National security analysts will immediately note the ways in which the massive U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia is part of the administration's strategy to reassure Gulf allies of a continued U.S. commitment to the region as the nation shifts its focus to Asia while dealing with the Iranian nuclear weapons program. This is also, though, about U.S. jobs. Boeing* had been manufacturing F-15s on its St. Louis assembly line for the past few years without a firm assurance those aircraft would ever be sold. Cancelling the deal with Saudi Arabia would have been a tremendous blow to both Boeing and the people of St. Louis. I am not among those who argue we should keep U.S. defense spending high in order to support the U.S. economy, but in this case, I think it is naive to assume U.S. domestic politics did not play at least a small role in this sale. I'm sure the congressional delegation of Missouri, for example, is enjoying a late Christmas present today.
Note: the president barely lost Missouri in 2008.
*Continuing a tradition of transparency on the blog and at CNAS in general, I should note that Boeing was a corporate sponsor of CNAS in 2011. A full list of CNAS donors can be found here. (I do not understand why all think tanks do not similarly publish a list of their donors so that consumers of their products can make more informed judgments.)
A hobby of mine is to examine and reflect upon the ridiculous amount of money the military-industrial complex spends on advertising in the DC metro system in its effort to convince congressmen and bureaucrats to buy all the crap it sells. My rugby team practices on a field close to the Capitol South station, and for the past few months, I have passed this series of advertisements for Northrop Grumman trying to sell, uh, something to do with ISR. I'm not really sure what it's all about, but some of the advertisements highlight remotely piloted aircraft. This one advertisement, though, kinda sickens me. I am, like, 98% sure this is a picture of the southern suburbs of Beirut during or immediately after the July War of 2006. Whether or not Israel needed to bomb the southern suburbs during the campaign is up for debate, and I am sure you can make a strong case for Israel's decision to do so based upon the amount of Hizballah infrastructure in what is commonly referred to as "the Dahiyeh". (Which is the Arabic word for "suburb" but has the same societal connotations in Beirut that the French word "banlieue" has in the context of Paris -- no one from the northern suburbs of Beirut, for example, would ever say they live in the "dahiyeh.") Anyway, my point is, should we really be crowing about the destruction of civilian infrastructure during wartime, even when it's within the parameters of international legal conventions? Should the destruction of civilian infrastructure -- civilian housing, civilian businesses, etc. -- really be something we should be slapping each other's backs about, even when the military necessity of such operations is 100% clear? I think you all know the answer is no. And I'm not trying to get all Frantz Fanon on the readership, but if this was, say, a picture of some bombed out city in western Europe after the Second World War, we sure as hell wouldn't be giving each other this kind of collective high-five. ("Woo-hoo! We %$#@ed up Dresden! Hoo-ray, us!") But because this is a neighborhood populated by Shia Muslim Arabs it's somehow okay for Northrop Grumman to take pride in its destruction. Gross.
Oh, for goodness sake. Nathan Hodge starts by asking some fair questions about where defense and foreign policy think tanks get their money. (And has a kind word or two for this blogger. Back at you, Danger Room!) But Matthew Yglesias takes things a step too far. If he thinks this blogger -- or anyone else advocating the U.S. military take population-centric counterinsurgency more seriously -- is in the pocket of the military-industrial complex, he does not understand the acquisitions implications of an institutional move toward COIN, a form of warfare in which expensive weapons platforms like the F-22 have little utility.
On the other hand, I guess this is good news. After being accused of being a Luddite for the past three years, I must be doing something right if people are now tying me and my opinions to large defense contractors. I think you're going to have a very tough time, though, arguing that those making the case for a fundamentally low-tech COIN campaign in Afghanistan are carrying water for Boeing, Lockheed Martin, & Co. I very much doubt big defense corporations are charmed by this researcher saying things like language and cultural training matter as much as or more than the latest and greatest piece of military hardware.
