Fareed Zakaria at PostGlobal

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. He is a member of the roundtable of ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanapoulos" as well as an analyst for ABC News. And he is the host of a new weekly PBS show, "Foreign Exchange" which focuses on international affairs. His most recent book, "The Future of Freedom," was published in the spring of 2003 and was a New York Times bestseller and is being translated into eighteen languages. He is also the author of "From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role" (Princeton University Press), and co-editor of "The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World" (Basic Books). Close.

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. more »

Main Page | Fareed Zakaria Archives | PostGlobal Archives

A Military for the Real World

"When a true genius appears," the English satirist Jonathan Swift
wrote, "you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in
confederacy against him." Genius might be a bit much as a description of
the secretary of defense, but Robert Gates's budget proposal has certainly
gathered all the right opponents. There are the defense contractors,
worried that decades of fraudulent accounting are coming to a halt; the
Beltway consultants for whom the "war on terror" has been a bonanza; the
armed services, which have gotten used to having every fantasy funded; and
the members of Congress who protect all this institutionalized corruption
to keep jobs in their states.

In recent decades, defense budgeting has existed in a dreamland, where
ever more elaborate weapons are built without regard to enemies, costs or
trade-offs. In 2008, the General Accountability Office said cost overruns
for the Pentagon's 95 biggest weapons programs added up to $300 billion.
Remember, that's just the overruns! The system has become so pervasive and
entrenched that most people no longer bother to get outraged.

Much of the Pentagon budget is based on wish lists from the services,
which are often lists that were conceived during the Cold War. The Air
Force developed such a strong attachment to its F-22 fighter-plane program
that it failed to notice that the Soviet Union had collapsed and no
great-power rival was around to get into dogfights with the U.S. military.
We're fighting two wars now, and not one of the 135 or so F-22s that we
have is being used in either theater. If you're wondering why the program
is still around, here's one reason: Its manufacture has been spread across
44 states.

Gates also trims the Navy's wish list, cutting its destroyer program.
But here his ambition suddenly dries up. He did propose that the United
States scale back its aircraft-carrier groups, going from 11 to 10 -- but it
will happen 31 years from now. Even so, of course, he faces the usual
conservative opposition. The Wall Street Journal worries that a 300-ship
Navy is "perilously small." In the recent clash with Somali pirates, it
points out, U.S. warships were "hours away." Well, if you've traveled by
sea, you know that ships move slower than planes. Given the vastness of the
oceans, the fact that American naval vessels could reach a relatively
nonstrategic location within a few hours is actually a sign of the
incredible reach of the Navy, not the opposite.

Gates has really just begun a much-needed process of rethinking
American defense strategy after the Cold War. He has focused sensibly on
the wars we are actually fighting to make sure the military is equipped to
wage them successfully. But while we don't need the F-22, we are still
going to make 2,443 F-35s at an eventual cost of $1 trillion. Do we really
need those? What is the thinking behind the size of that program?

American military budgets should be based on two competing imperatives.
The first is that we are likely to be engaged in small, complex conflicts
with much weaker opponents in difficult terrain. In other words, Iraq and
Afghanistan. The Gates budget makes intelligent provision for these kinds
of wars -- in which manpower and intelligence are key. The second
requirement is deterrence. The U.S. military protects global sea lanes and,
in a general sense, preserves the peace. If Somali pirates were to cause
too much trouble, eventually the U.S. military would help to tackle them.
If the Chinese were considering offensive action in Asia, it is the
possible American response that would make them cautious.

But these imperatives can surely be satisfied with a military that is
leaner, more cost-effective and more efficient and that does keep somewhere
in mind the capacity of potential adversaries. The U.S. Navy has 11
aircraft-carrier groups. China has none. The U.S. defense budget for 2009
is $655 billion. China's is $70 billion, and Russia's is $50 billion.
America's cumulative cost overruns add up to more than the total annual
defense budgets of China, Russia, Britain and France combined. This smacks
less of deterrence and more of mindless extravagance and waste.

Coming up next for Gates is the Quadrennial Defense Review. He should
take the opportunity -- his last one to leave a long legacy -- to move the
United States toward a military strategy that is shaped by the world we
actually inhabit. That would make him a true genius. He will certainly have
all the dunces arrayed against him to prove it.

The writer is editor of Newsweek International and co-host of PostGlobal,
an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address is

Comments (62)

anofech Author Profile Page:

A military for the real world?

It would be good to know what the real world
can be. In the past it included the Axis.
Then there was the Warsaw Pact and its efforts
to protect peace from imperialist aggression.

