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Bush Is Inflating Pentagon's Budget

Author: Lawrence J. Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
January 29, 2002


IN HIS SPEECH last Wednesday defending and beginning the campaign for his proposed $382 billion defense budget for fiscal 2002, President George W. Bush made some good points. He also made many misleading ones.

The president is right when he proclaims that the U.S. military should have all the money it needs to fight the war on terrorism.

But he is simply wrong that the military's role in that war for next year justifies an increase of $48 billion - or 14.3 percent - in next year's budget.

He is correct when he says the Pentagon should spend more on the precision weapons that proved so successful in Afghanistan.

But he is incorrect that spending on these tools of modern warfare justifies a budget larger than what we spent on average each year to win the Cold War and that will be nearly $80 billion higher than President Bill Clinton's last budget.

Does the war against terrorism justify such an increase? Hardly. The cost of the military campaign against Afghanistan has been about $6 billion, or $1.5 billion a month. Moreover, now that the military campaign is winding down, the monthly cost to the Pentagon will drop. Bush's proposed 2003 budget estimates that the cost of the war next year will be about $10 billion, or less than a billion a month. And the Pentagon has already received a $20 billion supplement to its 2002 budget to prosecute the war, far more than it will spend on that conflict.

Paradoxically, the war against terrorism has actually undermined the rationale for increasing the defense budget at all. According to his campaign rhetoric, Bush was inheriting a military that was in terrible shape because of a decade of neglect by the Clinton administration. The performance of the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan showed just what excellent shape it was already in.

In addition, the threats from such potential American foes as Russia and China have decreased markedly. The Russians have not only shared intelligence with us, they have also persuaded the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which border Afghanistan, to allow U.S. troops to launch attacks against al-Qaida and the Taliban from their territory.

The Chinese have been especially cooperative. The rulers in Beijing have shared intelligence on al-Qaida and the Taliban, and have leaned on their long-time ally Pakistan to support the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan and clamp down on terrorists at home.

Bush's statement that the U.S. military should invest more in new technologies also supports his campaign pledge to transform the military. But in his campaign, the president said he would get the money for transformation by canceling the Cold War relics that the Pentagon continued to purchase during the 1990s. As late as last August, Bush himself was saying that the country could not afford to have the Pentagon buy all these systems. But his proposed 2003 budget does not cancel a single one of these systems. It simply adds the new systems on top of the old.

The new technologies are not only more effective and more suited to the threats of the 21st century than the Cold War systems, they are much cheaper. The Joint Direct Attack Munition - a smart bomb guided by signals from a global positioning network and used so successfully by the Navy and Air Force to bomb frontline Taliban positions - costs only $25,000. The total budget for the Special Forces of all the armed services is only $3.5 billion. Unmanned aircraft like the Predator, which not only scanned the Afghan battlefield but fired missiles into Taliban strongholds, cost only $20 million each.

What is driving up the defense budget to unprecedented heights are Cold-War-type programs such as the $70-billion F-22 fighter, the $65-billion new attack submarine program, the $15-billion Crusader artillery piece, the $43-billion Comanche helicopter, the $36-billion V-22 aircraft and the $250-billion national missile defense program.

Harry Stonecipher, vice chairman of Boeing Co., one of the nation's largest defense contractors, captured the essence of the president's approach. Last October, Stonecipher said that before Sept. 11, the military services had to make "some hard choices" about what to buy, but "the purse is now open" and any member of Congress who argues that "we don't have the resources to defend America ... won't be there after November of next year."

Let's hope that Stonecipher and Bush are wrong and that Congress will make the hard choices Bush did not.

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