What Fresh Hell Is This?

May 2, 2010

Jack Kelly Sunday

In this week's column, Jack Kelly offers us the opportunity to see how defense contractors seek to sway public opinion.

Do you remember that old grade-school game called Telephone? That's the game where you get a whole line of people whispering in each other's ears. The Wikipedia (granted not the best source for news but I am only using it to describe a school-yard game, so I think I am safe, epistemologically) defines the game like this:
[T]he first player whispers a phrase or sentence to the next player. Each player successively whispers what that player believes he or she heard to the next. The last player announces the statement to the entire group. Errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first. The game is often played by children as a party game or in the playground. It is often invoked as a metaphor for cumulative error, especially the inaccuracies as rumours or gossip spread, or, more generally, for the unreliability of human recollection.
Let's take a look at how Jack spins on some spin. He begins:
Ever since early in the Korean War (1950-53), the United States has enjoyed a massive air superiority over every enemy we've fought.

Those days may be coming to an end.

"The Air Force won't be able to do all its assigned tasks as comprehensively as it once did, and will be aiming for simple sufficiency in areas where it's been accustomed to dominance," Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said in a recent interview.

Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank, said, "This is akin to the head of the French air force saying in the late 1930s that he was willing to cede air superiority to the Luftwaffe."
Recent interview? Where? In the piece Jack quotes, Daniel Goure gives us the necessary:
In a recent interview with Air Force Magazine, the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz made the following startling statement: “To handle multiplying missions without more people, the Air Force won’t be able to do all its assigned tasks as comprehensively as it once did, and will be aiming instead for simple sufficiency in areas where it’s been accustomed to dominance.” This is akin to the head of the French Air Force saying in the late 1930s that he was willing to cede air superiority to the Luftwaffe. [emphasis added]
But when we see the piece in Air Force Magazine, we see where the telephone game begins:
To handle multiplying missions without more people, the Air Force won’t be able to do all its assigned tasks as comprehensively as it once did, and will be aiming instead for simple sufficiency in areas where it’s been accustomed to dominance.

That was the assessment from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, in an interview shortly after the Fiscal 2011 defense budget was unveiled. The Air Force, Schwartz said, will remain fixed at 332,000 people, but with increasing demands on its manpower in remotely piloted aircraft, irregular warfare, and other emerging missions, it won’t have the money to pursue full-up capabilities as it always has. [emphasis added.]
Couple things going on here. First you notice that the General did NOT say what Goure said he said - and so Jack got the quotation wrong, too. The paragraph from which Goure quotes the General just says that that's his assessment. There's no direct quotation stated (because if it was a direct quotation there'd be, you know "quotation marks"). Small matter, but if you're a Ph.D (as Goure is) you'd know what's a quote and what's an assessment.

In any event, the paragraph quoted was about the number of people in the Air Force not about how much money is being spent on weapons systems.

As this is something in Goure's piece but not in Jack's we have to assume that Jack knew what he was taking out - and why.

Can you say "deceptively selective"? Sure, I knew you could.

But let's get to the meat of the piece: the F-35 and the F-22.

Jack's piece, you'd think that cutting back on the F-22 program is a new idea, borne possibly (and this is my snark of the day) out of one of the many strategery lunches between the President and unrepentant Weatherunderground Bomber Bill Ayers. Or maybe it was one of the many strategery dinners with unrepentant communist Van Jones. Who can keep the wingnut conspiracy theories straight these days??

Anyway, the history of cutting back on the F-22 is a long one. Note this paragraph from a "Backgrounder" report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (the CSBA):
The Air Force itself probably deserves the lion’s share of the responsibility for the Raptor’s cost and schedule difficulties. However both the Office of the Secretary of Defense(OSD) and Congress made significant contributions to cost growth and schedule slippage,starting with (then) defense secretary Dick Cheney’s decisions in April 1990 to delay F-22 production two years to FY 1996 and cut the peak production rate from seventy-two to forty-eight planes per year. It is also worth remembering that the F-22 had the misfortune of entering full-scale engineering development in 1991, the same year as the first Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The program, therefore, was confronted almost immediately with tectonic changes in the international security environment. Finally, the US Navy, which originally planned to buy over six hundred carrier versions of the ATF, eventually dropped out of the program, reducing the total buy by 45 percent.
Wow. Way back then, huh? So Dick Cheney cut the production w-a-a-a-a-y back in 1990?

You'd never know it from Jack's piece.

And that's the point.

One last thing you'd never know from Jack's piece: this is from the Alabama Press-Register:
The episode also turned a floodlight on [Lexington Institute's Loren] Thompson, long a go-to guy for reporters in search of comment on specific military programs. Among Washington pundits, the affable former academic has carved out a niche as a reputed back-channel for power-brokers who want to pass along their own views and positions.

"I would say he's a conduit for very high-level people," said Nick Schwellenbach, national security investigator for the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C. watchdog group.

What is often not revealed in news reports, Schwellenbach added, is that almost all funding for Thompson's employer, the non-profit Lexington Institute, comes from the same defense contractors who frequently have a stake in the programs that he writes about. Overall, Schwellenbach said, "he represents a very pro-industry viewpoint. I don't think you'll ever see him calling for less spending or cutting programs."
Who've guessed that the Lexington Institute, where Jack's original quotation came from, was funded by the same Defense insdustry that would loose billions with the end of the F-22 program?

1 comment:

EdHeath said...

Good analysis of Kelly's column. Your research into the history of cutting back on the F-22 brings up an interesting dilemma conservatives currently face. Most, if not all, of the accusations they level against Obama have a history that can be traced back through previous administrations. Which means when they complain about Obama bailing out the banks, for example, one can reasonably ask whether they complained when Bush did the same thing just prior to the election.

So when Jack Kelly complains Obama is making a cut too far of the F-22 program, one might reasonably ask what Kelly said two years ago on the subject, or twenty years ago.

Besides the stimulus, the one area where Obama (and mostly the Democratic Congress) has broken new ground is in health care legislation. Amusingly, by choosing the health care reform path he has, Obama has explicitly avoided "socializing" health care (to the dismay of his supporters). By choosing the Swiss model of a health care/insurance system, Obama is doing no more than regulating health insurance companies and subsidizing some parts of care. Less than all those evil socialist Western European countries are doing, certainly.

I wonder what the health care system is like in Kenya?