Now China is developing air, naval and missile
forces to allow it freedom of action in the
seas around Taiwan. There was an American show
of force when Clinton sent two aircraft carriers
into Taiwan Strait and China seems determined
there would be no repeat.

If the American forces again become small
as they were in the 1930s, there soon would be
dynamic new powers seeking to introduce new
order, just as it happened then. The difference
is that in the Second World War America had time
to build up its military industry. Now events
would happen faster.

I am one of very many people who wish that the
world's strongest military would remain American.

salescoach Author Profile Page:

I feel so naive for repeatedly being amazed that people find ways to insert Biblical references into a purely secular discussion, e.g., military budgets. I guess it's the adage of the guy who has a hammer, and to whom everything appears as a nail.

muhd_saeed Author Profile Page:

The important point to note is, the comparative costs involved. China may budget $70 billion, which is almost 1/10 of the US budget on defense but, its cost per soldier may be unbelievably cheaper. Same may be true about Russia. For comparison, just consider the equation of US soldiers with the personnel of Iraqi Armed forces. It should be interesting to that, for the cost of maintaining a soldier in Iraq, same amount can finance almost 6,500 soldiers!!! Similarly, Chinese soldiers can be maintained at nearly 2,000 for a US soldier. So, the comparative costs become meaningless without comparing the real practical fighting force on the field.

qwlauren35 Author Profile Page:

This and the other article for the military to prioritize alternative fuel excite me to no end. WWII and the Cold War are past, we have long needed other fighting strategies, and have been stuck in the past with "bigger is better". Smaller is faster, smaller is stealther, intelligence is critical, language skills and a multilingual military are imperative. Where in here is a "reduction" in military might? It's reprioritizing. Gates of all people is not attempting to scale back our military to the point that we are defenseless. Au contraire, by getting rid of waste, he makes our military STRONGER... and hopefully, the needs of our soldiers and veterans of a higher priority - that money has to come from somewhere. How will we ever be able to maintain reserve forces is they are constantly screwed over because we divert funds to fancy planes and lining pockets?

I am excited by these changes. Obama is no pacifist, and Gates is no fool. The waste has to end, and this is a good start.

George20 Author Profile Page:

911 happened .. including blowing open the Pentagon.
Itty Bitty Pirates run rampant.
Octogenarians and infants are treated as terrorists before boarding planes.
Power stations are cyber-attacked with impunity.
4000 plus dead soldiers in Iraq?

What exactly is $635B/year protecting us from?

observer57 Author Profile Page:

Depending on your data source, one sees the top expenditures in DoD as 1) Operations (doing the daily stuff in peace and war), 2) Personel (salaries, health care, etc), 3) Procurement (buying stuff already decided on), and 4) R&D (checking stuff out to see if its worth buying).
3 & 4 together barely beat 1 and a lot of 2 is generated directly as a result of the wars (reservists on active duty, hazard pay, deployment pay, increased health care costs).
SecDef Gates is essentially addressing the only flexible items he has in his budget. He can't reduce Ops or Personnel so he has to trim the others, which is not to say they couldn't do with some revision.
In defense of the F-35, that is a multi-variant aircraft (not entirely a fighter, not entirely attack), three services getting something they can use so its not like the F-22, an airframe used only by the USAF. The planned 2400 buy is intended to do away with earlier generations of aging aircraft currently in service.
One should also remember that one cannot whistle up a new aircraft design as if this was 1940 when the industry was in its infancy so it was easy to find improvements in design and technology. Due to the decades long lead times dictated by both design, test, and government clutter one has to guess as to what one needs about a generation from now. With that kind of problem, it is easy to see how mismatches happen. The F-22, for example, is based on requirements written in 1981. Re-writing the requirements to take advantage of currently available proven technology will cut the development time but waste the previously spent monies, bring about further delay of replacing 20 and 30 year old airframes, and ultimately results in an aircraft already obsolete by the time it rolls off the assembly line. So, which is more expensive - starting all over again or continuing through with the orginal program?
Finally, don't forget that as a total slice of the GNP the DoD budget is still shrinking. As a slice of the Federal budget, the DoD share is dwarfed by the mandatory spending on entitlement programs, themselves very often laden with fraud and abuse.

bobt_KY Author Profile Page:

$655 billion a year, every year for "defense" with little if any debate in Congress. Very little of this annual extravagance is needed to protect our borders and sovereignty. This money mainly funds a proteciton racket for our multi-national corporate empire.

