Three Hundred Million A Week


Operation Odyssey Dawn is yet another stunning demonstration of American fighting skill and military technology.  The pilots and missile crews don’t get paid all that much for their bravery and competence, but that technology is expensive.

Fox News has been tallying up the cost: 161 cruise missiles at $1 million to $1.5 million apiece, $10,000 per hour to fly B-2 stealth bombers (which cannot then be driven to a Jiffy Lube for cheap maintenance), and one $75 million F-15 already destroyed by mechanical failure, with the crew thankfully rescued.

The bottom line, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, is that “the Libyan no-fly zone could cost $100 million to $300 million per week.”  That’s a lot of money for a government that’s already adding $26 billion to its budget deficit each week.

Loren Thompson, head of the Lexington Institute and advisor to defense contractors, tells Fox “the Pentagon really needs to this on the cheap,” because voter support for the operation – currently looking pretty good in polls – would dissolve if they were told it would become much more expensive.  Support would evaporate even faster if voters were told we’ll put American troops at greater risk because we’ve got to accomplish our nebulous objectives in Libya on the cheap.

Sometimes people get squeamish when serious deficit hawks, such as Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), talk about reducing the defense budget.  Paul is primarily interested in eliminating wasteful spending, telling the CPAC 2011 audience that “you cannot say that the doubling of the military budget in the last ten years has all been spent wisely and there’s not any waste in it.”  There is, nevertheless, no point in pretending that defense doesn’t cost money, and that money has to come from somewhere.

There are moments of crisis in which immediate action is imperative, and budgeting can be talked about later.  Libya did not represent one of those moments.  The President spent a lot of time consulting with the United Nations, which is very good at spending other people’s money… but not a moment securing approval from Congress, which must figure out how to pay for the weapons we have deployed. 

Out government must have the maturity and wisdom to see Operation Odyssey Dawn as one more expensive project, added to a massive list of projects it’s already doing a very poor job of managing and funding.  Good intentions do not cause money to appear out of thin air.