Thursday, July 23, 2009

The End of the F-22

The president and congress went eyeball to eyeball on the F-22 Raptor, and it looks like congress blinked. The Hill:
The Senate’s decisive vote this week to cut off the F-22 program is resonating in the House, where leading appropriators on Wednesday said they would back away from an effort to continue production of the radar-evading fighter.

“When the Senate said 58 to 40, I think that ended the debate,” said Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee. “We have to be realistic about this.”

The vote on whether to extend money to the F-22 emerged as a crucial test for President Obama, who personally vowed to veto any defense bill that contained money to extend the fighter program. The Obama administration wants to cap the fleet at 187 planes.

Murtha last week included $369 million in the 2010 defense appropriations bill for advance parts for 12 more F-22s after 2010.

Now Murtha said he will seek to use the $369 million for spare parts and engines for existing F-22s and not as a down payment of sorts on any additional jets.

Matt Yglesias has an interesting piece dealing with the wider implications of the fight over the F-22
Once upon a time, it was generally agreed that spending on defense, like spending on roads or health care, counted as the expenditure of money. Perhaps a good idea, perhaps a bad idea -- it was, at any rate, spending. Spending that had to be judged relative to alternative expenditures of funds or the possibility of lower taxes. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as an advocate of small government, was actually an advocate for restraint in U.S. defense spending. He thought that we could rely on our nuclear deterrent to secure ourselves and our allies from Soviet aggression. By contrast, big government Democrat John F. Kennedy argued in favor of more spending, both at home and on military forces. The particular merits of these debates aside, the point is that defense spending was generally acknowledged to be a form of spending as such.

Things changed when the modern-day version of the conservative movement came to power in the person of Ronald Reagan. Taxes were slashed. We were told that "government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem." Consequently, spending would be cut in line with taxes, and the size of government would shrink. But in reality, total federal spending was essentially flat in the Reagan years and the country witnessed its first peacetime debt explosion. The reason? Despite the drastic reductions in federal revenues, defense spending skyrocketed.

Under George W. Bush, the same pattern repeated itself. Taxes were cut massively, creating a situation in which we were told we "couldn't afford" various kinds of domestic social outlay. But military spending -- including the "regular" Pentagon budget outside the various war supplementals -- just kept going up. Alleged small-government conservatives enthusiastically support this agenda, and Blue Dog Democrats and other self-proclaimed "deficit hawks" in Congress did not raise a peep of opposition. Indeed, within the GOP caucus, opposition to the federal government having any money is strongly correlated with support for spending tons on defense. And within the Democratic caucus, proclivity to bleating about deficits is, again, correlated with support for massive defense expenditures.

To some liberals, any defense budget fight that doesn't actually reduce expenditures isn't a defense budget fight worth engaging in. But the first step to a serious debate about the necessary level of defense spending is to change the political context so that we're no longer doing fantasyland budgeting for which politicians pretend the Pentagon's bills are paid with Monopoly money.

One of the oddest things about the debate over military spending is those ostensibly against the inefficient use of government funds are those most dedicated to bloated, inefficient military programs. Saxby Chambliss, for example, excoriated Barack Obama's budget as spending to much money, yet fought tooth and nail to preserve the F-22. Unsurprisingly, Lockheed-Martin, the F-22's maker, is a big employer in Georgia, Chambliss's home state. This wider trend of conservatives supporting massive defense spending was true of George W Bush and Ronald Reagan, both of whom ran up massive debts in there time in part due to increasing defense spending.
It is interesting to think that once Republicans were suspicious of military spending. Dwight Eisenhower once warned in a speech in 1961:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

Whether Eisenhower had the right answer (a force more reliant on the threat of nuclear weapons) is dubious, but he was completely right to warn of the creeping influence of the complex.
The junking of the F-22 Raptor is a loss for the military-industrial complex, but a minor one. Despite the way it has been portrayed in the media, Obama's budget in fact increases military spending from the Bush years. Leaving out the expenditures on Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama budget is $534 billion, the Bush budget was $513 billion. Though the Obama budget has tried to shift toward more relevant program, my guess is there's still plenty of useless projects in that budget as well. Still, it is hopeful that the president and defense secretary have signaled they are at least ready to take on these issues at all.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