Disgraceful, non-productive, and ultimately destabilizing to our republic.

mgferrebee Author Profile Page:

Nothing will endure unless he changes the acquisition process itself. Need to get away from contractors fixing their most expensive toys as 'required capabilities'. Unrealistic requirements lead to costly and unachievable solutions (cost escalation and longer development cycles). He has hinted he will do this but it must be institutionalized - key is to get requirements controlled by warfighters not contractors or technical community or politicians. Then you need reviews with real teeth that look at progress toward requirements and the current relevance of the requirements themselves and incremental dropping of unachievable requirements. Getting rid of a failed system is as hard as getting out of a bad war because it becomes a political problem. Almost every major program briefing includes a 'where the jobs are' slide.

MPatalinjug Author Profile Page:

Yonkers, New York
14 April 2009

Defense secretary Robert Gates's $655 billion Defense budget for 2009 may earn him the kudos of "genius" from Fareed Zakaria, but it is still a budget that is out of touch with reality, and one that poses a very real danger to the United States.

The reality is that the Cold War is long over and that, consequently, the United States does not need all those 11 aircraft carriers, each one of which costs $5 billion and another billion to maintain in a year. Still one more of these super-nuclear carriers is under construction even as these lines are written!

And what about those Virgina-class, Ohio-class and Los Angeles-class nuclear submarines, each carrying at least 24 ICBMs each of which carries multiple nuclear warheads, and each costing some $2 billion? How many does the U.S. already have of these highly expensive high-tech weapons now? And how many more of these will be acquired by the U.S. Navy?

I say "Good luck!" to Mr.Gates for his proposal to stop the Air Force from adding to its stock of F-22 fighter jets, each one costing $200 million! And why should the Air Force have close to 2,000 of those F-35 strike fighter jets? What for?

Note that those annual "over-runs" of $300 billion far exceeds the defense budgets of China and Russia! Plus this: The annual U.S. defense budget is much, much more than the combined defense budgets of all other 26 members of NATO!

The sordid fact is that the Pentagon and the Congress are in the vise-like grip of a "military-industrial complex" which, in reality, is able to dictate what the Defense budget should be.

A true patriot, Gen. Ike Eisenhower, warned America, before stepping down as President, of the insidious doings of this "military-industrial complex."

Apparently that warning has not been heeded. Or could not be needed.

Mariano Patalinjug

CHForbesSr Author Profile Page:

Gates's most legitimate contribution to the Defense Budget is cost control. We have virtual unanimity on that. Does one F22 really have to cost $140 million? On the other hand, the US really does need F22's. Mr. Zakariah fails to mention that other advanced nations are planning and building fighters competitive with the F22, and superior to the F15, heretofore the best in the world. We must not stop all production of the F22. It would take years, literally, to start it up again. Lead time is imperative in weapons system production. Our military professionals have the sworn responsibility of preparing for war against all possible enemies The F35 is a versatile fighter, but it is not equal to the F22. Therefore reduce but do not eliminate production. Finally, at long last, cut costs! The same goes for the Army's Big War needs. Or does Mr. Gates believe that we have before us an unending future exclusively of third world insurgencies and wars? In the light of history, that is very risky thinking!

sar1turbo Author Profile Page:

But, Mr Zakaria, this was more or less the military doctrine that Rumsfeld had been pursuing, before "stuff happened" to him. A passing nod, however begrudged, to him by you would have in order.

whocares666 Author Profile Page:

Twenty years ago the third world and terrorism were not money makers for military procurement. While the America people express pride in last weeks successful SEAL operation, it wasn't that long ago that SEAL teams had to beg, barrow and steal supplies because they were the step child of the USN. Fifteen years ago the USAF wanted to cut the A-10 because it no longer felt it should retain a ground support mission. Mr. Gates has brought intelligence to the E-Ring and is doing what needs to be done, he's addressing and planning for potential threats.

spidermean2 Author Profile Page:

The F-35 is a stupid project simply because other nations will be building it as well. So what air supremacy are we talking about?

If your neighbors have a key to your house, you are NOT that secured.

Can anybody explain the logic for this stupid F-35 project? Is America's security FOR SALE now?

Yes it is and only God knows what is in store for America in the near future. And it's NOT a rosy picture.

The enemies of America could be laughing right now. Imagine, the "most powerful" nation on earth has left its backdoor open for thieves to ransack. Something is teribly wrong with these people's brain.

