Is Boeing tanker “victory” good for America?

A Wall Street Journal editorial from March 18, 2008 (Patriot Tanker Games) argued that calls on Capitol Hill for “patriotism” in defense procurement are misguided. Leaders of this call include Kansas’s very own Todd Tiahrt and Pat Roberts.

These politicians say that allowing an important American defense system to be built in partnership with a European firm is dangerous for America. In testimony to the defense appropriations subcommittee Rep. Tiahrt stated “I am outraged by this decision to outsource our national security … We are stacking the deck against American manufacturers, at the expense of our national and economic security.”

But the Journal editorial sees clearly through the haze: “What’s really going on is a familiar scrum for federal cash, with politicians from Washington and Kansas using nationalism as cover for their pork-barreling … The modern aerospace biz is an increasingly global affair, and more than half of the Northrop/EADS tanker (by value) will be made in America. Much of Boeing’s tanker would also have been built outside the U.S.”

If the tankers are built by Boeing that means more jobs for Wichita, which Tiahrt represents. Bringing home jobs and pork, it seems, are one of a United States Congressman’s most important jobs. But as the Journal editorial points out, the Defense Department has broader responsibilities: to American taxpayers across the country, and to American soldiers. If the Pentagon believes the Northrop/EADS tanker proposal is best for American security and taxpayers, on what basis can Todd Tiahrt, Pat Roberts and the rest of the Kansas congressional delegation object?

Every congressman and senator wants to do for their district or state what Tiahrt and Roberts are doing for Wichita and Kansas. This desire leads to never-ending battles for a share of federal spending. Spending is often allocated based on political considerations instead of reason.

The Journal editorial is absolutely correct when it concludes that “Protectionists in Congress want to make America’s soldiers wait even longer for this new equipment, all to score political points at home. There’s a word for that, but it’s not patriotism.”

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