“Pentagon Priorities Put Troops, Security At Risk”

Continuing to fund these big-ticket systems is one reason the Army is still scrambling to provide adequate body armor and well-protected Humvees to our troops in Iraq.

For months, President George W. Bush and his advisers pointed to Jan. 30 as a pivotal date for the future of freedom in Iraq and security in America. There’s no question that millions of Iraqis showed great courage in turning out to vote. But it will take months to tell whether last week’s election made Iraq more peaceful and stable.

In the meantime, another date that has great importance for our security has received little notice: Feb. 8. Tuesday is when the Bush administration will unveil its proposed budget for next year, including spending on the Pentagon’s operations.

More than four years since Bush first took office pledging to discard “Cold War relics,” the Pentagon’s budget is still weighted down with systems like the F-22 combat aircraft, the V-22 Osprey and the Virginia class nuclear attack sub.

None of these weapons is needed for the wars now being fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, much less for the more targeted operations required to deal with global terrorists. Continuing to fund these big-ticket systems is one reason the Army is still scrambling to provide adequate body armor and well-protected Humvees to our troops in Iraq.

The Pentagon seemed to take a step toward budgetary sanity when it leaked plans to cut $30 billion from more than a dozen weapons programs. But the cuts amount to only a little more than 1 percent of the $2.5 trillion planned for the Pentagon budget over the next five years.
No major systems will be canceled outright; they will just be “stretched out” over more years or trimmed back in numbers. Other proposed cuts may be stopped in their tracks once interested members of Congress from Texas, Georgia and beyond team up with contractors like Lockheed Martin to save home-state systems like the F-22 fighter and the C-130J transport plane.

In a report last year, a task force organized by Foreign Policy In Focus and the Center for Defense Information advocated a shift of approximately $50 billion per year from big-ticket weapons systems like the F-22 and the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft to programs for securing “loose” nuclear weapons around the world, for nonmilitary foreign aid and for protecting ports, industrial plants and other domestic facilities against possible terrorist attacks.

The report targeted many of the same systems involved in the Pentagon’s current cuts, but it suggested canceling instead of “shaving” them.

Funds clearly should be increased for programs designed to dismantle nuclear weapons and secure or destroy nuclear bomb-making materials in the former Soviet Union. Last year the Bush administration requested only $919 million to carry out this work – $72 million less than the year before.

Yet the administration is still lavishing $10 billion per year on a missile defense program that couldn’t even get an interceptor missile out of its silo in a test in early December.
Counting the proposed $80 billion supplemental spending package for Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon insiders expect total military spending to reach well over $500 billion in 2006. Even by Washington’s standards, half a trillion dollars is a lot of money.

Let’s at least make sure it’s being spent as effectively as possible to defend our nation and the world.