The IRONY of it is that many people call Gates' game plan as GENIUS. It could be a sign that Doomsday is coming. The fools have overun sanity in this world.

fiveman3 Author Profile Page:

The real world is a dangerous place Mr. Zarkaria. It is as basic as the Boy Scout motto: "Be prepared." Real genius lays in that simplicity. It pays to not be creative with the basics -- they do not change.

donaldtucker Author Profile Page:

we must replace these lawmakers from the 44 states.these are the crooks that are causing most of if not all of our procurment problems

helloisanyoneoutthere Author Profile Page:

What Mr. Zakaria fails to understand is the need to replace 25 to 30 year old weaponry in the aging fleet of F-16, F-18 and A-10 Warthogs which are the backbone of our air and battlefield defenses.

In several variations of the F-35 it proves to be an extremely versatile aircraft. Though the Pentagon doesn't currently see the threats that would require both the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning, we do need to look forward to building something that would replace our aging fleet into the future.

The threats from outside the United States still exist and though we continue to push for a peaceful society, we still must keep our eyes open and our ears to the ground.

farkdawg Author Profile Page:

Haleluah Zakaria!

Our military spending is the biggest corruption in our country, maybe ever. A for-profit military industry is allowed to hire former Congressmembers, Presidents (GWHBush), and all sorts of military brass to lobby our government to buy more military crap we don't need. It's not strategic, it's enormously expensive and it really makes us weaker as we bankrupt ourselves. We're struggling to keep up with our military industry's appetite whilst we surpass the military might of the entire rest of the world a couple of times over. New meaning to the word "overkill".

Peace out.

arjay1 Author Profile Page:

Have a care slinging defense related numbers around. As a percentage of GDP, American defense expenditures are about the same as Russia and China, but Russian and Chinese 'research' budgets are hidden in such a way that they appear in other categories. Weapons research is considered an indicator of future intentions and both Chinese and Russian development expenditures are well above American. There have been calculations that Iran's research is tops at about 10% of their gross wealth, with the defense and paramilitary (Quds, Hamas, Hezbollah, Sadr Brigades, etc) budgets at another 25%.

Secretary Gates appears to have taken heed of studies through 2025. It may sound odd to those who say America has an 'empire' around the world maintained by many bases, but most American military expenditures have actually gone, sometimes accidently, to the prevention of massive crimes against humanity (Criaghum) and inspection of the budget cuts indicate the Secretary is gearing up the military for a continuance of this process. Of course, he has to assume that no one will engage in Kuwait, Darfur, or Georgia massed invasion warfare. Anytime Humanity gets attempted Criaghum down from a nationalistic level to a tribal level as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, or Zimbabwe, it has made progress. If Secretary Gates can bring the cost of reducing Criaghum down to something reasonable, he and the government will have accomplished something very major.

spidermean2 Author Profile Page:

Europe electing leftist politicians is NOT farfetched. It took only one politician like Jacque Chirac to make France rabidly anti-American and went full steam to establish an independent European Force and a joint venture military-capable GPS with China.

This battle against the Taliban is what bankrupts America. It's over the budget and to think that these Talibans are only dangerous when you go near their improvised explosives.

The Pentagon is more focused on the "ants" rather than the "tamed lions" at their side. When the lion starts to bite them, they would realize that those ants were just decoys.

dummy4peace Author Profile Page:

I would credit President Obama for keeping Mr. Gates. It is obvious that Mr. Gates is serving our country for our country's sake. Thanks to Mrs. Gates for lending us her husband for an extended period of time.

spidermean2 Author Profile Page:

Europe will also be producing F-35s. That is where the defect and stupidity begins. We are giving away any technological edge we have.

While we cut the budget for F-22, they increase their budget for the Euro-Fighter jets.

Common sense tells us that in the event that Europe and the U.S battle it out for air supremacy, America will be defeated.

What a perfect way to surrender American world leadership.

Obama and Gates are "GENIUSES". Stop dreaming guys.

EarlC Author Profile Page:

Robert Gates may or may not be a genius. He is definitely realistic and forward looking. President Obama is a genius. He saw in Robert Gates a man of wisdom. As a former navy officer, I can assure you that much that Robert Gates is doing is long overdue. It is time that the defense department be shaken up and reorganized.

sree67 Author Profile Page:

There is nothing wrong with our current combat "legacy" aircraft. The F-15 has a 100:0 combat kill ratio. Beat that! A modified stealthy F-15 would be cheaper and probably will be just as effective as an F-22. F-18 super hornets, F-16s are just as good. The Predators and the Reapers are doing pretty well in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They cost $20 million each. Compare that to $160 million for a single F-22 which has not seen any combat action AS YET. Secretary Gates has the right ideas and hopefully he will succeed.

