Dogfights Ahead

The president’s defense secretary proposes slashing expensive new fighter jets from its budget, but a battle looms in Congress.

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Washington remains Obama-less today as the president stopped unexpectedly in Iraq on his way back from his European jaunt. In the meantime, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced major shifts in defense spending priorities, to the dismay of defense contractors and Top Gun enthusiasts everywhere. But Obama’s formerly unstoppable grass-roots network fails to impress, which brings the president down to a 17 on the Change-o-Meter.

Obama made an unannounced stop in Iraq after his short visit to Turkey, where broken hearts appear to be mending. The trip to Baghdad was kept a secret from the press and many of Obama’s staff and comes on the heels of the president’s promise in Turkey to proceed in Iraq “in a responsible direction.” The amorphous change Obama promises seems palpable in Iraq today. (As Air Force One landed in Baghdad, across the city the infamous shoe-throwing journalist saw his jail time reduced.) No major points for a fluffy, photo-op stop in a theater of war, but the ‘Meter will toss in two for the signal that Iraq is still a priority despite the renewed focus on Afghanistan.

Back home, Gates ruffled feathers with his announcement of an overhaul of defense spending. Gates’ proposal involves major cutbacks in weapon and military vehicle production, including halts on the manufacture of the iconic F-22 fighter jet and a flashy new helicopter for POTUS. (Yes, Top Gun nerds, technically Goose and Maverick flew an F-14.) Members of Congress are making the expected noises proportional to the number of F-22-related jobs in their districts. Proposing a plan that could cut jobs in the current economy is certainly daring, particularly when it pushes down defense stocks in the process. But reorganizing the budget to trim out huge, impractical projects sits right with the ‘Meter. (Slate’s Fred Kaplan agrees.) The proposal answers Obama’s call for smart, responsible warfare, and he wins 20 points for a significant move in that direction.

While his Cabinet may be listening to his pleas, it seems Obama’s former supporters are less attentive. The White House recently dusted off the 13-million-strong campaign juggernaut, now called Organizing for America, to rally up support for Obama’s budget. The result was a measly 214,000 signatures on a letter that garnered little attention on Capitol Hill. OfA’s lack of impact may come as a surprise to anyone who thought the youthful energy of the Obama campaign would transfer to the Obama agenda. The ‘Meter knows its history and is less than shocked but still docks Obama five points for his supporters’ new mantra: “Yes, We Can—If We Feel Like It.”

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