Thursday, April 22, 2010
Do all these jokers like Todd Akin and Mackenzie Eaglen know about the historical baggage associated with their use of the term "fighter gap"?
Now, to be fair, a lot of people are doing it. Defense News, for one. (Or two. Or three.) Colin Clark at DoD Buzz, too. Then there's Navy Times and Air Force Times and National Defense magazine. But this is all pretty much just reportage and not advocacy or rhetoric, right? So that's not such a big deal.
It's a little more pernicious when the term starts getting tossed around as a mechanism to advocate policy changes. Like, for example, in this op-ed by Akin, who is the ranking member on the HASC Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee. The good Congressman argues that the Defense Department can "mitigate the impending fighter gap" by entering into a multi-year contract with Boeing to procure additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers (the latter of which is an electronic attack aircraft, which is not exactly a "strike fighter"). Congressman Akin, in what is surely one of history's great coincidences, represents the St. Louis area, home to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.
Heritage Foundation defense expert Mackenzie Eaglen apparently enjoyed Rep. Akin's piece, tweeting this yesterday: "Quantity has a quality all its own. The US military has a fighter gap. RT@ToddAkin: It's simple - carriers need planes http://bit.ly/ca0ApL]"
There it is again: "fighter gap." Just rolls off the tongue (and the keyboard), doesn't it? Why so familiar? Well, we've had other gaps before, you know. There was that missile gap back in the late 50s, when then-Senator John Kennedy warned that the US was "losing the [ballistic]-missile race with the Soviet Union because of... complacent miscalculations, penny-pinching, budget cutbacks, incredibly confused mismanagement, and wasteful rivalries and jealousies." And before that, in the mid-50s, there was that pesky bomber gap, when some analysts convinced themselves that the Soviets were dramatically out-producing the U.S. in the long-range, intercontinental bomber race. And now there's about to be a fighter gap, we're told, as Super Hornets exceed their allowable flight hours and are retired from service before sufficient numbers of Joint Strike Fighters have rolled off the production line to take their place.
So what's the problem with all of this? Well, the bomber gap and the missile gap were COMPLETELY MADE UP, that's the problem. Not only that, but some folks - led by an academic named Albert Wohlstetter - COMPLETELY MADE UP the missile gap all over again in 1974!
Am I saying that there's no such thing as a fighter gap? No, I'm not saying that, because I have no idea. Todd Akin may be exactly right, and a long-term, multi-year contract for additional Super Hornet procurement may be the absolute best thing for national security. I'm not an aviation expert, and even those folks can't seem to agree on whether there will be a strike shortfall or how significant it might be. So it's not about whether the fighter gap is as made up as the bomber gap or the missile gap, really.
What this is about is messaging, and the meaning of words. Shouldn't Akin and Eaglen be aware enough of history to know that they're using a tainted phrase? That they're directly ripping off an expression that was used more than once to identify an entirely fabricated national security scare, a military bludgeon created expressly for one candidate to smash another during a campaign?
Aren't they embarrassed to echo Wohlstetter, whose claims about a missile gap extended to accusations that the CIA was falsifying intelligence, deliberately underestimating the number of Soviet missiles in order to shape policy in a less confrontational direction? The same Wohlstetter whose anti-intel aspersions would drive the formation of the ludicrously politicized waste of time called "Team B," the CIA red team whose final report (pdf) "turns out to have been wrong on nearly every point"?
Basically, from a rhetorical perspective, couldn't they have come up with something better?