This is the article that Daniel McCarthy of The American Conservative commissioned from me then ignored for over a month. My open letter to Dan appears at the bottom of the article. Severing my relationship with TAC feels like stepping into the shower and doing something else in the bathroom afterwards.
Cash Caissons, Gravy Boats and the Wild Blue Defense Budget
by Jeff Huber
Robert Gates’ proposed Pentagon spending cuts are likely to have as much effect of the deficit as flushing your toilet has on El Nino. Recent announcements of the military’s new age of austerity were the same balderdash we’ve been hearing from the warmongery’s bull feather merchants since President Dwight Eisenhower warned us, in his 1962 farewell speech, that the emergence of a military-industrial complex could lead to a “disastrous rise of misplaced power.”
The headline of a Jan. 6 Associated Press piece trumpeted “Pentagon To Cut Spending For First Time Since 9/11.” The lead paragraph informed us that the Pentagon plans to freeze its budget, in part by shrinking the Army and Marine Corps—the two services we just got done expanding—and by screwing veterans with increases in their health care costs.
But in the second paragraph of the AP story we get a sniff of the truth: “The Pentagon says it can stop asking for annual budget increases in 2015.” Oh, I see. The number fumblers in the five-sided funny farm have been milking this parlor amusement for a long, long time. They promise economies tomorrow for a hamburger today. Come tomorrow, the economies have disappeared and so has the hamburger.
The AP article also notes that Gates’ proposal is tied to a hallucinatory assumption: that Congress will agree to cancel “popular job-making programs.” Even Uncle Bob doesn't seem to think his cuts have a chance of surviving the first spring sunrise. “Looking five years into the future is through a pretty cloudy crystal ball,” Gates confesses. “Any number of these decisions could be reversed.”
Reports suggest that the predominance of those decisions already have been reversed. Wealth distribution has always been a key component of the American arms marketing strategy. Pieces of our weapons procurement programs, especially sticker-shock-and-awe projects like the B-2 stealth bomber, get contracted out to every congressional district in the Union. That’s how the V-22 Osprey, the Marine Corp’s vertical takeoff-and-land albatross, has survived as a weapons program for 30 years despite a litany of sins so irredeemable that even uber-war mongrel Dick Cheney tried to kill it, not just once or even twice, but four times.
So the reaction of Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio to Gates’ austerity scheme is hardly surprising: "Cutting the budget on the backs of Ohio's workers is unacceptable," Brown says. California Republican Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, puts it more succinctly: “I’m not happy,” he says. Congressional pork barrel coopers could, of course, bring the bacon home to their constituents by transforming our wartime economy into a national infrastructure reclamation project, but they won’t do that for the same reason that we haven’t developed an adequate energy alternative to oil: developing a new product while the old product is still selling like Happy Meals is a bad business decision.
When they sense they’re starting to sound politically mercenary, congressional hawks fall back on echoing the canard that says maintaining our bloated defense budget is vital to the nation’s security. McKeon, eager to keep the cash caisson rolling along merrily, decries Gates’ propositions as “a dramatic shift for a nation at war and a dangerous signal from the commander-in-chief."
The “nation at war” mantra has worn as thin as a drill instructor’s patience. If you’re among the sentient segment of American society, you realize by now that our extended engagements in Iraq and the Bananastans have as much to do with our national security as your pets have to do with making your house payment. More Americans realize this by the day; so to keep their gravy boat afloat the likes of McKeon need the specter of an emerging military competitor. It’s little wonder then that Uncle Bob’s proposed budget cuts have moved Pavlov’s dogs of war to break out a new deck’s-worth of China card tricks.
Ooh, China has a new conventional ballistic missile that can whack our aircraft carriers from 900 miles away. Eek, China has a new fighter jet that, according to FOX News, could pose a “terrifying challenge” to our fleet. And, jeepers, on top of all that, those inscrutable little so-and-sos are working on their very own aircraft carrier.
