We’ve been hitting repeatedly this week on the flawed meta-narrative that Republicans immediately deployed — and that some in the media lapped right up — to counter Bob Gates’ new budget proposal for the Pentagon. But there’s a lot going on here beyond the canard that Obama is “gutting” defense spending when in fact he’s proposing an overall increase in the Pentagon’s budget (a fact, by the way, that makes it easier to debunk the meme, but which really shouldn’t be dispositive either way — would a four percent decrease in spending be “gutting” the military?).
As I’ve said, this is just the most recent iteration of a 20-year debate over what the military should look like after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or to use a more apt analogy, the latest battle in a long war. Proponents of new, coherent defense spending priorities have won a few skirmishes here and there, but by and large, the entrenched defense contractor interests have prevailed in every major battle.
It’s been a messy war, in which it has not always been easy to distinguish the good guys from the bad. Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, as flawed as he was, was a leading advocate of “transforming” the military. (In fact, some have argued that Rumsfeld would not have lasted much longer as secretary of defense, so poorly were his efforts at transformation being received in the Pentagon, had the 9/11 attacks not intervened.) The fighting has rarely broken down cleanly along party lines, either, except in the broadest sense. Democrats with defense industries in their districts have historically been among the most tenacious opponents of reform, even as Republicans lob charges that Democrats are soft on defense.
All of which is to say that there is a lot of history here and a lot of nuance, most of which will be lost in the debate that’s already started. There’s also no one right way to restructure the military, and serious disagreements exist even among those who agree that major restructuring is necessary. (And, in fact, there’s substantial disagreement over whether the Gates plan equals real reform.) We’ll be trying to sort the noise from the substance as this debate proceeds.
So here’s some substance. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former rear admiral, was on MSNBC this morning, and he gave a broad summary of the Gates proposal, which he supports. If you haven’t been following events this week closely, this is a good primer:
Brian Beutler has more on Sestak, and the important role he may play in this debate, at TPMDC.
David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.