Wednesday, December 28, 2005

This is why Defense spending is so hard to contain, let alone reduce.

From today's Washington Post:

Campaigning for the C-17

Long Beach Officials Look for Ways to Lower Boeing's Costs, Hang On to Jobs

By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 28, 2005; Page D01

The C-17, a big-bellied Air Force jet that carries troops and cargo to global hot spots, is designed to navigate short, unpaved airstrips with ease. But navigating the next round of defense budget tightening could be much tougher.

The 2006 defense budget Congress passed last week included $3.5 billion for C-17s , but there are also reports that budget-sensitive Pentagon officials have decided they cannot afford to buy any more of the $200 million planes.

Boeing Co. is the largest employer in Long Beach, Calif., where 5,000 workers make 15 C-17 cargo planes there a year.
Boeing Co. is the largest employer in Long Beach, Calif., where 5,000 workers make 15 C-17 cargo planes there a year. (By Carlos Puma For The Washington Post)

That uncertainty is creating angst in Long Beach, Calif., where Boeing Co. is the largest employer and 5,000 workers churn out 15 of the planes a year. To the usual lobbying campaign to preserve the jet and the jobs, community leaders have added a wrinkle: They are looking for ways to save the government money.

"We're looking at all of Boeing's costs to see how we can lower them," said Robert M. Swayze, the city's economic development bureau manager.

Southern California Edison, Long Beach's utility company, said Boeing may be eligible for a five-year, 15 percent discount on its energy bill . The city also is lobbying to have its designation as an enterprise zone extended beyond the 2007 expiration date, potentially saving Boeing more.

Even the fire department is willing to help. "Right now Boeing operates its own fire department," but the city could assume that responsibility, Swayze said .

Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Long Beach's approach is unusual. "You usually only see these types of heroics involved when a baseball stadium is at stake," he said.

(and please note, we don't even see these types of heroics from the DC City Council for the proposed stadium for the Nationals).

Typically, members of Congress have led efforts to keep production lines open. In the past two budgets, for example, Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), has secured enough funds to keep the Boeing plant in St. Louis making F-15 fighter jets through at least 2008, over the objections of the Air Force.

The AF certainly doesn't need more F-15's. Its not like any of the wars we're currently fighting require an air superiority interceptor. Plus, if they are serious about the F-22 as the F-15's replacement, why buy F-15's as you are starting to buy F-22's? But wait, that would mean taking the logical approach....

California lawmakers, including Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D), who represents Long Beach, have sent letters to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne arguing the C-17's virtues. A Pentagon study to be released early next year concludes that 180 planes is enough, according to military and industry sources. Boeing said that if money is not put into the 2007 budget for the plane, it would be forced to begin shutting down the line in 2008.

"The Air Force has come to conclusion that it has other priorities," such as fighter jets, said Loren B. Thompson, a defense industry consultant and analyst for the Lexington Institute, a think tank. "It's going to take a determined delegation to save the program."

Chicago-based Boeing is privately making its own appeal to military leaders on behalf of the C-17. But it must perform a tricky balancing act. If the Air Force buys more C-17s, it may come at the expense of a program Boeing has been eagerly awaiting -- building hundreds of refueling tankers, industry analysts note. Or if the company convinces the Air Force it needs more planes to shuttle troops and equipment, the Air Force could decide to spend the money upgrading C-5 cargo planes made by Lockheed Martin Corp., instead of buying more of Boeing's planes.

Those tankers, of the famed lease the AF 767's at an massive price increase, convert them to tankers, and then have the AF pay to convert them back to civilian use when the lease is over. All arranged by a corrupt official working at the Pentagon who had planned to take a job at Boeing after giving Boeing that sweetheart deal.

And, note the irony here:

The C-17 has been saved from extinction before. In 1990, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney reduced the number of planes the Pentagon planned to buy to 120 from 210. Developing the C-17 proved so troublesome that in 1993 the Pentagon threatened to buy even fewer, 40, if things did not get better. The plane's performance eventually improved, and the Pentagon raised the number of planes in the program, first to 120 and then to 180.

Yet another big-ticket weapons system that Cheney tried to kill as Sec Def in the early 90's that refused to die. The much maligned V-22 is another...

What is this about? For sure, its not national security or military needs. No, its about (to paraphrase one of former SecState Baker's many reasons for Gulf War I) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.

In Long Beach, lobbying for the C-17 is a fight for the future. This city at the southern tip of Los Angeles County has lost 42 percent of its manufacturing base in the past 15 years. During the past five years, Boeing's Southern California workforce, which also builds some commercial planes, has fallen by 11,444 to 31,356.

The jobs at the C-17 plant pump $1.4 billion a year into the local economy, Swayze said, with the average Boeing worker earning $65,000 a year. It would be difficult to attract firms offering comparable wages. He said, "These are real good jobs."

