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bauman defense budget

Michael Bauman

“The department of defense is a sinecure, a massive, unfathomable, black hole for taxpayer dollars that has never been, and perhaps never can be, plumbed to its hellish depths.”

If Chuck Hagel really were qualified to be Secretary of Defense, and if he had the insight and courage necessary for the job, he’d have begun his testimony before the Senate with those words, or words very much like them.

He did not.

He did not either because he does not know the truth about the DOD or, if he does know it, he does not have the moral fortitude and common sense to speak that truth. Both failures are disqualifying.

The DOD put the “sin” in sinecure, and is the greatest, most expansive, and expensive example of it in human history. The DOD is irrefutable evidence that the fog of war breeds the fog of war accounting, which no auditor, or army of auditors (much less the Army’s auditors) can bring to light. Knowing that, Hagel ought to say that he will do the next best thing possible: He himself will go through DOD expenses and requests line-by-line and eliminate everything not directly related to maintaining, deploying, and protecting our fighting forces on the ground, on the seas, or in the air. Whatever does not do that gets axed, period.

Pentagon-run grocery stores do not do it. Axing them saves 9 billion a year. Eliminating non-military research saves 6 billion. Educating military children on bases in the US: costs almost 11 billion. Research in global warming does not do it. Cutting back on that saves us another billion dollars a year. I’m an ex-Marine. I know the importance of the Marine Corps blues and greens, which are uniforms of great distinction. Marine Corps greens are a world away from greens in the Marines. We need the former, not the latter. You get the picture.

Hagel doesn’t.

But my point is not about Chuck Hagel. My point is about the DOD, which does to expenses what the CERN lab in Geneva does to particles–it accelerates them almost beyond human imagination. Or, to maintain the scientific analogy, the DOD is a massive black hole from which not even light itself can emerge, much less taxpayer money.

It’s time to change the game.

You don’t change the game by leaving it in the hands of politicians who think their re-election hinges upon more pork for their constituents. You don’t change it by trusting it to career bureaucrats in the DOD, whose very livelihood depends upon continued or increased annual funding. You don’t even change it by appeal to the leftist greenies, who normally deplore the military-industrial complex, except now when its funding is their funding too.

Maybe the game is so far gone it can’t be changed. If it can’t, then Hagel should know it. But he didn’t say.

I think it’s basically an impossible mess. If it is as bad as it looks to me, I do not trust the folks who run government to fix it. They have the opposite of a Midas touch. It’s not that everything they touch turns to gold; it’s that everything they touch turns to garbage and costs a lot of gold.

Fix the DOD? We’ve been trying to fix baseball for years, ever since the designated hitter rule snaked its filthy way into just half of MLB. If you can’t fix something as elegantly simple as baseball, you can’t fix the most complicated and advanced system of national defense the world has known.

I don’t normally descend into a counsel of despair, but this time I’m dangerously close. It reminds me of the movie title, “No Way Out,” which, you’ll recall, was about the DOD.

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5 replies to this post
  1. Mike, I agree with every statement you make after you stop beating up on Hagel. I don’t think he’s the problem–in fact, he brings a budget-cutting bias into play, and has no Democrat cronies to pay off. Plus, he is a veteran. Beyond that, the larger issue for Imaginative Conservatives is, I think, the whole relation of the civilian to the military authority. Despite the lock-step “conservative” position that “national defense” must be our first priority, real conservatives should be reading people like William Lind, or even Chalmers Johnson on how the DOD can drive the welfare-warfare state. Right now we have a Department of Offense.

    • In the abstract, I have no objection to a department of offense. Because we live at a time when our enemies have war technology so advanced that they can wipe out hundreds of thousands of us at once, we cannot, and must not, be content with a strategy of counter-punching. If we have a plan always to strike second, we have a plan to die. Offense can be a very good thing. It can make post-devastation defense unnecessary by preventing our devastation.

      But like all good things, offense can be, and clearly has been, sometimes misused (as you yourself recently demonstrated on this blog). Misused offense, not offense itself, is the issue. My DOO would do some of what China does: subversive electronic attacks. I think things like the Stuxnet Worm were brilliant. May their number and effect increase. Aim them at places like Iran and N. Korea. They are being aimed at us. That race is on, whether we like it or not. Our enemies want to control our defenses and are working toward that goal. Win or die; pick one.

      Chuck Hagel isn’t getting beat up, either by me or by others. He’s getting what he deserves. Out of all the possible candidates, he’s the guy Obama picked. Obama picked him for various reasons, among them defense strategy compatibility and partisan advantage. For me, that’s two strikes on Hagel before he steps into the box to take his first swing. A wiser man would have known he was being used and rejected the proposal. Further, as long as Frank Gaffney is around, Chuck Hagel won’t be the best pick. When it comes to protecting America and carrying out her treaty obligations, I think Hagel’s far closer to the bottom of the barrel than to the top. And, as I said in the article, this isn’t really about Hagel. It’s about the DOD wasting money, which Hagel cannot and will not fix. Or, if he can, it isn’t obvious. It isn’t even obvious to me that he’s better than Panetta, who has placed the bar quite low.

  2. John is right. Cap Weinberger was Reagan’s Secretary of Defense and he made some progress cutting waste, fraud and abuse from DoD and it had not been an electoral issue: Hagel stands a better chance than anyone else to attempt the same. Telegraphing his punches would have imprudent at best. Great article otherwise!

  3. OK, let me say it again: this is not about Chuck Hagel. He is just the man of the moment. Because he is up for nomination right now, he is an example of the issue. He is not the issue. But if you wish to continue focusing on Hagel and not on prudent defense spending , we shall:

    I honestly don’t see where Hagel will (1) make America more secure or (2) cut the budget wisely. We’ve tried this “Republican-Sec.-of-Defense-under-a-Democratic-president-ploy” before. I wasn’t impressed by the outcome. Perhaps others were. I myself do not believe this president has our military best interest at heart, and that is why he picks the candidates he picks. He gets from them the policies he wants and he gets political cover because a Republican is doing his bidding. His errors will become bi-partisan errors, if ever they are called errors at all. Hagel is a willing patsy.

    Pick the best person for the job, but that is not Chuck Hagel. If anyone thinks, or wishes to argue, that Chuck Hagel is the best person for the job, I’d like to hear the argument. So far, nothing. Regarding his talent and his experience, I don’t believe he is even among the top 20 best persons for the job. But from the perspective of political angling, Obama thinks he is. And that political angling appointment won’t make the DOD better or more fiscally responsible, just cheaper. Tell me who you think is the best person for the job, and why you think so.

    And where is the evidence that Hagel is holding back his punches so as not to telegraph them? That seems like raw invention to me. Do you really think he will do the bidding of someone else than Obama when he’s in office? He won’t thumb his nose at Obama. You work for those who put you in power, or else your work will end. He IS telegraphing his punches, and his punches will be aimed against the interests of American security. He’s been co-opted. That means he must not be Secretary of Defense.

    And again, the issue is not Hagel. The issue is cutting the DoD expenses wisely. I await proof that he — or anyone — can do it. Forget Hagel. Tell me about prudent defense expenditures. I don’t see how he or anyone else can do that job well. And defense expenditures went up dramatically under Reagan/Weinberger, as they should have done.

    • i think it is Hagel, because of personal reasons; a married couple who are among my closest friends, who are informed conservatives and wisely critical of US foreign policy, have known him well professionally and socially for a decade, and admire him enormously in terms of his values, views, energy and ethics.
      having said that, the chances of anyone busting up the financial cronyism, corruption, featherbedding and waste in DoD or anywhere in the welfare/warfare state are still negligible in any serious regard.

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