F-22 Raptor and other Oddities

The effects of the military-industrial complex upon our politics only becomes most obvious when an attempt is made to cut a program. A fight has broken out between the White House and congress over the F-22 program. The problem with the F-22 is it's a program looking for a justification and the very definition of a boondoggle. The Raptor is not of use to any of the current strategic issue for the United States. I heard one caller on the radio put it "the president and the Secretary of Defense want to prepare to fight terrorist, congress wants to prepare to fight aliens" One would think, with the President, the Defense Secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff supporting the decision to cut the program, congress would go along. Alas.
Congress decided to end production of the costly F-22 Raptor fighter jet at 187 planes after a debate on the 2009 supplemental war budget last month. But the very next day, the House Armed Services Committee stripped $369 million for environmental cleanup from the fiscal 2010 budget to fund an additional 12 F-22s. The Senate Armed Services Committee went a step further, providing $1.75 billion for seven more F-22s without clearly identifying the source of funds.
The F-22 costs nearly $150 million per plane - twice what was projected at the outset of the program. Factoring in development costs, the price tag increases to about $350 million per plane for the current fleet of 187.

It may look as if the House Armed Services Committee has added "only" $369 million. But given that it would provide funds for 12 additional F-22s, each with a price tag of $150 million (excluding development costs), the real cost to American taxpayers would be about $2 billion.

The F-22 is the most capable air-to-air fighter in the Air Force inventory. Yet it has only limited air-to-ground attack capabilities, which makes it unsuitable for today's counter-insurgency operations. In fact, the F-22 has never been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan. It was designed to fight next-generation Soviet fighters that never materialized, and, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has noted, it is nearly useless for irregular warfare.

The fact that the project has a massive budget overrun is not an accident, when the project was first proposed its cost was purposely lowballed. Part of congress's reluctance is also due to the fact that pieces of Raptor program were purposely placed in a number of politically potent districts.
The Raptor, by the way, is vulnerable to rain.
The United States' top fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22, has recently required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces, confidential Pentagon test results show.

The aircraft's radar-absorbing metallic skin is the principal cause of its maintenance troubles, with unexpected shortcomings -- such as vulnerability to rain and other abrasion -- challenging Air Force and contractor technicians since the mid-1990s, according to Pentagon officials, internal documents and a former engineer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Climate Pessimism

I must confess, I'm very pessimistic about the idea of humankind turning around the effects of climate change before it's too late. This doesn't mean it's not worthwhile to try, but I can't help getting the feeling that it's not going to happen.
Take the bill that's making its way through congress.

Unlike Brad Lindsey, I am very worried about the idea that climate change could be an "apocalyptic problem", so the failure to deal with it is even more troubling to me, particularly the utter servitude of congress to agri-business, going so far as to muzzle the EPA on the matter of biofuels.
Yet worse is the failure of developed and undeveloped countries to reach an agreement on climate change at the G-8. Critics, such as the blogger I linked to, suggest that it's the patchy commitment of the United States to reducing greenhouse gasses that led China and India to reject the deal. My own opinion is that neither country is any more interested in reducing greenhouse gasses than the Bush administration was, and further, both nations feel it only just that they produce greenhouse gasses at the same rate western societies did when they industrialized. This is unfortunate, if, as seems likely, both nations pump out as much fossil fuel as they like as the become more developed, then there's no way of advert a possibly catastrophic change in the climate.
China and India have a point, most of the greenhouse gasses that exist were produced by the United States, and the "global north" nations never had to worry about cutting there emissions when they made the leap to prosperity. They are also foolish though. If climate changes drastically, it will be nations like China and India, much more than the United States and Europe, that will pay the price. There strategy should be one of clean development rather than refusing any climate agreement by (rightly) observing that the west lacks any moral high-ground on this issue.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