Good jobs, yes. At the expense of you the taxpayer, at the expense of a massive defense budget that doesn't provide for actual military needs durring wartime.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Went to the AU - Maryland basketball game last night. AU got crushed, 81-55. Surrounded by Terps Nation, I wore my AU t-shirt and cheered for the 3 or 4 decent plays that the Eagles made. So, if you were watching the game on TV, that lone cheer you heard when the AU guy got a steal and made a nice pass and then finished the fast break, that was me.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The State of the State at State

A new development in the inter-agency bureaucratic politics of implementing foreign policy: the State Department now has been assigned official responsibility for rebuilding states after conflicts and wars. Condi Rice is now in charge of nationbuilding for the United States. Please note the Irony, for if you remember back to the 2000 campaign, the only real issue of foreign policy that came up was Rice's argument that it was a waste to have the 82nd Airborne escorting children to school. Now she's in charge of building those schools and convincing children to attend in Iraq and elsewhere.

But, long term, this might be a positive development. You would hope that State is more willing to a) consider the broader elements of nation building beyond security and b) play well with other agencies like USAID and DoD and such. Maybe its an actual lesson learned from Iraq.

To go along with her new responsibility, Condi authored an Op-Ed in the Washington Post extolling the virtues of Democracy Promotion. In it, she calls into question a core tenet of Realism:
If the school of thought called "realism" is to be truly realistic, it must recognize that stability without democracy will prove to be false stability, and that fear of change is not a positive prescription for policy.
Now, a True Realist would say: Rubbish! The kind of government a state chooses has nothing to do with the way in which it will behave in international affairs. All states-- democracies or not--respond to the same international forces that are determined first and foremost by the distribution of power. Condi is not trashing realism (for she herself is a realist), rather, she's trying to make it compatible with the Administration's policy gambits in Iraq, a post-hoc justification if you will of the war.

Susan Rice (no relation, Susan was Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Clinton Administration), in a response Op-Ed, criticized Rice for ignoring poverty and development issues in her newfound commitment to Democracy, but I think this misses the more significant and more important flaw in Condi's article.

Condi hangs the whole thing on the mantle of Dean Acheson:
Like Acheson and his contemporaries, we live in an extraordinary time -- one in which the terrain of international politics is shifting beneath our feet and the pace of historical change outstrips even the most vivid imagination. My predecessor's portrait is a reminder that in times of unprecedented change, the traditional diplomacy of crisis management is insufficient. Instead, we must transcend the doctrines and debates of the past and transform volatile status quos that no longer serve our interests. What is needed is a realistic statecraft for a transformed world.
But of course, this misses the Whole Point of what Dean Acheson really created. Acheson's major innovation were the set of multilateral institutions (UN, Bretton Woods, NATO) that channeled US hegemonic power into a functioning international order. Acheson and his contemporaries saw that they needed a way to manage international problems and create an international order to do so--one that ran on a set of US backed rules but one that allowed participants enough of a say, stake, and opportunity, that they would be willing to work to uphold that order. Condi mistakes this institution-building project for a "status-quo" bias, which it is not. These institutions were dynamic and quite capable of adapting to significant international change when the US, the hegemonic power that created the institutions cared enough to invest some of that power to realize a significant return. Under Condi's guidance, first as National Security Advisor and now as Secretary of State, the US has shown little willingness to invest any of its power in the project of building the institutions--formal or informal--of international order. Instead, the administration is interested in using the institutions when it helps, and discarding them when they are a burden. True Realism. Not quite what Acheson had in mind. This does nothing to promote, establish, or maintain any sort of international order. Not a status quo, but an order, the rules that nations follow in international politics. This is what Acheson is known for, and its why I sincerely doubt that 50 years from now any future secretary of state will hang a portrait of Condi Rice in the 7th floor office of Main State.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Is This A Trainwreck I See Before Me?

The US spends over Half a Trillion dollars a year (that's $500 Billion+) on the military. Even with this tremendous budget numbers, the Military is in trouble. The Pentagon budget is a pending trainwreck. So much so that even the Whitehouse is considering a spending cut!

The problem is two-fold. The first massive expense is obviously Iraq. The $500 billion figure above includes not just the annual defense appropriations bill, but also the supplemental spending bills to pay for operations in Iraq. Combat pay, more bullets, replacement parts, training--all that costs lots and lots of money.

But, that's not the real problem. The real problem is that the Military would rather spend the Iraq money on expensive weapons systems. Time and time again, the Pentagon has shown that it will sacrifice all kinds of programs to protect big-ticket weapons systems.

