I love Bob Gates. I always used to say that he was the best thing about the Bush Administration, but his 2010 budget practically brought tears to my eyes. Finally we have a Defense Secretary who is brave enough to stand down the critics who are already accusing him of weakening America. He is making the tough choices we have put off for far too long-curtailing redundant and expensive weapons systems and investing more in capabilities for counterinsurgency and "irregular" campaigns as well as programs that support our troops.Donald Rumsfeld, for all of his crusty swagger, avoided the hard decisions. He grew everything. The Pentagon's budget, not even accounting for the hundreds of billions for Iraq and Afghanistan, grew by some 60 percent over the last eight years. That is not only an unaffordable approach, but it also allows us to be fuzzy-headed about the likelihood and severity of the threats we face.What Gates has done is to match our defense strategy with our defense programs. There is a broad consensus that America's defense priorities have to be (1) the wars we are currently fighting, and (2) the threats, like terror attacks, that could kill us here, in America, any day now.China might pose a threat one day. If it does, we will be prepared-the modernization programs of our traditional strategic and conventional weapons still account for about half of the Pentagon's budget.But there is a real point of diminishing returns. As Gates so eloquently put it "... it is important to remember that every Defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk or, in effect, to run up the score in capability where the United States is already dominant is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in, and improve capabilities in areas where we are under-invested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk I will not take."Gates is speaking truth to power. Power, in this case, is Congress, which will most certainly reject many of the critical changes he is proposing. The nub of the problem is, and has been for decades now, the fact that defense contractors control jobs in every state of the union. Even though the budget is probably neutral as to job loss-it will eliminate some but generate others-no representative wants to allow existing jobs to disappear from his or her district, even if those are jobs making systems America doesn't need.I hope Secretary Gates, with his unimpeachable record of service, can persuade Congress to make a break with the past. Everyone is feeling the pain of transition now. Let's get it over with and become a more secure America.Guest blogger Nina L. Hachigian is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.Photo of the F-22, a fighter targeted in the Gates budget cuts, from Flickr user Beige Alert used under a Creative Commons license.
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