I think this is another case of "they disagree with me on policy, therefore they must be intellectually dishonest". Or, hey, maybe we instead have a different set of assumptions, educations and experiences which lead us toward different conclusions. Maybe. (I'm just going to throw that out there as a possibility.) Anyway, I would ponder this question more but have to first go hop in the bathtub filled with gold Krugerrands donated to me by General Dynamics in thanks for my service to the evil military industrial complex.
Or, instead, I'm about to take the metro home to southeast DC. One of the two.
Update: Yglesias writes in.
I feel like you've engaged in a really egregious misreading of my post. I don't understand how you read the observation that "Even if you assume that nobody in the system is corrupt or dishonest, the system itself contains a systematic bias in favor of military action and against counsels of restraint" as an accusation of intellectual dishonesty. I also don't know why you read the post as specifically about advocates of population-centric counterinsurgency. At any rate, it's certainly true that spending $600 billion per anum on a military organized around COIN is less profitable for defense contractors than is spending $600 billion per anum on a military organized around heavy weapons systems. But my post was about a systematic bias in favor of military activism, rather than a foreign policy of restraint, which would be cheaper than either.
I think the headline hacked me off more than anything else, to which Yglesias replied, "Attention-grabbing headlines are perhaps not always the best way to make a point about a complicated issue." Anyway, I'm probably being too sensitive. But I should point out that a) CNAS makes the names of its corporate donors public, b) CNAS has over 100 donors and c) no single one of those donors contributes more than 5% of our budget. (And d), donors don't have editorial control. Obviously.)
When the Obama administration proposed canceling a host of expensive weapons systems last spring, some of the military industry’s allies in Congress assumed, as they had in the past, that they would have the final say.
But as the president signed a $680 billion military policy bill on Wednesday, it was clear that he had succeeded in paring back nearly all of the programs and setting a tone of greater restraint than the Pentagon had seen in many years.
Now the question is whether Mr. Obama can sustain that push next year, when the midterm elections are likely to make Congress more resistant to further cuts and job losses.
White House officials say Mr. Obama took advantage of a rare political moment to break through one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies and trim more weapons systems than any president had in decades.
Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said Wednesday that the plan was to threaten a veto over a prominent program — in this case, the F-22 fighter jet — “to show we were willing to expend political capital and could win on something that people thought we could not.”
Once the Senate voted in July to stop buying F-22s, Mr. Emanuel said in an interview, that success “reverberated down” to help sustain billions of dollars of cuts in Army modernization, missile defense and other programs.
Mr. Emanuel said the strategy emerged when the defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, told Mr. Obama they needed to “shake up sacred cows and be seen as taking on fights.”
Military analysts said Mr. Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, also aimed at the most bloated programs. And Senator John McCain of Arizona, the former Republican presidential candidate, who has criticized the Pentagon’s cost overruns, provided Mr. Obama with political cover to make the cuts without being seen as soft on the military.
This means we can spend the money we're saving on making other government departments and agencies more useful, perhaps. Or pay off our Chinese creditors.
''If Congress sends me a defense bill loaded with a bunch of pork, I will veto it,'' he declared in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
He accused members of Congress of using the Pentagon budget to protect jobs back home, including on wasteful projects he said were diverting money needed for U.S. military forces battling everything from nuclear weapons to ''18th century style piracy and 21st century cyber threats.''
Obama thanked America's veterans and praised U.S. fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he also spoke harshly of a ''defense establishment (that) has yet to fully adapt to the post-Cold War world.''
From today's Washington Post:
He bluntly warned Lockheed Martin that he would slice funding for the more modern F-35 jet if the contracting giant lobbied to build more F-22s. Lockheed Martin's chief executive, Robert J. Stevens, told employees he supported Gates's call "to put the interests of the United States first -- above the interests of agencies, services and contractors." That left the powerful lobbyists to sit on their hands.