artistkvip1 Author Profile Page:

mr Gates, and i call very few people mister with the respect i do at this time, has alway struck me as an honest, open, pragmatic as well as imaginative leader with a long history of viewable actual deeds using management by objectives or the scientific method to actually approach real life things.... and acknowledge reality and quanatative as well as qualitative actual measures which is what the real world uses.maybe the milatary and government should jump on board lol. whether this is a genius or a refreshingly honest person who actually cares about something besides himself, in washington or both i guess really does not matter as long as he continues to approach his job the way he has from day one... not perfections but you can certainly follow the train of thought intellect, and both past and cutting edge theories of what the hell is really happening and how to actually deal with it without bankrupting ourselves morally or monetarily and a good reason ...pissing off the remainder of the world. not an easy job to do in practicle terms..

AStMarysConstituient Author Profile Page:

I understand that Steny Hoyer has indicated he will reverse Mr Gates' decision to cancel the new presidential helicopter program @ Pax River which is within Rep Hoyer's congressional district. Gather the reported $100,000,000 spent on the hanger for the program wsn't enough. Guess $10/11,000,000,000 for one unit is reasonable. The P8 and F35 programs will be coming to Pax later this year.

Perhaps I'm 'angry' as the new home we're building in Leonardtown appears to be used as a marker for F22's, Osprey's and attack helicopters (models unknown). Nothing like seeing an Osprey, currently going thru a loose-bolt problem, flying overhead at literally tree-top level or watching an F22 go into a verticle climb over the garage. Funny this type of activity didn't happen until the house started going up last Fall. If we complain to authorities, we're considered anti-American.

obblehit Author Profile Page:

lots of commies itt

spidermean2 Author Profile Page:

The F-35 is a second rate fighter plane and other countries will be producing it as well. It's like having a key to your house where your neighbors have a duplicate copy of it.

That is great thinking and good for "SECURITY". Only idiots do that and the Pentagon is showing its stupidity.

I think it doesn't deserve any form of budget at all. What we need is a Pentagon revamp. It's been very eager to catch Bin Ladin to the point that it leaves us very open to more dangerous and more powerful future enemies like the upcoming merging of China, Russia, etc.

Just a BIG note. China and Europe already has a parnership on a military-capable GPS system. Europe has an independent Euro-Fighter jet squadron.

It doesn't need much brain to think that America cannot win a future war with Europe in case that will happen.

The Bible says that it will happen.

All these are happening to fulfill biblical prophecies that nobody can mess with God like what America's evolutionist gay-marrying states are doing. Take cover coz the day of reckoning will come.

God has taken away its shield for America.

TomB1 Author Profile Page:

Until such time as the religious who love God with all their heart and soul reach a critical mass and refuse violence and warfare, we shall have violence and warfare.

It is best to understand the men and women who fight to secure some modicum of freedom and human dignity in this very fallen world as tragic heroes. They do the reprehensible in pursuit of goodness. They do things that others do not have the courage to do. Or, in the case of Secretary Gates, they are willing to antagonize the most powerful people and institutions in our country.

He's a brave and decent guy. And, yes,he is a trader in death and destruction. But he is trading wisely. That's not genius, just courage.

I wish we didn't need such men among us. But we do.

God bless him.


hotdad14 Author Profile Page:

The only thing that works in D.C. is the political money laundering system. The Clinton's earned 100 million dollars after squeezing their way through the D.C. pocket exchange and Lincoln Bedroom toll booth!! We are getting to the point where any retiring - actually they die in office - Representative of the people becomes a multi-millionaire automatically. The political hypocrisy, obfuscation, and double talk are choking us all to death!

spidermean2 Author Profile Page:

The way the Pentagon are planning their budget and strategy shows that the Pentagon never really know who are its future enemies.

For this reason America will lose a very important future war and it would cause America and the rest of world to be very very sorry.

Stupidity will rule this world for a period of time which will finally culminate to an all out nuclear war.

The Bible is a good source of intelligence gathering. The Pentagon seem to have missed that.

Gates is NOT a genius. He is dumb. Bush was wrong to have trusted the Pentagon so much. I think it is infested with left wing liberal thinkers. If not, their planners are.

spidermean2 Author Profile Page:


whistling Author Profile Page:

The most disgusting thing is that we read today

that Israel is selling weapons and arms all over the world...drones to Russia, things to China,

even as they beg "for their security" huge numbers of the American arms Zakaria writes about above. Billions in "loans" that are never repaid. Grants.

