Real Change Comes to Washington

So in some areas (civil liberties and wars come to mind), there is not so much daylight to be found between President Obama and his predecessor.  But in other areas that are not always so visible, it is clear that Obama does intend to pursue a somewhat ambitious liberal agenda.  And one of those extremely contentious yet poorly publicized battles can best be described as the Siege of the F-22.  For those who need a primer, the F-22 Raptor is the US’s top-of-the-line ultra-high-tech fighter jet, conceived in 1986 in order to deal with the threat of permanent Soviet air superiority.  Something seems off about that sentence, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what.
Anyway, the basic idea is this is an aircraft to beat all other aircraft.  However, the F-22 is not without problems.  Problems which are, to put it lightly…troubling.  They range from a lack of clear military need to (credible) allegations of massive fraud by its builders. There is also the matter of the Soviet air superiority threat; by all accounts the Red Army is less threatening than once it was, due to its lack of leadership, equipment, or existence.  Above all is the issue of cost.  The F-22 is really, really, really expensive. So the Pentagon has decided to cancel the program.  Because really, who needs a hideously expensive plane which is grounded almost all the time and is never needed?
The US Congress, that’s who. Despite the Pentagon’s rejection of the project, and Obama’s opposition, the Congress knows better than the military what the military wants and needs, and so has continued to press for funding for it.  Obama has let it be known that he will veto any military appropriations bill that contains Raptor funding.  Is he bluffing? Probably.  However, if Obama is actually interested in reducing the deficit, he has to be thinking about reducing the military budget sooner or later.  The best way to look at the Siege of the F-22 is as a test case (or a reconnaissance in force, to maintain the metaphor); if a white elephant that not even the military wants can be killed, than the hopes of wringing efficiencies out of this part of the federal government will probably die a quick death.  This is either the liberals’ last stand against the military-industrial complex, or the first skirmish in a long war for political control of military appropriations.

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