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The Mil & Aero Blog
What do the early election returns mean for military and aerospace technology?
Friday, January 4, 2008
Posted by John Keller
Among the most consistently pondered questions in our community is how will the presidential election influence the military and aerospace business -- more to the point, how strongly is the next president most likely to support advanced electronics and electro-optics technologies?
Well, the presidential election is off to its official start, and the clearest message we can take away from the Iowa Caucuses last night is this: we all had better start paying attention, because the traditional bets may be off.
Early on, the smart money was on a November election race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani. They have name recognition, plenty of money, and reasonably accessible track records. Rudy, we can reasonably predict, would be a big friend of defense technology development. Hillary, perhaps not so much. Easy choice, eh?
Now look at what happened in Iowa yesterday. The November contest still could come off as originally predicted, but the odds on that are getting longer.
In Iowa, Republican Mike Huckabee was the clear winner with 34 percent of the vote to second-place finisher Mitt Romney's 25 percent. Giuliani didn't campaign in Iowa and got only 3 percent of the vote. Meanwhile Democrat Barack Obama won the caucuses with 38 percent of the vote, while second-place finisher John Edwards got 30 percent. Clinton actually came in third with 29 percent of the vote. Whadaya think of that?
I have to admit that I haven't been taking Huckabee very seriously. I'm not sure I should start doing so yet -- I think we'll know after the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday -- but obviously it's time to see how Huckabee stands on defense spending.
Apparently a Huckabee presidency would be beneficial for defense spending and the defense industry. In an interview last March, Huckabee suggested to Real Clear Politics that perhaps the U.S. is not spending enough now on defense. Said Huckabee:
... we never entered this engagement in Iraq with the level of resources that the Department of Defense said we needed in order to really bring stability there. I think that is a concern. My concern is that if you're going to do this we need to do it with all the resources possible. Here's a concern: we spend 3.8% of GDP right now on defense. That is less than any time since the end of the Cold War in terms of a percentage of spending. We've never spent that small amount of our GDP during a shooting war. You have to wonder, are we trying to do too much with too little?
Certainly this is not an outright declaration to put more into defense if elected, but at least it is not an outright reason for worry.
When we take a look at Obama, likewise there are no overt reasons for concern. In an address to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last April, Obama in prepared remarks said:
We must lead by building a 21st century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people ... The first way America will lead is by bringing a responsible end to this war in Iraq and refocusing on the critical challenges in the broader region ... The second way America will lead again is by building the first truly 21st century military and showing wisdom in how we deploy it ... Our men and women in uniform are performing heroically around the world in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. But the war in Afghanistan and the ill-advised invasion of Iraq have clearly demonstrated the consequences of underestimating the number of troops required to fight two wars and defend our homeland. That’s why I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines.
Obama at least has voiced support for the military and for building up and maintaining fighting forces in terms of manpower and technology. We need to bear in mind that Obama opposes the war in Iraq, and has pledged to bring the troops home if elected. He hasn't mentioned if he might change his mind if U.S. military successes on the ground continue.
We also need to bear in mind that as a Democrat Obama will be under intense pressure to pursue costly domestic programs like universal health care, which could distract from military technology development.
All said, a potential election of Huckabee or Obama as president would not portend disaster for the military, or for the defense and aerospace industry.
Like I said, we'll know more Tuesday after New Hampshire. I happen to live and work in New Hampshire, so I'm hunkering down for a weekend of traffic jams, a mailbox stuffed with junk mail from the candidates, and don't even talk to me about the never-ending phone calls during dinner. My wife got caught in a traffic jam behind Hillary's campaign bus today at lunchtime, so I'm girding for more of the same.
Wish me luck.
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