L. Neil Smith's

Number 11, August 1996

Buying the Wrong Defense

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         No one wants to see America stand defenseless before her foreign enemies. But if the Republican Congress is to retain any credibility as a trimmer of budgets -- if it really means to leave hard-working Americans the freedom to invest at least somewhat more of their earnings as they see fit -- these half-hearted, wish-they-had-the-nerve-to-be-real-libertarians must at least axe those "Defense" projects so larded with porkfat that the Pentagon itself doesn't want them.
         Sen. James Exon, D-Neb., didn't mince words when he rose on the Senate floor last month to describe $4.6 billion worth of "add-ons" that members of Congress have been busily hanging on the 1997 Pentagon budget as "an expensive collection of pet projects, congressional pork and outright wasteful spending."
         In fact, the two branches of the Republicrat Party have now combined to hang at least $10 billion more in defense spending on this out-of-season Christmas tree than Bill Clinton requested.
         We're not talking about rifle grease and canteens, here. Included on Sen. Exon's list of "add-ons" are $75 million to develop a "kinetic" antisatellite missile system (ASAT) that many critics warn could drag the nation into an expensive new arms race, hundreds of millions for fancy new electronic surveillance schemes, and $158 million for Army Kiowa Warrior helicopters, which Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., warns "could not even keep up with" the older, heavily-armed Apache choppers for which they were supposed to serve as scouts during Operation Desert Storm.
         Hey, there's a winner.
         The Pentagon doesn't even want this stuff. The Washington Post reported July 19 that Deputy Secretary of Defense John White wrote in a letter to the Democratic leadership that "many of the proposed increases ... are for systems or programs which are not included in the department's" five-year plan, warning that those increases will later force the Pentagon to divert money from projects with a higher priority to stay within the spending ceilings Congress has set for the end of the decade.
         This smorgasbord of corporate gluttony reminds me of the Brits loading their supply ships for the Gallipoli landings in 1915, with tea services for the officers and ping pong tables for the men being thoughtfully added to the bills of lading at the last minute by some old colonial hands looking forward to a long, boring occupation after a few sharp engagements demonstrated the better part of valor to the doleful Turk.
         Unfortunately, when things didn't prove quite as simple as planned ashore, and men desperate for Enfields and ammo went to unload the ships, they found the tops of the cargo holds bulging with the last things loaded back in Liverpool -- tea sets and ping pong tables.
         Ignoring Deputy Secretary White's warning, under a similarly smug assumption that this Defense business is all a mere game of "let's pretend," the U.S. Senate passed the spending bill last month, with all this new porkfat in place, by a vote of 68-to-31. Then, July 18, it passed a companion appropriations bill, 72-to-27, after defeating amendments that would have cut unrequested funds for $2 billion worth of items that even former fighter pilot Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., describes as "unnecessary and unwarranted."
         Democrats love to point out that the GOP loses its budget-cutting nerve when it comes to "corporate welfare." They're right. If the GOP wants to retain the mandate it won from fed-up taxpayers in 1994 (I'm not holding my breath), only a few weeks remain to take off the frilly little pastry aprons, put away the puffy hats and the frosting guns, and dig out the overalls, the workboots and the chainsaws.
         We don't have to be naive, or defenseless. A strong, lean defense can bolster a sensible neutrality, as both the Swiss and the Swedes have proved. But what's really needed is often far less glamorous than the ornate gewgaws that fill the wet dreams of congressmen and lobbyists.
         If the congressfolk really want their eyes opened, they should banish the brass for a week, call in some grizzled 20-year veteran non-commissioned officers from all four branches, and ask them what's really needed.
         I suspect they'd hear hair-raising tales about shortages of adequate boots, rations, training facilities, training time, field kitchens, practice ammo, live ammo, any kind of ammo (this is an army, after all, that increasingly trains on video simulators to save money and reduce legal liability, sending men into battle who've never actually had to clear a jammed rifle bolt in the dark, under live fire, while lying elbow-deep in mud.)
         But I bet they'd hear hardly a word about hundreds of millions for fancy new Buck Rogers atomic ray-guns.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

Pallas, the new sci-fi adventure novel by L. Neil Smith is out in paperback from Tor. Is there room for a socialist utopia on an individualist asteroid?
Now available at good bookstores everywhere!

Coming soon.... Probability Broach -- unexpurgated!

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