In his vow to fight terrorism - to "win the first war of the 21st
century" - President Bush has pledged "whatever it takes, whatever
it costs...." If the administration's projections are correct, in
just a few years that cost will near a half-trillion dollars a year.
On Capitol Hill this week, service secretaries and other top
Pentagon officials are explaining to Congress how those sums will be
spent. At a time of anticipated budget deficits, lawmakers are
likely to temper their support for national security with the need
to appear frugal.
Yet, depending on where they're from, they also can be expected
to assert that the military bases and defense plants in their
districts are among the most vital assets to protect the homeland.
In a military budget that is as big as the 15 next biggest
countries combined, what's the potential for waste, inefficiency,
and good old-fashioned pork? When it comes to military spending, the
tradition of the "iron triangle" - Congress, the Pentagon, and
defense industries - joining to push costly weaponry is nothing new.
"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence,
whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,"
five-star Army General Dwight Eisenhower said in his last speech as
president in 1961. "The potential for the disastrous rise of
misplaced power exists and will persist."
With the nation under recent attack, US forces fighting overseas,
and patriotism-fueled Pentagon budgets rising faster than usual,
that potential increases.
Writing in the Washington Post, White House budget director Mitch
Daniels warns that special interests are likely to jump on the
national security and homeland defense bandwagon to promote their
But larding the federal budget with extras isn't limited to
nonmilitary items, others note. "What Mr. Daniels forgot to mention
was that vested interests also exist in the defense sector - that
is, defense industries - that are out to do much the same," says the
Cato Institute's Ivan Eland.
Some weapons outmoded?
Under increased scrutiny are big-ticket weapons that critics say
are too costly, unreliable, or otherwise inappropriate in an era
shifting from superpower cold war to terrorism and other forms of
unconventional conflict. Among these are the F-22 Raptor fighter
aircraft, B-1 bomber, V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, Crusader self-
propelled artillery system, and Comanche helicopter.
These "are five of the most wasteful and ineffective weapons
systems," says Danielle Brian of the watchdog group Project on
Before Sept. 11, Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself had
questioned some major weapons systems that, in his view, did not fit
the needs of military "transformation. …