Two sets of kudos today. (It seemed to fit my overly elaborate pun which, tragically, comes a day too early to be truly epic.)

The extended post I wrote a few days ago on the topic of defense policy ended with the following paragraph:

The upshot is this: you can plan for the future or plan for today.  Australia is attempting to do a little of both.  It’s unsurprising – democracies always try to split the difference.  We’re doing the same thing, but we have enough money and defense research establishments to pull it off.  Australia and the nations the Cato Institute is encouraging to up their game don’t.  So they can either decide that China is going to be a problem and arrange for that or they can engage in a realistic military assessment and build or buy weapons platforms that are useful today and whose obsolescence isn’t immediately foreseeable.

Today we saw an extraordinarily rare example of such wise behavior out of the US Government, as an attempt to keep the F-22 fighter program alive via a drip-drip of orders from nest-feathering senators was cut off by a combination of strong pressure from the White House, the implacable resistance of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and key support from Republicans like Senator John McCain.  (Who, one thinks, knows a thing or two about military aircraft.)  The 58-40 vote removed the funding for seven more of these white elephants (and a cost of near $2 billion!) from the defense appropriations bill despite the protest of the responsible committee.

Critics of this choice deploy two arguments in their favor: the F-22 means jobs and it is a crucial tool in our military arsenal.

The F-22 where it belongs: on the ground

The F-22 where it belongs: on the ground

The first is true but faulty. While thousands are employed making the F-22, the majority of these people aren’t there just for this aircraft. Whoever is now employed making the F-22 will soon be employed making some other plane. The risk to Senator X is that they’ll be employed somewhere else. Frankly even the certainty of layoffs in an industry hardly hurt by the recession is poor reason to keep building this monument to future shock. A rough calculation suggests that going ahead with simply building the planes would cost around $180,000 per job involved. (Assuming CNN’s number of 11,000.)  Frankly we’d do better to cut them a check. At least we’d save the cost of upkeep and maintenance.

The second runs afoul of what I said before: you build what you need.  The F-22 has not yet been used in Iraq or Afghanistan and the idea that we need it to fight against China or Russia is fanciful.  (Not to mention the idea that they will be able to compete with what we do have, in number or quality of arms or quality of pilot, which crucial American superiority seems to always be forgotten.)  The F-35 is not the air superiority fighter the F-22 is, but it will do and at a much more reasonable cost to the American people.  That the Senate realized this is a tribute to them.

Incidentally, jeers to Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) who in his desperation to shore up his flagging political position back home took the lead in promoting this boondoggle on the floor.

And an additional day-late kudos to Mike Castle (R-Delaware) for gamely facing down a heckling crowd of “Obama isn’t an American” people – who, incidentally, are a vocal part of his own base. Gainsaying your own constituents and followers is a hard thing for any politician to do, no matter the stripe, but being “the people” does not make you right. Castle could easily have gotten away with the “I’ve seen no evidence he’s not” copout others have used, but he told the truth. Kudos.