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The Independent Institute
Commentary

Mortgaging the Future of Our Armed Forces


When private companies cook the books, the perpetrators are indicted for fraud and thrown in jail. When politicians in Washington falsify accounts, it's not fraud, just good clean fun on the banks of the Potomac. The Bush administration is claiming cuts in defense spending in an attempt to pretend to reduce the yawning budget deficit while pouring ever more funds into the Pentagon. Yet despite the bucket loads of added cash, the administration is mortgaging the future of the U.S. armed forces.

During his reelection campaign, President Bush pledged to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009. The president has decided to measure his progress using an initial deficit figure of $521 billion, thus making his eventual goal a reduction to a $261 billion deficit. The problem is that the budget deficit was never $521 billion. This number was only an outdated Bush administration guess about what the deficit would be. The real initial shortfall is $413 billion, thus necessitating greater budget cuts down to the ultimate goal of a $207 billion deficit.

The administration is using similar chicanery when we hear that $60 billion is being “cut” from the defense budget over then next six years in order to contribute to the deficit reduction. Only in Washington, is a budget “cut” actually an increase. For example, the Department of Defense claims to be cutting $10 billion in fiscal year 2006. Yet, that $10 billion is deducted from a $443 billion budget projected by the Pentagon for FY 2006, according to Chris Hellman, a defense budget expert with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Compared to the $421 billion being spent in FY 2005, the amount the Pentagon is now requesting for FY 2006—$433 billion—is actually an increase of about one percent, even when the effects of inflation are taken into account.

Even this calculation understates the funding increases that the Pentagon is likely to get. The gargantuan and rapidly escalating costs of its two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being funded separately from these already hefty budgets. For example, an additional $65 billion was spent in FY 2004 and more than $100 billion will likely be added in FY 2005.

Increased funding for the Pentagon, however, does not necessarily ensure the future health and effectiveness of the armed forces. Given that even the huge supplemental funding for the two wars doesn't cover their full costs, regular Pentagon accounts have to be bled to pay for them. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld initially took office in 2001, his laudable plan to “transform” the U.S. military entailed cutting weapons programs left over from the Cold War and transferring the savings into research and development programs that would skip a generation of military technology. Some of the aforementioned $60 billion in program cuts over six years—for example, reducing the number of costly Air Force F-22 fighters purchased, retiring one of the Navy's exorbitantly expensive 12 aircraft carries, and buying fewer Navy destroyers and Marine amphibious assault ships—are long overdue. But instead of the savings going into research and development for futuristic weapons, they will be squandered on operating overstretched U.S. forces in the continuing Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires, replacing equipment that is worn out or destroyed in those conflicts, and paying increased financial incentives to recruit and retain reluctant personnel to fight in these increasingly unpopular wars.

During the 2000 election campaign, candidate George W. Bush criticized the Clinton-Gore administration for overstretching the U.S. military by conducting nation-building expeditions in the developing world that had nothing to do with U.S. security. Much evidence has shown, however, that the Bush administration hyped the Iraqi threat to justify it's own nation-building crusade—and on a much grander scale than anything the Clinton-Gore administration had ever concocted.

Thus, instead of focusing efforts on convincing the public that the deficit is being reduced by claiming fraudulent cuts in the defense budget, the Bush administration should invest its time in extricating the U.S. military from the imbroglios in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are draining away all of the increased Pentagon spending and consuming the seed corn for future U.S. security.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.


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