Monday, July 08, 2013

Transportation Gridlock

I want to give some props to Robert Farley for writing a very rare sort of post: Taking a topic I don't really care about but am predisposed to adhere to a particular narrative, and clearly explaining why my instincts are too simplistic.

His target is a David Ignatius column on proposed Air Force cuts. The Air Force had proposed reducing large quantities of its transport aircraft (C-130s and the like). Congressmen and Governors objected, particularly because such aircraft often are used by local national guard units for civilian aid missions. The theme of the column is how meddling politicians are blocking cuts even the Air Force wants and maintaining a bloated military because they want to preserve local pork.

I will cop that, as a complete non-expert, that narrative appeals to me too. I think our military budget is bloated, and I'm inclined to attribute large parts of this to politicians thinking parochially. And I'm particularly prone to think this when a service branch is blocked from making cuts it itself thinks are warranted.

Farley takes me to task, and his analysis is worth reading in full. The short version is that the Air Force has a long-standing ideological aversion to transport and other "support" roles, that the Air Force's conception of its own needs is as parochial and self-interested as any other segment of bureaucracy, and that the only way to resolve competing conceptions of how our military resources should be prioritized is through the political process (and if the result of that process is that more dollars flow to planes that can be used to fight fires and conduct local search and rescue, and fewer to long-range strategic bombers, that's not necessarily a bad thing).

Again, good analysis aside, it's always good to have casually-formed and weakly-supported intuitions popped -- and it's not the easiest thing to do (particularly when its convincing a liberal that we should keep military hardware that a service branch claims it doesn't need on the advice of politicians). For accomplishing this somewhat rare feat, I give a hearty salute to Mr. Farley.

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