinguish enemy warheads from decoys.
Major contractors: Boeing Co. and Raytheon Co.
Early optimism: “It is the most powerful radar of its kind in the world and will provide … a highly advanced detection and discrimination capability.” _Henry A. Obering III, then-director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, May 10, 2006.
Problems: The radar’s field of vision is so narrow that it could not reliably track a sequence of incoming missiles. Its sensitive instrumentation is prone to corrosion at sea, and it needs millions of dollars in fuel to operate for even short periods.
Disappointment: “Just how this was going to fit into the (missile defense) system _ I don’t think anybody paid much attention to that. … SBX was designed for a mission other than that required.” _Radar specialist David K. Barton.
Status: Downgraded to “limited test support status.” It sat idle in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for more than eight months in 2013.
Cost: $2.2 billion

Source: Statements posted by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Boeing Co., Raytheon Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp.; transcripts of congressional testimony; a National Academy of Sciences-sponsored report, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense,” Dec. 31, 2012; interviews with missile defense specialists.

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: On July 21, 2009, at Edwards AFB, Calif., the Airborne Laser completed a test flight over the Mojave Desert. The Airborne Laser program was envisioned as a fleet of converted Boeing 747s that would fire laser beams to destroy enemy missiles soon after launch, before they could release decoys. It turned out that the lasers could not be fired over sufficient distances, so the planes would have to fly within or near an enemy’s borders continuously. This posed an insurmountable problem because the 747s would have been all but defenseless against anti-aircraft missiles. The program was canceled in 2012, after a decade of testing. The cost: $5.3 billion (U.S. Department of Defense)

Risky War Business

From the Islamic State to the streets of Paris, Americans get bombarded daily with fresh reminders of conflicts around the world.

What’s harder to figure out is what to do about it. What would actually make us safer?

Some politicians urge kneejerk reactions. Spend more on the Pentagon, they say. But one thing’s clear after years of over-relying on military force: It can actually make us less secure.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

When journalist Bob Schieffer asked recently if he had regrets about invading Iraq, former president George W. Bush lamented that “a violent group of people have risen — risen up again.”

Bush can find one of the culprits for this sad development by looking in the mirror. Without that invasion and the sectarian chaos it unleashed, there would be no Islamic State (ISIS). What will it take for the U.S. government to grasp that short-term military solutions create long-term crises?

Sadly, our leaders remain hooked on military “solutions,” which too often make the world more dangerous.

In fact, President Barack Obama’s 2016 funding request for the Pentagon’s base budget is the biggest in U.S. history. Total military expenditures, including nuclear weapons and war spending, gobble up well over half of the nation’s discretionary budget — even as we continue to draw down troops from Afghanistan.

Much of that budget growth funds weapons systems unsuited to today’s battlefields. Washington’s spending billions to pad the pockets of Pentagon industry insiders who reap record profits while doing little to enhance national security.

The American people must demand a new definition of security — both at home and abroad — that means more than new and bigger guns.

In the Middle East, that means diplomatically engaging countries directly threatened by the Islamic State. It also means taking common-sense steps — like providing economic and humanitarian assistance — to address the “ISIS crisis” in a way that creates friends, not enemies.

“What matters more to American security?” Senator Chris Murphy asked when funding for food assistance for Syrian refugees was running out. “One day of missiles being fired at ISIS inside Syria? Or being able to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry refugees, who, if they don’t get a square meal…are going to turn to ISIS?”

Sadly, our leaders are better at finding money for weapons than for food. With budget priorities like that, we’ve got problems back home, too.

Public investment in America’s future — on roads, schools, and scientific research — is at historic lows. And the government has slashed spending on a wide range of vital programs that provide security and opportunity for American families since 2010.

Last year, domestic discretionary spending fell by some $15 billion, while the Pentagon used its massive slush fund — the Overseas Contingency Operations account — to escape any significant cuts at all.

As Congress ponders the federal budget, it must focus on what will really make our families more secure. Reining in wasteful Pentagon spending is one great way to get started.

But cutting the security of Americans at home — including our education, health care, retirement, and child care — hits us where we live.

Richard Kirsch is a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the author of Fighting for Our Health: The Epic Battle to Make Health Care a Right in the United States. He’s also a senior advisor to USAction.

Distributed by

Photo: A soldier assigned to the International Security Assistance Force patrols the streets of Mazar-e Sharif. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Chandler, via Wikimedia Commons)

Cotton, Republicans Struggle To Balance Threat With Defense Cuts

By Heidi Przybyla, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas says the U.S. should go on the offense against terrorists around the world. He also voted to retain deep cuts in defense spending set for later this year.

For many Republicans like Cotton, reconciling those conflicting goals will be among their biggest challenges as House and Senate Republicans release budget proposals next week.

