Robert Gates, Budget Hawk?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to shave the Pentagon's budget by $78 billion over the next five years, shrinking active duty troops and ultimately freezing military spending for the first time since the 9/11 attacks, the Washington Post reports.

Gates was eloquent on the issue of defense cuts, saying "we must come to realize that not every defense program is necessary, not every defense dollar is sacred or well-spent, and more of everything is simply not sustainable." Indeed, it's noxious idea to equate patriotism with a blind willingness to defend the defense budget no matter its costs or benefits.

But the Post buries the lede. Gates is not proposing to shrink the Pentagon's budget; he's proposing to slow the growth of the Pentagon budget.

The $78 billion reduction over the next five years actually represents a "decline in the rate of growth," since the Pentagon budget will grow "in absolute dollars" every year. "The focus here is on a reduction in the rate of growth as opposed to absolute cuts," he said.

Gates also stressed that even after the reductions in troop strength, the Army and Marine Corps both will still be larger than they were when he became defense secretary four years ago. The Army will be bigger by about 40,000 soldiers, and the Marines will still have 7,000 to 12,000 more troops, he said.

Read the full story at WaPo.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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