Matt Yglesias is one smart fellow

One big political problem with the Gates/Obama reform defense budget is that it cuts a lot of programs near and dear to the hearts of the military-industrial complex and their tame dogs in congress. Thus a lot of talk about how Gates is “gutting” the military. But another problem is that Gates actually isn’t cutting spending so his reforms don’t open up a bonanza of new money for tax cuts or social spending that libertarians or liberals get all that excited about.

That said, Brian Beutler notes that retired Admiral Joe Sestak, now a member of congress, is ready to champion the Gates reforms. And Larry Korb, who’s been waging the battle against bloated defense spending since the end of the Cold War, observes that this budget really is a key step in the right direction.

I would urge progressives who are having trouble getting themselves excited about this fight to recognize two points. One is that it really is nice to reorient a given quantity of military spending in more useful directions even if it doesn’t lead to cuts in the headline number. But the other is that if you ever do want to see further-reaching reform, we need to pass something like this budget first. It’s a key political test of whether it’s even possible to defy what the defense contractors and the joint chiefs want. If that does prove possible, then in years to come many things are possible, including a long-term trajectory that has defense declining as a percent of GDP. If it’s not possible then nothing is possible, and no future president will tackle it.



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