Praise the Troops, Screw the Troops
by RALPH PETERS
July 30, 2012
It's a rare politician, left, right or center, who won't grab a photo opportunity with our troops then plaster the image all over campaign materials. Even the hard left has learned to mouth insincere praise for the men and women in uniform before attacking our national defense. Nonetheless, we're about to see another shameless and shabby example of Capitol Hill hypocrisy: Those senators and representatives-including yours, my fellow conservatives--are going to put 100,000 veterans out on the street. And that's just the beginning.
It's not just the dreaded sequestration issue, which would force across-the-board cuts at the Pentagon. Those who have served our country in our recent wars are going to get served with pink slips over the next few years, no matter what happens before the automatic-cuts deadline on the Hill. Why? Because spending is going to get tighter, and Republicans and Democrats alike are going to slash troop strength to protect lavish spending on our defense-industry cartel. When the political chips are down, ain't nobody on the Hill loves a Soldier more than he loves Lockheed-Martin.
There really is plenty of fat, even now, in our vast defense budget. But instead of cutting the fat, we'll cut the muscle.
You're going to hear the usual rationale: "We won't need ground troops in tomorrow's wars." We've been sold that same b.s. time and again. Replay recent history: After World War II, the advocates of airpower swore the age of the infantryman had passed. We demobilized and starved the handful of Army divisions remaining on active duty. And what came next? Korea, an infantryman's war, and we were embarrassingly unready. Then we were told that the age of the grunt had really, really passed, since atomic weapons would rule the battlefield. And we cut Soldiers again to invest in long-range bombers and missiles. And what came next? Vietnam, another infantryman's war.
After Vietnam, every "serious" person knew we'd never do anything like that again. So we hollowed out our ground forces. Yet, every significant military action over the following decades required boots on the ground: Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Somalia, the Balkans, even Sinai peacekeeping. Then a new Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, assured us that we didn't need all those ground troops anymore: Better to free up money for the technologies that single-handedly would win the coming wars, and we could start by cutting two Army divisions and paring down the Marine Corps. And what came next? Afghanistan and Iraq, where our too-lean ground forces were stretched to the limit (but did their duty nobly).
Now we're drawing down from Afghanistan. And for the fifth time since the Second World War, we're told that we don't need all those grunts, or gunners, or armored crewmen...because technology is going to be the only game in town in future conflicts.
Why does this happen again and again? Because members of Congress believe it? Naw. Follow the money. All those Hill-hugging hypocrites who trip over their Italian loafers to get one more picture with the troops know where their steak-house dinner rolls are buttered: The votes of our troops are statistically irrelevant in most home-district elections, and our troops aren't big campaign donors. Screw them, Jack.
Meanwhile, the big-enough-to-fail-again-and-again defense-industry behemoths, which have consolidated so that there's no true capitalist competition left, have broken free of the old business-school model that focused on efficiency. You don't need to be efficient, or to build reliable weaponry, when you've bought Congress.
How did the defense cartel buy your local party huckster, liberal or conservative? Not with outright bribes (at least, not in most cases). Bribes are "old school." And they've gone far beyond mere campaign contributions. They did it by turning their back on basic efficiencies to disperse sub-contracts, design offices, production facilities, shipping hubs, branch offices and anything else they can think of to all fifty states and to as many Congressional districts as possible, driving up production costs and reducing reliability. They've made it about jobs "back home," and that will always trump a serious approach to our national defense on the part of Congress.
We're already hearing it. Defense-industry execs testified before Congress this month on the effects of impending budget cuts. Not one of them defended the men and women in uniform. Instead, we heard an outright lie that budget cuts would destroy two-million defense-industry jobs. Folks, it just ain't so. They're lying like Bill Clinton with his zipper down in the Oval Office closet. But the big guns on the Hill shoot blanks in the showdown with the defense cartel. Nobody, not a single member of Congress, asked hard questions.
Will some defense-industry jobs be lost if deep budget cuts go through? Yes, although in far, far smaller numbers than the corporate-jet executives claim. But should defense-industry workers be entitled to political protection denied our troops? I don't want to see any hardworking American lose his or her job, but if I have to choose between keeping the most-experienced troops in the world in American uniforms, or putting them back on the block so cartel CEOs-who despise true capitalism-can buy an even bigger ski lodge in Steamboat Springs to go with their seaside mansion on St. Bart's, well, I'll keep the troops, thanks.
Let me stress again: Nobody on the Hill challenged the wild defense-industry claims. They never do. No one even asked why we should spend, say, an average of seven million dollars to preserve a $70,000-a-year job in the defense industry. Conservatives, especially, should be ashamed of what amounts to corporate welfare. If we want to both employ a wide range of workers and truly help our country, put the money into burying telephone lines, not into more buried profits for weapons-that-don't-work hucksters in five-thousand-dollar suits.
