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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Priority must be on troops

Not many encouraging words have come lately out of the American military-industrial complex, given that the country is beset with two wars and on the defensive against terrorism.

But we'd prefer uncomfortable truth-telling over happy talk any day. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is absolutely right: The military has to quit wasting money on congressional pork and Pentagon bureaucracy and get more resources to the troops.

Speaking last week at the Eisenhower Library named for the president who came up with the term "military-industrial complex" Gates issued a call for the Pentagon to take its share of the whacks, redirecting some of its base budget of $547 billion away from waste and expensive weapons and aircraft programs and toward the essentials.

He reeled off examples of what he described as budgetary bloat. Too much "overhead" in the form of a top-heavy bureaucracy accounts for nearly 40 percent of the defense budget.

And then there are the mountainous inventories of iron and steel that go into manufacturing an endless supply of military hardware, much of which is superfluous to the current mission but keeps lots of people working in lots of congressional districts.

It's a political firetrap for Gates, because many communities with influential representatives complain mightily about the loss of jobs this reordering will cause. But in Hawai'i and other places less dependent on the high-octane spending at the top, a new fiscal policy comes as excellent news. Cuts in areas that are not core to the mission will mean more for the troops and their families.

While in Fort Riley, Kan., Gates addressed a group of military spouses who let him know that the military often talks a good line on family support programs but that money doesn't always turn up.

There will be initial pain to be withstood as defense programs shift, but for the long term the entire nation should embrace this plan. The strength of the national defense lies in the troops, and it's good to see Gates getting the military's budgetary priorities straight.