Just before the Gaza war a big shipment of US arms was sneaked to Israel through a Greek port. And aided the savages in their helped in the savage slaughter of all the Palestinian women and children. Isn't that fine?


moorthy1 Author Profile Page:

>Why does Zakaria not have a high level position in the Obama administration?

The easy part is saying the obvious.

Mr. Zakaria is consistently wrong in reading the Islamist threat and not surprisingly, on how to deal with it. Born and brought up in a practicing Indian Muslim family, his preconceived notions of Islam have undoubtedly undermined his analysis.

It is not just the military contractors who have to be concerned with his growing influence…


arancia12 Author Profile Page:

Read Richard Rhodes "Arsenals of Folly". He cites documents and interviews with old Soviet politicians who stated they knew their military industrial complex and exorbitant spending on weapons was killing them, but they couldn't stop. It was the only way to keep the economy going.

The US should read that as a cautinoary tale.

arancia12 Author Profile Page:

"As someone who once worked in the defense industry, I know that the vast majority of our weapons costs are focused on the old Cold War approach instead of our new requirements. And it's clear to me that Gates has only started the process of getting our military to reflect the ways war will be fought in the next century."

I find this statement by a poster to be amazing. Isn't this exactly what Don Rumsfeld, SecDef extraordinaire, was supposed to be doing for six years?

Bush told us that Rumsfeld was leaning the military and moving it away from it's cold war mentality. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that he was spectacularly unsuccessful.

Here's to hoping Gates does a better job. As with most contracts and technology, by time it hits the field it's already obsolete.

mendonsa Author Profile Page:

Well, here's hoping Mr. Gates has no affinity for young boys or girls and does not beat his wife. Any such indiscretion (or others) in a snapshot or video might curtail his enthusiasm. There is a lot of money on the table... and he is also a brave man.

LibertyorDeath1 Author Profile Page:

Why does Zakaria not have a high level position in the Obama administration?

ttrub Author Profile Page:

As someone who once worked in the defense industry, I know that the vast majority of our weapons costs are focused on the old Cold War approach instead of our new requirements. And it's clear to me that Gates has only started the process of getting our military to reflect the ways war will be fought in the next century.

But the deeper issue, one that no commentator has touched on is that putting 90% of our discretionary spending into defense has left us uncompetitive in other areas.

The Europeans spend a tenth as much on military and far more on education, infrastructure, and economic development. That money is giving them the competitive edge. Even China has a more balanced approach.

In contrast we spend far less on k-12 education and our students are falling farther and farther behind. That's why we need to import so many high tech scientists and programmers.

The real answer for us is to cut back on the Air Force's costly toys, beef up our Army/Marine capabilities and put 100 billion of what we save in DoD spending on education and economic issues.

wgmadden Author Profile Page:

I just watched "They Were Expendable" on TCM.

What we need is a fleet of 200-300 modern equivalents to WWII PT boats patrolling of the Somalia coast. Such a fleet could be funded by the elimination of one major vessel.

By "modern equivalent", I do not mean some over-engineered, nominally invulnerable, small, attack craft capable of withstanding the most sophisticated weapons in the Russian or Chinese arsenals. A craft demonstrably superior to a converted fishing vessel (which is all that the pirates have) will suffice nicely.

I wouldn't mind if each could launch an attack Predator or two, but that should not take much.

Here's the rub, though. A substantial number of sailors in such vessels might--no, will--die. This is something new to modern minds: sailors are NOT supposed die in the same proportions as army and marine grunts, however much they put their lives on the line daily. This is simply a fact of military life, but it would have been an inconceivable sentiment in World War II. And, I would bet, would not phase any member of the US Navy today.

rmorris391 Author Profile Page:

Years ago, I was a military officer stationed at Langley AFB (Hampton Virginia) - home of the 1st TAC Fighter Wing. Each year, the readiness plan was to fly half of of F-15s (you know, at the same time). Often this could not be done, because there was never enough budget for jet fuel, spare parts and maintenance. Congress is well known for spending money on new weapons systems (like the F-22) and ignoring the on-going costs for antique aircraft (like the F-15).

After completing my military duty, I worked for a defense contractor, applying my computer skills to design and development of automated weapons systems. It was nice job, but it was clear that there were profits to be earned, and there was no incentive to be efficient or cost conscious. There was plenty of money flowing thru congress to my contract.

