Magazine article The American Conservative

War-Toys for Tots

Magazine article The American Conservative

War-Toys for Tots

Article excerpt

The Pentagon makes corruption fun.

Last September, the Marine Corps flew Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to a meeting in Manhattan in its vertical take-off and landing transport aircraft, the V-22 Osprey. (Known better among Marines as the Albatross.) Those familiar with the V-22's safety record might wonder what the Corps was trying to do to the secretary. Fortunately, this time he made it.

A story on Mr. Panetta's big adventure in the November 19 New York Times, "Costly Aircraft Suggests Cuts Won't Be Easy? suggests the Secretary of Defense was as excited as a 12-yearold boy who finds a Catling gun under the tree on Christmas morning.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta shoved his hand into a snug aviator helmet with goggles on September morning and swooped into lower Manhattan on a V-22 Osprey...

'How'd you like that gizmo?' Mr. Panetta said after landing at the Wall Street heliport. . .

'At a car dealership, what the salesman wants to do is get you inside the vehicle,' said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel and defense analyst. 'You take the test drive and wow, its got a great stereo, it feels good, it has that new-car smell.'

This variant on the Marine Corps Reserve's "Toys for Tots" program is nothing new. Anyone who has spoken with the military knows that as a toy store it is unsurpassed. I've had my fun going up in a Marine Corps Harrier, shooting a tank, and playing Rommel in Light Armored Vehicles.

But the toy store never bought me: as Marines will attest, I have been one of their most severe critics for almost 40 years. Regrettably-and this is true not only of the Defense Department but of other federal departments and agencies as well- it does buy many senior civilian political appointees. That is a serious systemic problem, and a reason why the federal government is unable to cut spending.

Civilian political appointees are supposed to be foxes in the hen house. If our political system is to work as intended, they must look at the bureaucracies under their authority skeptically. Knowing that all bureaucracies sub-optimize, it is their duty not to become advocates but to subordinate their departments bureaucratic interests to the good of the whole. Instead, far too often, the foxes turn chicken as soon as they take office.

It was not always thus. In this book Six Frigates: The Story of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, Ian W. ToU writes of the first Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert:

In negotiating with naval contractors, Stoddert treated the public's money with as much care as if it were his own... He urged his agents not to be taken in by the shrewd negotiating tactics of naval contractors. When victuals delivered to the [frigate] United States were found unfit to eat, Stoddert unbraided the Treasury Department clerk who had signed a contract with the supplier. …

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