This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Many members of Congress stumping for re-election back in their districts decry government spending and those awful earmarks. Except (wink, wink) our earmarks, that is.
That’s as good an explanation as any for why the House more than tripled funding for a 70-ton tank the Army doesn’t need or want – and added hundreds of millions more for other items the Pentagon didn’t request, including an anti-drug program that duplicates one performed by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
It’s all about jobs that lawmakers can brag about preserving in their districts. If it means the Army gets more tanks that have little use in the kinds of war it’s been fighting in the 21st century, so be it.
These earmarks have heavy hitters going to bat for them, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Lima, Ohio, produces more than fictional glee club sensations; it also manufactures Abrams tanks at a plant operated by General Dynamics, a big donor to legislators’ re-election efforts. The company also has employees in Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan – states whose lawmakers are pushing hard to continue the tank program.
It’s a program in search of a purpose. In the military’s so-called “pivot” away from Europe and the Middle East and toward Asia, it will rely more on special forces, drones, and naval and air power, and less on such Cold War-era weapons as tanks. Even in the current war in Afghanistan, they haven’t been valuable assets. Plus they get lousy gas mileage – half a mile per gallon – and are vulnerable to improvised bombs.
An important function of tanks is to destroy other tanks. The Taliban and al-Qaida have a limited tank inventory – 0, in fact. Designed to go turret to turret against Soviet tanks in Central Europe, they’re not as useful against modern counterinsurgencies.
Another consideration is that the military needs to devote an increasing share of its budget in caring for those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s costly to evaluate and treat post traumatic stress syndrome, and many veterans who have suffered head injuries or amputations will need expensive long-term care and therapy.
Given the tighter budgets taxpayers want to see, it doesn’t make sense to waste money on unneeded weapons systems like the Abrams tank just so lawmakers can win brownie points with big donors and the folks back home.