So my HATS OFF to Secretary of Defense Gates. If he can bring some efficiency and practicality to defense spending, well, I say BRAVO. The status quo in defense spending is really unsustainable, and indeed, many examples over the years, show defense spending is largely a money pit.

jhtlag1 Author Profile Page:

You forgot Congressman who want things built in their district including such Doves like Sen Kennedy who loves to have those F-22 fighters assembled in Massachusetts. This may shock you but some of those "wish lists" are not desired that much by the military. Every time a congressman proposes an aircraft carrier, that's the easy part, the military has to scramble to figure out how to pay all the costs of maintaining one of those things, your brush of criticism is too indiscriminate.

datdamwuf2 Author Profile Page:

Your article has some merit but you lost my respect with your painting all defense contractors as villains. You said: "There are the defense contractors, worried that decades of fraudulent accounting are coming to a halt;"

A large number of us here in the DC metro area are employed by defense contractors. I have served my country, providing valuable services to our government via contracting and I'm proud of both the work I've done and value I've brought to those contracts. I don't appreciate your broad brush painting us all as evil.

FormerSubscriber Author Profile Page:


This couldn't have been phrased more elegantly --

"We're facing pirates on small boats operating from a 'mother ship' the size of a fishing boat with an aircraft carrier battle group and submarines and missiles!!?? In another theater, the crazy militarists among us want to shoot down missiles which can't go anywhere from countries that don't have real nukes?"

Two marks.

John1263 Author Profile Page:

We have been engaged in an arms race with the United States for far too long. All that military hardware is useless, and invites the temptation to use it in frivilous ways. A smarter, leaner 21st century military. And take sya 25% of what we spend currently on the military and use it to outfit every building in the US with solar panels. And fund r and d for electric cars. Just doing that would eliminate a huge portion of what we use the military for - which is protecting the oil sources. We are paying effectively 2 times the pump price in costs for oil ecause we are spending such an unGodly amount on themilitary to protect oil company infrastructure in hostile regions of the globe.

Get rid of it. Spend the money on renewable energy, then start spending to get the world educated. Start by purchasing texbooks on economics and American hisotiry and civics for the rpeublicon caucus in congress. Then work on free college tuition for everyone who scores high enough to warrent it. Instead of buying bombs, lets invest in brains. Instead of oil and "drill baby drill" let's build an energy infrastructure.

There is only one time I would want to hear palin saying drill, baby drill. Using the incredible excess and waste that is standard in military budgets would cover it all with plenty to spare.

edwcorey Author Profile Page:

Eisenhower: “Every gun that is fired, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed….”


muhd_saeed Author Profile Page:

Fareed’s cost analysis is commendable considering the magnitude of the task. Perhaps it would be simpler to state that, at $500,000 a year cost of maintaining a field soldiers, the costs per soldier of American occupation forces facing resistance in foreign lands having unlimited funds with no fears of audit and cost analysis to present to the Government, would be simply astronomical.

bill3 Author Profile Page:

"The U.S. defense budget for 2009
is $655 billion. China's is $70 billion, and Russia's is $50 billion."

First off, how much of that is the Iraq war? Secondly, how much is personnel/labor, both military and civilian? American soldiers and scientists cost several times more than Chinese soldiers and scientists. The defense budget is probably still a little high, and we should certainly consider what kind of wars we'll be fighting before spending the money, but the spending difference isn't as large as the dollar figures make it appear, especially when you consider that other countries (China) are constantly stealing our technology - thus saving themselves the development costs. Its obviously cheaper to be the second or third best military in the world than to be the first.

Also, the defense budget is the only way we can get some of the more redneck districts of this country to pay for government funded R&D. And lot of defense research ends up getting spun off to other industries.

Spectator Author Profile Page:

Gates may or may not be a genius, but he is exceedingly more objective and realistic than the "dunces" who denouce him.

It is apparent his only self-interest is the best interests of our nation, given the role and costs of our military.

jayrkay Author Profile Page:

Now the Pirates, next comes dealing with terrorists who will be entering this arena. The insurance companies are doing a disservice by yielding to these maritime thugs.There is no International co-operation. Force is the only way to stop. This one type rescue by USA stopped one hijacking.There are more to come. We have seen this in Mumbai terrorism- by sea. There is no clearly defined international policy a country could follow and criticised, if an aggresive step is taken. USA is only stooge, always afraid of COLLATERAL damage.We have lost thousands of our soldiers in the name of minimising the death or injuring innocent people.Terrorists know how they can use innocent people- the recent HAMAS action is an example. If we have eradicate this scourge, we should be ready to act and take the loss.The politicians every where tie the hands of Intels and soldiers. Terroristits resort to any atrocity, but our hands are tied by politicians for their own agenda.Obama cannot be given any extra thanks.He should have acted sooner.

bobmoses Author Profile Page:

"the armed services" are "dunces?"

