"Not So Fast, Mr. Secretary"

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Even as Defense Secretary Robert Gates modestly nips and tucks the rate of increase in military spending, his House GOP overseers are saying: Stop! The new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon of California, and all seven of his GOP subcommittee chairmen, sent Gates a letter yesterday basically ordering him not to kill two of the biggest programs he recently declared dead — the Marine’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and the Army’s Surface-Launched Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile missile program (check out this video to see the SLAMRAAM do its stuff).

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The lawmakers say they have “serious reservations” about Gates’ action and whether it is “in the best interest of our national security.” They profess to want to scrutinize defense spending, but place Gates’ argument that these are necessary “efficiencies” in quotes — twice — as if to suggest they really don’t believe him. While Congress has a clear and proper role to play in the defense of the nation, it’s becoming increasingly clear that some lawmakers’ cries of disarmament are going to be brandished to keep the Pentagon money gusher spouting in hopes of drowning out those more concerned with the nation’s fiscal well-being.

The Republicans seem hell-bent on driving this exceedingly well-armed country off an economic cliff by continuing to pump more money into the military each year than we spent during the Cold War. For further evidence, all you have to do is read the invite to this morning’s closed-door briefing for lawmakers on China’s fledgling carrier-killing DF-21 missile. “America’s reality is that China now has a missile capable of completely destroying a U.S. carrier in under ten minutes and as it stands right now, the United States has no viable way of stopping it,” Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, one of the subcommittee chairmen who signed that letter to Gates, warned colleagues in his invitation.

The U.S. fleet of 11 aircraft carriers is increasingly Pekingsittingduck-like. The notion that the U.S. needs to develop weapons to protect its 20th Century instruments of war from 21st Century weapons is a sure route to the poorhouse. It’s dispiriting that a senior member of the armed services committee apparently doesn’t get it. Or maybe he does. After all, he represents the Norfolk area, home to the world’s largest navy base.