Zakaria: Pentagon’s new plan is ‘revolutionary’

Analyst Fareed Zakaria says Robert Gates proposed a bold shift in Defense Department procurement.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is pushing a 2010 Pentagon budget that reflects major changes in Defense Department priorities.

(CNN) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is pushing a 2010 Pentagon budget that reflects major changes in Defense Department priorities. One of the high-profile programs on the chopping block is the Air Force’s most expensive fighter, the F-22 Raptor. The proposed budget, unveiled Monday, cuts several traditional big-ticket items while investing in programs designed to bolster the military’s ability to wage an ongoing conflict against terrorists and other extremist elements in multiple regions at the same time. Gates acknowledged that parts of the budget are likely to run into significant opposition on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are concerned in part about preserving valuable defense contracts for their districts and states. “This is a reform budget, reflecting lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Gates said. “There’s no question that a lot of these decisions will be controversial.” He called on Congress to “rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interests of the nation as a whole.”

‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’

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Fareed Zakaria spoke to CNN about the Pentagon plan: CNN: What has caught your attention this week Zakaria: The budget proposal presented by Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week was nothing short of revolutionary. It was big, it was bold, and it created an uproar. But, I think, it was absolutely the right thing to do. It’s a long-overdue adjustment to how we actually fight wars. And it’s an equally long-overdue shift in the antiquated and exorbitantly expensive way the military does business. CNN: Why has there been such an uproar Zakaria: Well, there are several programs that are going to be stopped completely, such as the VH-71 presidential helicopter program and F-22 fighter jets, and other programs — like missile defense — that are going to have their budgets slashed. CNN: Are those programs important

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Zakaria: I wouldn’t say so. The first is the program to replace the current “Marine Ones.” It is six years behind schedule and is now expected to cost $13 billion, double its original budget. Even the president, the main beneficiary of this program, agrees that this is nonsensical, calling it an example of “the procurement process gone amok.” The F-22 has a price tag of over $350 million per jet. The F-22 was built to fight enemy jets. But when was the last time a U.S. pilot was involved in a dogfight And missile defense — one system on the chopping block is the “multiple kill vehicle.” it looks and sounds quite lethal, but in real life it just doesn’t work. CNN: So if these are programs that aren’t really necessary, again, why the uproar Zakaria: It’s mainly from congressmen with pet pork programs, lobbyists and defense consultants, that’s who. The industry that relies on funding for those projects CNN: So will our defense budget be a lot lower than in the past Zakaria: Actually, between the cuts and the additions, the budget won’t budge much. It will be just about the same as it was last year. CNN: How can that be Zakaria: Secretary Gates is just trying to spend our defense dollars in a better way.

His plan is about rebalancing our spending to create a military for the post-Cold War world, characterized by disorder, failed states and terrorism … not Soviet-style challenges. We’ve discussed many of these new challenges on our show, and this Sunday we talk with Syria’s ambassador to the United States about the challenge of Iran. Watch Syrian Ambassador talk about peace with Israel » I hope you will tune in to hear his thoughts.