Bevies of handsomely compensated and interest conflicted expert testifiers are lined up to the corner and around the block to swear on a stack of whatever dogma manifestos you care to shove at them that the latest Chinese military surge is the end of the world as we know it! (AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!) The spin physicians on the U.S. Pacific Command staff told AP to tell us that China’s “carrier killer” missile could “seriously weaken Washington's ability to intervene in any potential conflict over Taiwan or North Korea.” Roger Cliff, a “senior political scientist” at the Rand Corporation with a PhD in war from Princeton, says that China’s new stealth fighter means our air power “dominance” is “now in question” even though the aircraft is at least a decade away from being fielded.
Neocon tank thinker and naval veteran Peter Brookes says that Beijing’s “prototype carrier” (a refurbished bucket of Soviet rust, by the way) portends that we “may no longer be the only flattop navy in the Pacific.” Brookes further cautions that “while the Pacific has long been considered an American lake, that idea can no longer be taken for granted with the rise of China’s navy.” That, Brookes says, is something we must keep in mind as “we look at the future of U.S. defense budgets and naval shipbuilding programs.”
In reality, China’s new-fangled air and sea power is a paper-dragon ploy, a ruse to sucker us into keeping our wild blue defense budget soaring so we’re forced to borrow even more money from them.
A major problem with conventional weapons like China’s Dong Feng 21 anti-ship ballistic missile is that they have to actually hit their targets to do them any harm. Hitting a steaming aircraft carrier 900 miles away with a missile of any kind has a difficulty factor along the lines of hitting a needle in a moving haystack at the opposite end of a football field with a popgun that shoots Nerf balls.
China’s Jian-12 fighter may or may not be as good as America’s F-22 Raptor. It doesn’t matter. Air-to-air combat, air-to-air fighters and air-to-air fighter pilots are like knights-errant running atilt at themselves. They’re fine as subjects of popular entertainments but they have little to do with control of the air. Air superiority, throughout the history of air power, has predominantly been a function of ground-based defenses: surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. Fighters, especially modern radar missile fighters, have a penchant for shooting down friendly bombers or getting themselves shot down by friendly ground fire. The primary effect of high dollar stealth fighters on national security is to tie up strategic fiscal assets that could have been invested in something useful.
The U.S Navy has evolved the aircraft carrier over the span of a century and is at present the world’s only maritime force that possesses fixed wing catapult-and-arresting gear carriers. Our ability to generate 100 more combat sorties per day from these wonders of the modern world involves a choreographed operation that resembles a ballet at some times and a three-ring circus at others. Chinese carrier operations will look like a Chinese fire drill. Suggestions that China can jump into the modern carrier business and compete with us—using junk the Soviets paid them to haul away and without the generational operating knowledge base that we have accumulated—are pure delirium.
Equally phantasmal is Gates’ assertion that he can “save” $100 million from the current budget in “efficiencies” if Congress lets the services spend it on modernization and other transformation sounding shenanigans. That’s like picking up a load of alcoholics at their rehab facility, handing them the money they saved by not drinking, and dropping them off in front of a sports bar.
It’s also delusional to think that Gates is being austere by calling for cancellation of weapons programs. He recommends pulling the plug on stuff like the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that our forces might actually use in wars they might actually fight in, yet he’s hanging on to programs that look like something in a cheesy sci-fi show from the ‘60s.
One such Irwin Allen wrench is the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS), the “killer drone” that Navy undersecretary Robert Work says “will transform the aircraft carrier … into a global long-range, persistent surveillance-strike system effective across multiple 21st century security challenges.” Other Navy fluff peddlers invite us to “Imagine [an unmanned] Navy strike plane launching off the catapult as its carrier begins steaming out of its San Diego naval base” and then flying half-way around the world to bomb a Muslim wedding or accomplish some other vital strategic objective.
The nut factory factor in this scenario is that the killer drone didn’t need to launch from the carrier—it could have taken off from the air station at the San Diego naval base. But then, without the carrier it wouldn’t be a “tactical” carrier aircraft; it would be a strategic bomber, which should by rights belong to the Air Force.