A group of Senate Republican defense hawks led by John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina want to ease across-the-board spending cuts enacted in a 2011 budget agreement. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming made clear this week that he intends to keep those cuts, which were achieved after a hard-fought standoff.

“They’ve got themselves wrapped around the axle,” Steve Bell, a senior director at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington and a former Republican Senate budget staff director. “It’s going to illustrate dramatically at some point the split in the party.”

Enzi and House Budget Chairman Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, plan to release separate budget proposals early next week and begin committee consideration. The goal is to reach a unified plan, with both chambers now under Republican control for the first time in eight years.

The cap on defense spending is to be cut by about $35 billion in the 2016 fiscal year starting Oct. 1, allowing for little growth. The limit was enacted as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, intended to cut $1.2 trillion in domestic and defense spending through 2021.

Congress voted to ease those reductions for the past two fiscal years, though, and the question is whether lawmakers will do the same for 2016. While some Republicans want more defense spending, Democrats are insisting any defense increases must be matched by higher spending on domestic programs such as education, scientific research and aid to the poor.

“When you pull on the string it all comes undone,” Bell said. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s website says it seeks to encourage lawmakers to overcome political divisions.

Cotton, who served as an Army officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, led 46 other senators in sending an open letter to Iran’s leaders this week suggesting that any deal they make with Obama on limiting nuclear weapons could be revoked after the president leaves office.

Hostilities in Ukraine, the beheadings of Americans in Syria and a bigger U.S. military footprint in Iraq may sway lawmakers to support more defense spending. McCain has repeatedly said he won’t vote for a budget that maintains the scheduled defense cuts.

“Every Republican is highly concerned about military readiness, the fact that we are hollowing out our military,” Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson said at a Bloomberg breakfast Friday with reporters in Washington. “We’re just not ready to meet the challenges we’re going to face.”

Yet some Republicans not only oppose increased funds for domestic programs needed to win Democratic votes, they demand even deeper cuts to offset any relief for the Defense Department.

“It’s very, very important that we preserve the overall spending caps which have been the only success we’ve had in fiscal discipline in a long time around here,” said Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. In order to pass the House, such an approach will “be required,” Johnson said.

The debate may lead to a new political bind for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who last week had to abandon much of his Republican conference and rely on Democratic votes to pass a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

Republicans aligned with the small-government Tea Party wanted to use the Homeland Security bill to block President Barack Obama’s immigration policy. On the budget, they support keeping the 2011 spending limits in place.

White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan said Thursday that Obama won’t accept a budget that locks in the 2011 spending caps in defense and non-defense spending. Obama’s budget proposal in February offered a $38 billion increase for national security programs over current budget caps, as well as $37 billion more for domestic programs.

Some Republicans including Graham are proposing a compromise — a reserve fund in the budget that would allow negotiations over defense spending to be held later. Enzi’s proposal may include such an escape valve, said lawmakers briefed on the plan, including Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.

Corker sought to play down the tensions, noting that a budget is a non-binding policy statement anyway.

“The only way to affect military spending is through changing a law,” Corker said. “That’s a detail a lot of people are missing.”

Democrats are making a case for ending the automatic spending reductions.

“I will do my best, as I think every member in our caucus will do, to end” the spending cuts, said Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who is on the Budget Committee.

Neither party likes the 2011 budget-control law, which lawmakers enacted to force themselves to reduce spending after Obama and Republican leaders couldn’t reach a bargain to rein in the national debt.

The spending cuts were intended to be so unacceptable that, to replace them, Democrats would finally agree to trim entitlement programs such as Social Security and Republicans would accept tax increases they ordinarily oppose.

No such deal came about. Instead, the bipartisan budget agreement in December 2013 used offsetting spending cuts and revenue measures, leaving few remaining areas for action outside of the entitlement-program cuts and tax increases that Democrats and Republicans can’t agree to address.

Cotton, 37, a freshman senator, told CNN that month that the U.S. needs to “get back on offense all around the world” against terrorists, including by sending military troops if necessary. During his previous term in the House, he voted against the 2013 budget deal, saying at the time that it “busts the spending caps that took effect just months ago.”

His spokeswoman, Caroline Rabbitt, said he opposed a spending measure in early 2014 in part because it cut military pensions. She said in an e-mail Thursday that Cotton supports easing the defense cuts before October.

The 2011 Budget Control Act was modeled after an earlier attempt by Congress to force itself to reduce spending, the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act.

In the five years the law was in effect, it was frequently skirted as government officials changed economic assumptions to avoid imposing cuts that would be required if the deficit- reduction targets weren’t met.
With assistance from Erik Wasson and Roxana Tiron in Washington.

Photo: U.S. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)