By Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN ret)
( submitted by Steve Varnum from PrioritiesNH)
Presidential candidates routinely rail against big government, but they're often silent when it comes to denouncing the biggest source of waste, redundancy, and inefficiency in the federal bureaucracy. That is, the Pentagon.
This year, against a backdrop of ballooning deficits and serious threats from terrorists, we're already starting to see a few candidates break free from the taboo against calling for serious cuts in defense spending.
But if you listen closely to the presidential hopefuls traipsing though Iowa and New Hampshire these days, you'd think it's only a few of the Democrats who will cut Cold War weapons systems from the Pentagon budget-and their proposed cuts are mostly nominal compared to the potential savings that could be realized.
Sen. Joe Biden, for example, opposes space-based weapons. Gov. Bill Richardson wants to cut 10 percent from the Pentagon budget. Both candidates would cut the V-22 Osprey and the F-22 Raptor fighter plane. And Sen. John Edwards opposes Star Wars.
All of these programs are big bonanza projects for defense contractors, but are of little or no use for our national defense.
The failures of missile defense are the stuff of legend, and offensive space-based weapons are almost literally pie-in-the-sky ideas that could trigger an arms race in space.
The Osprey, a helicopter-airplane hybrid, offers only marginal improvements to our existing helicopters, yet costs five times as much and has killed 23 Marines in test flights.
The F-22, designed to fight Soviet jets, brings little to an Air Force that has easily proven its superiority in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why the Air Force has tried to convert the F-22 to close-air support missions. But at 25 times the cost of a regular A-10, it's hard to see the value of a supersonic stealth fighter to attack ground targets.
Cutting these programs would potentially save taxpayers more than $80 billion over the next four years without affecting our national security.
Republicans on the presidential stump can hardly manage to name a single multi-billion dollar system that they would cut, though most deserve credit for at least acknowledging the fact that substantial waste can be found over at the Pentagon.
This is strange, because some brave Republicans have indeed stood up in the past and called for an end to the Pentagon's Cold War relics.
When he was Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney canceled the Osprey, only to have it saved by Congress.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to scale back production of the F-22.
Just last year, President Bush tried to scale back the Army's ambitious Future Combat System, a bloated weapons project, only to be overruled by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. John McCain is famous for his scorn for pork spending, including wasteful defense programs, and has fought to rein in cost overruns on big acquisition projects.
But it's one thing to talk about cutting waste in the abstract, and quite another to single out programs that have built-in constituencies in Congress and the defense industry.
In an era where it's considered politically safe to lavish money on defense budgets regardless of the threat to America, it takes leadership to stand above parochial interests.
Now is the time for Republican candidates to muster some of the courage they will surely need if elected President, and name specific Cold War weapons systems that would be cut under their Administrations.
And it's time for Democratic candidates, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who have yet to name specific Cold War relics that should be axed, to tell us what they plan to cut.
And all candidates, Republicans and Democrats, should go further, offering their own plans to save tens of billions in wasteful defense spending. There's no doubt the savings are there for the taking.
Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN, ret) formally commanded the U.S. Second Fleet and heads the Military Advisory Committee of the Priorities Campaign.