Eyes Wide Shut

Mackenzie Eaglen /

As the Senate prepares to consider the FY 2010 defense appropriations bill, members of Congress would be wise to listen to Appropriation Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D., Hawaii). In his opening statement at Wednesday’s subcommittee markup hearing, Inouye said, “As we go forward today killing the F-22, the presidential helicopter, the Combat Search and Rescue helicopter, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, we do so with the hope that today’s military and civilian leaders are more prescient than their predecessors in predicting our future needs.”

As my Heritage Foundation colleague Jim Talent and I have noted, President Obama has submitted a defense budget request that, if implemented, would dramatically reshape America’s military. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the budget would shift about 10 percent of all Pentagon funds to irregular warfare.

That is a deceptive description: While the budget does indeed shift funding, the more important fact is that it cuts programs — in other words, it cuts next-generation equipment and platforms (such as ships, planes, and trucks) that our men and women in uniform will need in the future. And since it takes the military a decade or even two to build technologically sophisticated systems, the “future” must be paid for now.

It is dangerous for a president to abandon so many military programs in one year and not issue a formal National Security Strategy. The problem with a threat-based strategy, which Pentagon leaders seem intent on following, comes when you guess wrongly. And, unfortunately, America has a poor track record in accurately forecasting the future.

As Kim Holmes, another Heritage colleague, recently wrote, “As smart as Secretary Gates is, how sure can he be that he can predict every new development in the security environment for the next 10 to 15 years? A large number of our wars and attacks on Americans have been the result of strategic surprises — Pearl Harbor, the Korean War, the Tet Offensive, the first Gulf War, even 9/11. Even if they were due to intelligence failures, at the very least they should make us humble about predicting the future.”

Even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned at a Heritage lecture last year that the risks and challenges facing the military are “highlighted by incredible uncertainty about the future and an incredibly dangerous time that I think we’re living in. They are also underscored by the fact that we’re not very good historically — we haven’t been very good about predicting the future.”

If we’re all seemingly in agreement that the future is hard to predict, then why is Congress approving nearly all of President Obama’s proposed cuts to military equipment and programs?

Cross-posted at The Corner.