If there was an award for bonehead defense reporting it should go to The New York Times for “Military Contractors Await Details of Obama’s Budget.” The opening paragraph includes this howler…”The good news for big military from President Obama’s budget this week was his proposal to increase the basic budget by 4 percent to $534.” If the reporter had bothered to talk to any credible military analyst, he would have learned Obama’s plan will likely be anything but a “real” increase in the budget. Here’s why:

  • The Pentagon budget looks like it includes about $30 billion that was just moved over from spending that had been in “supplemental budgets” in years past. That $30 billion in the base budget is just displacing other spending….and that is a $30 billion cut in spending!
  • Personal costs are going up at an average of 5 to 10 percent a year. The president has said he wants to add more troops next year…that means a lot less money for anything else…including buying equipment for the soldiers.
  • These numbers don’t account for inflation.
  • Most of the spending in the budget is fixed for troops, facilities, and operations so there is only one place to cut—the stuff the pentagon buys and contractors make.

When you add all this up, there is no denying the Pentagon’s real buying power to get the tools our men and women of the armed forces need is taking a nosedive.

After botching that part of the story, the article goes on to ask “what will the priorities of the new administration—which has made clear it wants to shift spending from futuristic weapons to simpler arms that troops can use now—mean for industry?” That’s easy to answer. The Pentagon will buy a lot less. If a program is cut in this year’s budget there is zero chance the government can just go out and buy something else. Even a program for purchasing “simpler arms” takes year to get on the books. That means next year, the Pentagon will just buy a lot less—period.

Still the reporter seems to have missed the point that a defense train wreck is ahead. “It’s a good number in this economic climate,” crows one contractor quoted in the story. Not sure what the logic is there—when the White House pushes for multi-billion dollar stimulus package to “create jobs” and then guts the Pentagon’s buying budget—something that will only eliminate solid, well-paying Union jobs in the defense sector.

The worst part of this article is that it misses the BIG picture. The world gets less not more safe in troubled times. Right before World War I, tariffs were sky-high and open trade was under assault on every front. The economic woes of the 1930s precipitated and accelerated the political developments that led to World War II. If this administration starts sending signals that it is retrenching and disarming—the costs of defending America in the long-term will dwarf the pathetic budgets being proposed now.