BobfromLI Author Profile Page:

Fareed, you've barely scratched the surface with this!

The last time we actually won a war, we didn't have the vast and separate industrial base for our military creating bloated make-work in the various states. At the beginning of that war (WWII), we converted Boeing and GM plants to make B17s and 50 caliber machine guns. Ford and Chrysler made tanks because of the conversion into the '80s. Now, it's all separate and extraordinarily profitable on its own account. This must to stop so we can build hospitals, fix bridges and pay for health care and education, while at the same time, we can reduce our debt and our taxes accordingly. One wins on strengths, not muscularity. Kind of like judo.

We're facing pirates on small boats operating from a 'mother ship' the size of a fishing boat with an aircraft carrier battle group and submarines and missiles!!?? In another theater, the crazy militarists among us want to shoot down missiles which can't go anywhere from countries that don't have real nukes? On second thought: Why the hell don't we just give everyone the money and they'll leave us alone?

filmlab Author Profile Page:

I can't shake the suspicion that somewhere west of the Mississippi is a fully operational cavalry outpost, protected all these decades by its politicians. To close it would devastate the local economy. And there have been no Indian attacks on the local settlers, so, clearly, Fort Militaryindustrialcomplex is worth every billion spent on it.

JoeMcD Author Profile Page:

Uh, senbikram, let me take a WAG here - non-allies, of which there are far more? lol. Guess the easiest course would be to strive to become one of the smallest economies (some would argue that we are well on the way), and then you wouldn't have anything to have to protect, no? 'Spect you'd have a lot of fellow cheerleaders here for that one. ;-)


jrw1 Author Profile Page:

Somehow I think we all knew Eisenhower would be proven right on this.

senbikram Author Profile Page:

The USA spends more on defence than the rest of the world combined.

Japan is the second largest economy and it is an ally. 6 Western European countries figure in the next 8 economis and they are all allies.

So, what is the USA spending all this money on and for what and against what danger?

JoeMcD Author Profile Page:

Got a kick out of 'citizen's' decision to kow "tao" to a disassembling worldview. Even more ironic that the vacuum s/he advocates will be filled by China, which is rapidly expanding its military capabilities for that very purpose(which is hardly Taoist, mind you).

I have never owned a gun, and don't plan to, but regardless, I support a strong military, including the industrial infrastructure required to sustain it. Expensive? Indeed. Sometimes arrogant and overbearing? No argument here. Even so, a U.S. retreat does not equal peace, no matter how hard you wish otherwise.

I would much rather have the U.S. and our more trustworthy allies (read: the Brits) filling the gap than leave it to the Chinese government - or worse.


edbyronadams Author Profile Page:

"the members of Congress who protect all this institutionalized corruption to keep jobs in their states"

You could have stopped there, Fareed. This is the rock upon which Gate's proposed reform will crash. There are many examples of Congress forcing the military to buy more of a given weapon system than needed or wanted before any announced intent to reform.

mansour112 Author Profile Page:

War is the ultimate terror. If you have an army to defend yourself if you are attacked that is fine.But having bases everywhere to ensure getting oil or other raw materials, encircling other countries and cutting the ways of other countries. This is piracy and mafia methods and has to stop for the sake of humanity and human rights. If Obama really wants a change he has to change that.

willbook Author Profile Page:

As a ww2 naval aviator I support Gates efforts to substantially cut back the US long padded defense budget. We simply dont need the current level of the long oversized military expenditures

Albineaux Author Profile Page:

The "Defense Budget" has been outrageous my entire adult life. Considering I was born the year W.W.II ended, that's a hell-of-a long time. Since anyone we might fight in the future hasn't spent (or wasted) nearly the money we have I don't think we have anythibg to worry about if we axe most of these programs. Kuddos to Sec. Gates!

skeptonomist Author Profile Page:

Why is Gates called a "genius" for making barely significant changes and no overall cuts? If you are going to incur the hostility of the military-industrial complex and Congress, why not propose some actually important cut-backs and changes?

Citizenofthepost-Americanworld Author Profile Page:

May I be permitted to be blunt?

American citizens feed on their military-industrial complex. That is reality. That is the source of their resistance to change: they cannot conceive feeding on something else and live without owning at least one gun.

How can we possibly change our paradigms, unless we first see reality as it is?

"A journey of a thousand leagues begins from where your feet now rest." (Lao-Tzu)

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.