May 1, 2007  

Numbers game

AS WE HAVE SEEN, ANY ARGUMENT BASED ON STATISTICS naturally subjects itself to opposition using another set of statistics [“The GDP argument,” Inside the Beltway, March]. Tying defense spending to gross domestic product may turn out to be a specious discussion, but stating that “the Pentagon is hardly starving” and referencing another alternative set of statistics creates some false impressions. Both arguments miss the mark because they ignore the reality of the fiscal needs of the military.

One does not have to look very hard to find a politician lashing out about the travesty of sending troops into battle without sufficient body armor or armored vehicles. There are others who decry the lack of equipment readiness of National Guard and reserve units returning from overseas deployments. And, as recent events at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have highlighted, veterans’ care needs attention as well. Regardless of the percentage of GDP, the military needs money to respond to these issues.

Of course, the services must also look beyond the present to develop capabilities to succeed in future operating environments. Research and development of these capabilities costs money, as do fielding and transition from legacy systems to emerging ones. Current requirements to do all of these things exceed funding, and the services, particularly those heavily involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, must rob Peter to pay Paul, putting off refit, reset and modernization to accomplish the tasks assigned.

If lawmakers and the public genuinely desire to “support the troops,” as most would claim, they would provide for defense spending that supports current strategies and commitments, regardless of real numbers, percentage of GDP or any other malleable statistic. This may threaten some sacred cows, such as tax cuts or entitlement spending, and require more of the nation to bear the burden of protecting our national interests. At least we could discuss legitimate needs without invoking potentially misleading numbers.

As opposed to the subtitle of the article — “Should defense spending be tied to economic growth?” — the right question to ask is, “What does it take to win?”

Maj. John E. Livingstone, Army

Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7

The Pentagon