Gates Against "The Complex"

  • March 23, 2009
  • Abu Muqawama

The Boston Globe has a staff editorial this morning in support of Sec. Robert Gates and his heroic (in their eyes) struggle against the military-industrial complex.

Most important of all is the common-sense practicality Gates has displayed in discussing the defense-spending choices America must make. Obvious as it may sound to the average taxpayer, Gates is piercing an elaborate marketing mythology each time he observes that the government should not buy high-tech weapons that are useless in the actual counterinsurgency conflicts Americans are fighting - and are likely to be fighting in the future.

Gates was uncommonly candid in congressional testimony last month about one of the most expensive items in the Pentagon budget, the F-22 Raptor fighter plane. "The reality is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said, "and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater." This is not what mavens of the military-industrial complex want lawmakers to hear from a secretary of defense. The Air Force has thus far bought nearly 200 F-22s for more than $62 billion. Yet this is a state-of-the art flying machine built to match up against fighter planes that only the United States possesses.

To read the editorials -- and, to be fair, this blog -- Sec. Gates is like Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall. In reality, it's a little more complex than we often lead our readers to believe. The Economist had a good article this past week, for example, on the cyclical nature of the defense industry. And the more I study the military-industrial complex and private military contractors, the more I come to the conclusion that what the Department of Defense really needs is more contracting officers to manage and supervise the contracts we have already. In an environment in which we may lose two million American jobs this year, is that really too tall an order?

Moving on to more important news, I am tied for first place in the CNAS office pool after the first two rounds of play. But I have the least "possible points remaining" among the top five in the pool. (Take a bow, Wake Forest.) So I fear my glory is short-lived.

P.S. I like the way the way the Globe uses the term "flying machine" to describe the F-22 as if it's only marginally more sophisticated than that gyro-copter in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.