Another Message From Your Host: 'The Pentagon Labyrinth'

I am glad to see the new week's guest team off to a strong start. Before leaving the stage fully to them (and getting on the flight to Beijing), a few matters that won't properly keep until I resume normal operations here:

1) The Pentagon Labyrinth. The Obama Administration's new budget was released this morning, as you just possibly might have heard. The part of it least likely to receive serious attention is the DOD budget, which will be officially announced this afternoon.

PentagonLabry.pngDepending on how narrowly or broadly you categorize military-related expenditures, they range from well over $550 billion this year to as much as $1 trillion. To see that math explained, go here. Political discussion of public spending is detached from reality in almost all realms, but perhaps most alarmingly so when it comes to the military. If you would like to prepare yourself to have informed opinions on where to spend less and more, and why, the most valuable way you can spend the next hour is by reading some of the ten short essays collected here, in a free book called The Pentagon Labyrinth from the Straus Military Reform Project.

The authors are familiar figures to those who have followed the defense reform debates, including Chuck Spinney, Pierre Sprey, Thomas Christie, and an all-star list of others. I have had a chance to see these people's analyses tested against reality for 30 years now, and they have stood up very well. Do yourself a favor and read what they have to say. After the jump, a few samples.

2) The Philippines and Egypt. Twenty-five years ago, the peaceful democratic revolution that thrilled the world was the "EDSA Revolution" in the Philippines that led to the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos. I spent time in the Philippines soon thereafter and wrote what became a very controversial article ("A Damaged Culture") on why so much of the idealism of the Cory Aquino era soon petered out. Michael Mirasol, of The Filipcritic site, has written "A Letter to Egypt" that explicitly applies the positive and negative lessons of the Philippine experience to the next steps in Egypt. Worth reading.

3) I mentioned earlier a site called TSA Status, which was collecting reports on where "advanced imaging" machines for airport screening were and were not in use. The site is back, in a much-improved form. It now makes it easy to search for airport information before you travel, and to file reports after you've been screened. Worth checking out here. It's helped me know what to expect at Dulles Airport shortly. Sadly there is no comparable "Cheese-Beagle Status" site to let me know what to expect on the other end.

Again, my thanks and welcome to the guests.

_____
From a flier for 'The Pentagon Labyrinth'

  • How many times does one read articles stating the cost of a weapon-the F-35 is a contemporary example-as described by a hired consultant for a manufacturer or an advocate from inside the Pentagon? That price tag is published as if it were authoritative; there's not a hint that more objective sources would cite a very different figure. The handbook's essay on journalism ("Penetrating the Pentagon" by George Wilson), as well as the one on costs, might help journalists reporting on weapons serve their readers better, and those essays might help readers more effectively identify the journalists they may want to read more, or less, from in the future.
 
  • It is not just conventional wisdom but biblical text that the F-22 is a world class fighter aircraft; almost no one believes anything else. The ninth essay in this handbook ("Evaluating Weapons: Sorting the Good from the Bad" by Pierre Sprey) can start the reader on an adventure that leads to a very different conclusion.

 

  • Herds of analysts, each with decades of experience inside the Washington Beltway, read with great seriousness the Pentagon's periodic "Quadrennial Defense Review" and opine on its contents-without appreciating that it is fundamentally a sham analysis of the Pentagon's problems. The first essay here ("Why Is This Handbook Necessary?" by Chuck Spinney) will explain.

 

  • Seasoned staffers on Capitol Hill have taken offense at the suggestion that senior Pentagon civilians and high ranking military officers would lie to them. Yet the Constitution's system of checks and balances and the separation of powers in our federal government were conceived on just that premise: that interested factions in the Pentagon bureaucracy could-and do-go to great lengths not only to mask what is going on inside DOD but actively to present an alternate picture. The essay "Congressional Oversight: Willing and Able or Willing to Enable?" seeks to explain further. "
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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