The papers are filled this morning with cries over Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to cut $78 billion from the roughly $3 trillion the Pentagon plans to spend over the next five years. It’s a pre-emptive strike, designed to let the Pentagon call the cuts instead of the Congress, and it’s a good start.
But judging from some headlines, you’d think a nuclear bomb had just detonated in the Pentagon courtyard. “Pentagon Seeks Biggest Military Cuts Since Before 9/11,” blares the New York Times‘ website. “Pentagon faces the knife,” warns the Wall Street Journal. The trouble is, lots of folks get the gist of their news from skimming the headlines, and in this case the headlines are misleading. The Pentagon budget will continue to grow under Gates’ plan, ultimately flattening out but still growing to keep pace with inflation.
Perhaps the most important words at Gates’ press conference Thursday didn’t come from the secretary, but from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He said something that summed up the basis for the proposed cuts in a nutshell. “This budget has basically doubled in the last decade,” he said of U.S. defense spending. “And my own experience here is in that doubling, we’ve lost our ability to prioritize, to make hard decisions, to do tough analysis, to make trades.”
Such profound truths are rarely heard on-camera inside the Pentagon.