I highly recommend this article on how the Obama Administration -- and Sens. McCain and Levin -- killed the F-22 program. While I was away in Afghanistan, I read the text of Sec. Gates's speech in Chicago and his comments to the press afterwards regarding the F-22. I had no idea the speech and his comments were so coldly calculated and part of a larger, well-organized effort to undermine support for the F-22. Silly me.
Also in the Post today, my boss has an excellent review of a new biography of Donald Rumsfeld. Within the halls of 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, I take it upon myself to be the one to make the most merciless fun of Nate and John, but one has to give credit where credit is due, and Nate's review is really quite good:
During the summer of 2003, a squall of snowflakes and counter-snowflakes blew through the offices of Rumsfeld and Gen. John Abizaid, the newly appointed head of U.S. Central Command, about the definitions of "insurgent" and "guerrilla warfare." Rumsfeld, over Abizaid's objections, resisted acknowledging the enemy in Iraq as an organized force because doing so would have suggested that the U.S. presence there was likely to be long and costly. But his denial merely delayed the inevitable, and, as in a real snowstorm, the cleanup began only after the last flake fell.
Yesterday's New York Times carried a needed editorial on spending more tax dollars to support the F-22, an aircraft whose production run has been capped at 187 by the Department of Defense but extended by the Congress. Today's Washington Post helps us understand why, with this story on the way in which small towns rise and fall with weapons programs. It's hard not to pity the people of Owego, but this is the kind of stuff that happens when weapons programs double in cost.
It's also hard not to feel annoyance with allegedly conservative congressmen who praise the free markets -- and accuse the president of "socialism" -- yet continually vote to fund what have become massive federal jobs programs. And at some point, elected leaders have to look the people of Owego in the eyes and break the news that large projects to build weapons systems are to strengthen the nation's defense -- and not to revive industrial centers or provide jobs. It's awfully tough to break the news to the people featured in this article, but necessary all the same.
WASHINGTON -- Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-22 program got an unexpected lift Wednesday after House lawmakers approved $369 million to continue production of the radar-evading fighter jets. The surprise amendment, likely to reopen a debate over the necessity of the Cold War planes that cost $140 million each, was approved by the House Armed Services Committee. Republicans largely backed the measure and were joined by a handful of Democrats in a 31-30 vote.
This meeting of the Senate Military-Industrial Caucus will now come to order.
The chair recognizes the senator from Northrop Grumman for a question.
"We've noticed the increase in the amphibious ship fleet needs that go beyond traditional military missions," said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). "Do you see a continuing need for shipbuilding in the amphibious area?"
Of course, Senator. Nobody will hurt the DD(X) destroyers they build in Pascagoula.
Does the senator from General Dynamics have a question?
"Littoral combat ships," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). "Do you believe that this program will play a vital role in our Navy's future fleet?"
Certainly, Senator. Tell the folks in Mobile that their shipbuilding operation is safe. The chair now recognizes the senator from Boeing.
"I wanted to ask you today if you can tell me how you are taking into account the health and longevity of our domestic industrial base," asked Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
Sure, Senator. Your constituents in Everett will get another shot at that aerial refueling tanker contract they lost to the Airbus consortium.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I start each day with the paper edition of the Washington Post and always note the massive, full-page ads by defense contractors hawking their wares to Congressmen and their staffs. One thing that I never understood during the ad blitz in support of the F-22 was why Lockheed Martin, a defense firm that is about a lot more than just fixed-wing aircraft, was falling on its sword over one weapons system and allowing itself to be branded as a manufacturer of fixed-wing aircraft. I asked this question to a Lockheed Martin executive -- one not associated with the aviation side of the house -- a few months back and got a firmly bitten tongue in reply. Today, though, I noticed an almost full-page ad on Page A16 of the Post advertising Lockheed Martin as, yup, "a leading provider of IT systems for the federal government." Does this mean Lockheed Martin has gotten over the termination of the F-22 program? Probably not. But it may be evidence they are re-thinking the wisdom of a large transnational corporation (with a lot of fingers in a lot of pies) getting too closely associated with one weapons system.