But Air Force acquisition weenies don’t want anything to do with UCAS because they’ve still got gobs of those $2 billion B-2 strategic bombers and are developing new conventional “Global Strike” gizmologies that may wind up looking exactly like the Navy’s UCAS except that instead of taking off from a naval air station they’ll launch from an air force base.
The Navy’s counter-counterstrategy to the Air Force’s Global Strike counterstrategy to the Navy’s UCAS strategy is the fabled flying submarine, a monstrosity straight out of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea that in real life hasn’t crawled from the drawing board since Soviet weapons eggheads first hatched it in World War II.
I’d like to see all of these weapon fantasies combined in a Moreau-ean joint project called the “Battle Hermaphrodite,” a platform possessing the primary sex organs of every land, sea and aerospace weapon currently in the inventory. The “Hermie” could launch from an aircraft carrier and fly to an air force base where it would land and refuel. Next it would take off vertically and puddle jump to the nearest ocean where it would circumnavigate underwater to the nearest third-world hot spot. It would surface and conduct an amphibious landing at the first available beach resort where its crew would stop for a week of well earned liberty before continuing on to its combat mission.
It would roll overland on tank treads until it reached a point just shy of its objective, where it would drop off its crew and proceed unmanned into the target area, a village suspected of harboring hostile militiamen. It would then, like one of those Transformer toys that Hasbro and some Japanese outfit make, morph into a foot soldier and go door to door, demanding, in a perfectly accented rendition of the local patois, “Hey, if y’all got any evildoers in there, how’s about coughing them up?”
The Hermie would never even get to the clay model stage. It would take all the animators in Hollywood to conjure such a golem, and they’d never agree on what it should look like. But, touted as the ultimate solution to America’s security requirements, the Battle Hermaphrodite acquisition project could be kept open in perpetuity, and create more jobs for more people who could be more gainfully employed elsewhere, and devour a larger share of the federal budget than all previous weapons programs combined.
We could still claim the costly Hermie will save money in the long run because since it will never exist, we’ll never be able to fight the even more expensive war it was designed to start.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance.
Open letter to Daniel McCarthy, Editor of The American Conservative
Open letter to Daniel McCarthy, Editor of The American Conservative
March 1, 2011
I had hoped the lunar cycle’s influence on the editorial practices at The American Conservative ended with Kara Hopkins’ departure. Alas. It has been over a month since I submitted the mighty darn good satire on defense budget cuts that you solicited from me, and I haven’t heard a peep back from you. I see from your web site that the piece didn’t make it into the March or April issue, and I suspect that by the time the May and June issues hit the street the material will be irrelevant, even by American Conservative standards.
You no doubt decided that the CHICOM had captured me and erased my memory, so I forgot that I sacrificed two weeks of work on a novel to craft an article for you, and you didn’t need to say anything to me about not using it or not paying me for it.
In the barnyard where I grew up, even the pigs knew what bad manners it is to ask people to do something for you and then ignore the product when they deliver it. It’s an especially rude practice when those people have done work for you in the past, and you know what to expect from them when you solicit their efforts. Did you acquire this sort of etiquette from studying the classics at Washington University in St. Louis? I don't recall Plato or Aristotle describing boorishness as a virtue. Is the topic covered in some obscure edition of Nichomachean Ethics, perhaps? Or do the numerous instances where Aristophanes and Plautus portray louts as humorous fellows inspire you to use discourtesy as a substitute for wit?
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by your conduct. Five decades and change of careful observation have taught me that people who don’t have the manners that even my four-legged childhood playmates possessed are, almost without exception, conservatives of one stripe or another.
Lest I over-generalize about the political right’s lack of civility, let me note that Kara at least had the grace to send authors of commissioned works a kill fee when she decided she couldn’t make up her mind what it was she wanted in the first place.
Good luck with your continued search for narrow-interest backing to offset your understandably abysmal circulation.
Have a bright-size life,