Guest Editorial: Don't fund Pentagon rejects
The Pentagon’s mission in this unsettled world is “to ensure that anyone who starts a conflict with us will regret doing so.” That was the pointed message Defense Secretary Ash Carter had for members of the Senate Armed Services Committee at a March 17 hearing at which he urged Congress to approve a $583 billion defense budget for next fiscal year and to block sequestration cuts mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Carter said the Pentagon was requesting 50 percent more money for the fight against Islamic State, which he warned was “metastasizing” in Africa and Afghanistan, far from its core territory in Iraq and Syria. He said strategists concluded more must also be done to address the challenges posed by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.
Not only did Carter’s message resonate with senators, some said he should have asked for even more money. “I contend we are in the most threatened condition we’ve ever been in as a nation,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. “I feel wistful for the days of the Cold War.”
But this sympathy for the Pentagon’s budget straits can’t be reconciled with the behavior of lawmakers who see military spending as akin to pork. This predilection is on display on two fronts.
The first lies in the near-reflexive hostility that elected officials have to closing unneeded military facilities in their home states. In a 2004 analysis, the Pentagon estimated that it had 24 percent more facilities than it needed. But the Base Realignment and Closure process, known as BRAC, is routinely stymied by political pressure — justified by bizarre arguments from politicians that they know more about what’s needed for national security than the Joint Chiefs of Staffs. In 2005, for example, an aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger argued that the Pentagon failed to grasp “the unique strategic value of California’s military bases.”
Now we have a fresh example. The Army concluded last year that it made sense to shut down a brigade with 2,600 soldiers at the Elmendorf-Richardson base in Anchorage. But last month, facing pressure from Alaska’s congressional delegation, the Army changed its mind. Politico reports this is likely to energize opponents of plans to close Fort Campbell in Kentucky, Fort Benning in Georgia, and Ford Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas.
That’s bad, but another congressional habit may be worse: foisting weapon systems on the Pentagon that it doesn’t want. In 2012, Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno told Congress that as the military sought to be more light and flexible, it didn’t need any more tanks. Congress paid for $183 million worth anyway. Lawmakers have also overruled the Pentagon in buying aircraft for the Air Force and ships for the Navy.
Enough is enough. We think the time has come for an idea floated by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to give military leaders a much bigger say in procurement.
“We force stuff on you all that we know you don’t want,” Manchin told military brass last year.
Maybe this is just pork politics as usual. But it’s hard to defend that when the Pentagon is pleading for funding to help defend us.