Wednesday, January 5, 2011



Emblazoned across the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning were two menacing photos of the J-20, a Chinese fifth generation stealth fighter that, according to the febrile reporting of the Journal, will challenge the U.S. F-22 for air supremacy and could be flying “very soon,” according to the experts the Journal could find that are sympathetic to the its argument.

Given the Journal’s ardent and unyielding support for the defense industry, one supposes that the object of the F-22 photos, which tell us nothing about the actual plane, and the accompanying “article,” is to make us alarmed, even terrified. It only makes this observer even more cynical, and skeptical, than normal.

Funding for further F-22 purchases, beyond the 187 already purchased, was cut off in President Obama’s 2010 budget. The reasons? Among others, the F-22 cost $361mm a copy (Its incremental cost, its backers argue, is “only” $138 million. The terms “only” and “$138 million” can only be combined when talking about other people’s money, but I digress.) and would be completely useless in any confrontation with the Chinese, perhaps marginally useful in any confrontation with the Russians, and complete overkill, or utterly ridiculous, in any confrontation with anybody else. Killing the F-22, especially with the “cheaper” and similarly advanced fifth generation F-35 being purchased in massive quantities, made all the sense of the world.

Killing the F-22, however, did not sit at all well with its major contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. They lobbied furiously to save the plane; they failed but have not given up, as evidenced by articles such as the cited Journal screed. Suddenly, we will hear cries that the Chinese are “gaining on us,” “challenging us for superiority in the Asia-Pacific theater,” and other such drivel. The solution, we will be told, is to borrow more money from the Chinese to build a plane that will be useless against them in any conflict in the Pacific. And leading the cheers for such a “solution” will be those fiscal hawks in the Republican Party. This should, of course, come as no surprise; the GOP’s approach to governance can be summarized in one sentence:

Cut spending and shrink government…except in those areas in which doing so would prove even remotely detrimental to those who bankroll our campaigns to keep us firmly ensconced in our public sector sinecures and as far away as possible from the private sector we think is so wonderful for other people.

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