The Navy, for example, now wants to increase the size of the fleet to 313 ships, up from 281 ships now. This is only a 32 ship increase, but its not like they are buying sail-boats. One of the big ticket items the Navy is trying to protect is the DD(x)-- the Navy wants to buy 7 of these future Destroyers at a price of $2-$3 Billion a piece. Remember the days when you could get an aircraft carrier for a couple billion?

A Navy spokesperson said:
"We are at a crisis in shipbuilding," a senior Navy official said. "If we don't start building this up next year and the next year and the next year, we won't have the force we need."
Need. What do "we need?" What do we "need" it for? Therein lies the rub:
"The Navy appears to be grappling with the need to balance funding for supporting its role in the global war on terrorism against those for meeting a potential challenge from modernized Chinese maritime military forces," said Ronald O'Rourke, a naval analyst with the Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress.
How does a futuristic Destroyer help fight terrorists?

The Air Force has a similar problem. They are trying to purchase F-22's to replace the F-15, as well as buy the JSF / F-35 to replace the F-16 (and also get the Navy and Marines to buy the JSF to replace the F-18 and Harrier).
The most striking example is the F/A-22, which was ordered up in the early 1980's to fight Soviet jets. The Air Force initially planned to buy 648 F/A-22's, at a cost of $125 million each, measured in current dollars, but it can now afford only 181 jets, now priced at $361 million each, a 189 percent increase, according to the G.A.O. None are combat-ready....
Similarly, discussion about cutting the $257 billion Joint Strike Fighter program, the costliest in the Pentagon portfolio, has ended after behind-the-scenes lobbying.
These two planes alone eat up most of the budget. And this is before you get the gas, missiles, air traffic control, let alone the army they are supposed to support in the A role of the F/A.

Yes, the F-22 is much cooler than the F-15. Does that even matter? Is the key difference between US and Chinese forces the platform, the avionics within the platform (radar, computers, etc), the system of systems connected to the plane (refueling, AWACS, etc), or the training of the pilot. An F-15 with all this support is probably more effective than an F-22 flying alone with a poorly trained pilot and no place to land.

Not to mention--Remind me again how an F-22 fights terrorism...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger(*)

To items for today, both extremely interesting and siginificant, I think.

First, a tip of the hat to Israel, where politics have been turned upside-down by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to leave his own governing Likud Party to form a new secular center party. In a major development, former PM, nobel prize winner and Labor leader Shimon Peres left the Labor Party to join the new coalition. Its sort of a "get the band back together" for one last go-round of the old-guard in Israeli politics. But I find this tremendously fascinating--the continual tension for Likud leaders was the balancing of the conservative secular business base of the party with the right-wing religious base of the party (not unlike the Republicans here in the US). This caused incredible difficulty in any peacemaking process because key Likud allies and coalition members were tied to the religious parties that would oppose any land for peace deal. Moreover, the secular-religious split in Israel is quite significant on a number of other domestic issues (and even led to the formation of an explicitly secular party a few elections ago). In the US, Bush has embraced his religious right. In Israel, Sharon dumped it. You now have the possibility of a grand centrist secular coalition with an explicit mandate to make peace with the Palestinians.

Second, a Wag of the finger to the Bush Administration. The other day Bush gave a Major Speech in which he outlined a new National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. Indeed, it was a major speech. Bush made some concessions that heretofore were unprecedented in White House discourse on Iraq. Bush admitted some mistakes were made. He said that the insurgency was largely Iraqi, not foreign.

As the NYT opines, "For Once, President and His Generals See the Same War." Makes you wonder what war the President was seeing before.

...Mr. Bush, in some passages of his speech, came much closer than he has before to matching the hard-nosed assessments of the war that have long been made by American commanders here, at least among themselves. While maintaining a stoic confidence in public, many of these commanders, over the past 18 months, have pressed behind the scenes for the Pentagon to move toward a more realistic appraisal of the war than has been common among major administration figures in Washington.
These generals contend the war is winnable, though they do not says so with the tone of certainty that Mr. Bush mustered Wednesday at Annapolis. But they recognize, privately, that for winning to be an achievable goal within the time frame that American politics is likely to allow, things that have rarely gone America's way so far will have to improve steadily over the next 6 to 12 months. The war strategy that Mr. Bush outlined is one that the current group of top generals here developed in the wake of crisis in the spring of 2004.
There has long been a substantial gap between Bush's rhetoric and the on-the-ground reality in Iraq. Nevertheless, you wonder where was this a month ago? A year ago? What does it take to put the White House in touch with what is really going on according to those doing the fighting?

As many have noted, Bush didn't say all that new and he was largely arguing against a straw man of the "artificial time table." But this speech will certainly shift the frame of the political debate, putting the onus on the Democrats to figure out something to say. Now Bush can say--plan, here's my plan. What's your plan?

The key question still remains: when will we leave Iraq? Certainly not on a timetable. Maybe when The Plan of Victory is Achieved. And that could be Never.

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