How many of you realize that, two decades ago, Congress essentially allowed defense contractors to write our weapons-procurement laws? Think they had the taxpayers' best interests at heart? As a result of that shameful episode, when the big corporations (there's still integrity and value in smaller defense companies, but the big guys crush them whenever they can) land contracts that run into the tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars, they're written so that there's no real liability, if the product doesn't work.
And don't get me started on "cost-plus" contracts, after the shameless waste I saw in Iraq.
Take one current example of how Congress helps to scam us, the F-22 fighter, which we were told would be so versatile it would do everything except cure cancer. It's been in the inventory for several years now, at a cost of $350 million per airplane (some analysts claim it's $500 million per plane), not including maintenance costs, training, etc. Well, that aircraft has yet to fly a single combat mission. It's had crippling software and avionics problems; the stealth material is unstable; there are toxic-substance fears; and, stunningly, it can't even reliably deliver oxygen to the pilots: One aircraft crashed and killed the pilot (although there's been an apparent cover-up of the cause, though not of the crash itself), and over a dozen other pilots have refused to fly the airplane after black-out experiences. Even for training missions, the F-22 has been grounded for up to six months at a time.
Would you, the taxpayer, call that a good deal? Would you cut a single decorated Marine gunnery sergeant with six combat tours to fund it?
And did the contractor who foisted it on the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin, have to make things right? Naw. Lockheed Martin remains defense contractor number one-and you, the taxpayer, foot the bill for fixes to the F-22.
Imagine if you laid out your hard-earned money for an absolute-top-of-the-line washing machine you were told was going to be the best ever and worth every penny, then you got it home and hooked it up, and it never made it through a single wash cycle. Would you think it was fair for the store that sold you that machine to shrug and tell you it would cost another grand, maybe more, for them to fix it for you? And no guarantees it would stay fixed. Oh, and that sales contract you signed says you can't go to anyone else for repairs-proprietary information involved, plus, read that fine print, etc. That's how our defense-industry cartel does business folks. That ain't capitalism.
Now there's another "miracle" aircraft under contract, the F-35. It's on its way to doubling its projected cost and fraught with problems that limit its utility. Even if the cost per aircraft doesn't increase another penny, this will still be the most-expensive acquisition program in Pentagon history. And, faced with a choice, how many members of Congress do you think will stick up for keeping a veteran Army sergeant or Marine captain on duty, if doing so threatens F-35 funding? (I once had high hopes for the F-35 myself, before it turned into another disgraceful boondoggle.)
Don't get me wrong: I'd like a bigger, stronger, more capable Air Force than we have. Numbers matter. And we need new tankers, global-reach bombers, dedicated ground attack aircraft (to replace the magnificent, dirt-cheap old A-10) and even next-generation transport aircraft. Instead, we're building air-superiority fighters that have no enemy.
It's gotten so bad that the Air Force makes a show of "deploying" the F-22 to trouble spots, but always insures there's a squadron of old F-15s nearby to do the actual fighting. Yup, Washington just does wonders for your integrity.
Why does even the military brass fail to stand up for the troops or demand that weapons work? The most-shameful revolving door in Washington shuttles retired generals and admirals to outrageous, do-nothing positions in the defense industry. And these paragons of honor are not about to criticize defense contractors who deliver worthless crap. Wouldn't want to risk those multiple country-club memberships and the do-nothing annual board meetings at Pebble Beach (golf attire optional).
By the way, my rule for buying new weapons is simple: "A.R.A.," for Appropriate, Robust and Affordable. Instead, we're buying weapons that don't address our real security problems, aircraft that require sixty hours of maintenance or more for every hour of flight time, and dubious systems that are breaking the budget to the point where we can't afford enough weapons to keep a serious war going. If we ever had to fight a "big one," the F-22, even if it made it into combat, wouldn't last three months before it wound up permanently grounded because of its fragility. Yet, a war with China, if one ever came, might last a decade.
Every service has made some wasteful choices, not just the Air Force. Now the party's over. And who are the generals sticking up for? Not the troops. They're cool with dumping combat veterans into a weak jobs market (can't dump those industry workers, though-those jobs really matter, since they're in Congressional districts). Besides, General B. D. Joker knows he isn't going to unemployed.
When President Eisenhower-a former career Soldier and an underrated chief executive-drafted his famous speech warning of the "defense-industrial complex," the first version spoke of a "defense-industrial-congressional complex." Political advisers convinced him to cut the "congressional" reference to avoid a confrontation with the Hill. Well, Eisenhower was right the first time. And, since his presidency, things have gotten much, much worse.
The next time Senator Bucksbucket or Congresswoman Gimmeemo flashes one of those photos in which they're surrounded by troops, ask him or her why they're rushing to slash veterans we're going to need to preserve funding for weapons that don't work. You may get some boilerplate answer (if you get any answer at all), but the truth is that, for our "patriotic" members of Congress, our troops are as disposable as toilet paper. They praise the heroes, but count the zeroes.
In the wise words of young Robert Zimmerman, "Money doesn't talk: It swears." And our troops are left voiceless.
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer (and former enlisted man), and the author of the new bestseller, Cain at Gettysburg.