RIP McNamara

I'm back. From this point on, I'm going to attempt to do a post a day again.
Though our media has been fixated and the death of Michael Jackson, to me, the death of Robert McNamara is far more interesting. Robert McNarmara played a profound tragedies of American life in recent times. Probably the most interesting commentary I read on McNamara's demise comes from Stephen Walt's blog.
Some commentators see McNamara as a tragic figure; a talented, driven, and dedicated public servant who mishandled a foolish war and spent the remainder of his life trying to atone for it. The obituary in today's New York Times takes this line, describing him as having "spent the rest of his life wrestling with the war's moral consequences," and as someone who "wore the expression of a haunted man."

I see his fate differently. Unlike the American soldiers who fought in Indochina, or the millions of Indochinese who died there, McNamara did not suffer significant hardship as a result of his decisions. He lived a long and comfortable life, and he remained a respected member of the foreign policy establishment. He had no trouble getting his ideas into print, or getting the media to pay attention to his pronouncements. Not much tragedy there.

McNamara may have been a gifted analyst and corporate executive, blessed with a lot of raw smarts, but he was also one of those people who could not imagine being wrong or resist the desire to tell the world what to do. Failure in Vietnam did not teach him humility; he ran the World Bank with same ego-driven sense of infallibility he had brought to the Pentagon (and with predictably mixed results). Yet this second experience with failure did not temper his love of the limelight or his desire to prescribe How Things Should Be Done. He spent the last decades of his life offering high-profile advice on various aspects of nuclear weapons policy -- with the same degree of self-assurance he had always displayed -- and he sought the spotlight once again with a belated memoir on his role in Vietnam. As always, however, it was filled with "lessons" for others; to the last, McNamara retained an unwarranted confidence in his own ideas as well as an inability to keep quiet.

Overall, McNamara's post-Vietnam behavior raises a broader question about the role of former officials who have led their country into major disasters. Ordinarily, we should respect the men and women who have devoted years of their lives to public service and listen carefully to the counsel of those who have the benefit of long experience. Moreover, someone who is no longer competing for a job in Washington may be more likely to give honest advice than someone who is still worrying about the questions she might face at a confirmation hearing.

But in some cases -- and a lot of former Bush administration officials come to mind here -- the failures are of sufficient gravity as to render all subsequent advice suspect. And when a government official's repeated errors have left thousands of their fellow citizens dead or grievously wounded, along with hundreds of thousands of other human beings, it would be more seemly for them to remain silent, in mute acknowledgement of their own mistakes. And if they persist in pontificating -- as Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, and Dick Cheney are now doing -- a nation that understood the importance of accountability might have the good sense to pay them the attention and respect they deserve. Which is to say: none.

This seems to me slightly too harsh, but only just. McNamara, by his own account, was already convinced that the Vietnam war was futile well before he left office, yet he said nothing out of "loyalty to the president". Such loyalty is misplaced, McNamara should have first had loyalty to those who would die should the war continue, and only second to the United States president. McNamara also kept silent on Vietnam throughout the entirety of the Nixon years, a fact which can't be explained by loyalty to Lyndon Johnson. McNamara only brought his doubts forward in memoirs written 30 years later. Too little, much too late (This article from Foreign Affairs discusses the matter further).
Yet it's not fair too compare McNamara to the Bush neo-conservatives. Dick Cheney still aggressively defends the clearly criminal enterprises that he created in office. Neither he nor any of the other Bush administration show any contrition, or even seem to realize there is anything for the to feel contrition for. McNamara is at least seems genuinely tortured by what he did. It is not a coincidence that a man who could easily have been brought up on charges before a warcrimes tribunal has argued for international rules of war. McNamara realized he was wrong and regretted it. As weak a measure as that is, it's far more than I expect out of any of those responsible for war-crimes in the bush administration.