Rocky the snakehead fish has gone viral.
Ever since the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced
that the omnivorous Rocky was to be euthanized, petitions calling for a
stay of execution have circulated around the World Wide Web. In the
spirit of cyberdemocracy, counterpetitions have popped up as well,
demanding that this 28 inch specimen of a seriously invasive species,
who has been kept as a pet in a Clay man’s home for 10 years, be put to
Rocky, take heart. I think you’ve got a
pretty good chance of surviving to a ripe old age. His handlers should
take a different tack, however. Instead of appealing to the soft spot
most Americans have for family pets, Rocky’s owners should have him
rebranded as a weapons system. Once you get a pet project working its
way through the Pentagon pipeline, there’s no force in heaven or on
earth that’s going to do away with it.
Take a look at the cause of a much
nastier creature, the F 22 Raptor fighter plane, an Air Force wet dream
machine which has shown survival skills that would put Rocky to shame.
The F 22 was designed with a threat in mind. That threat was the Soviet
Union. The Defense Department mistakenly believed that the Soviets had
the capability of developing a fighter plane superior to the U.S. Air
Force’s F 15. Soon it was demonstrated that the Soviet economy did not
possess the ability to competently can tuna fish, much less take
mastery of the skies, yet in all these years Congress has not figured
out how to shoot down the Raptor.
Children born when the Soviet Union was
a threat to us have now graduated college, and yet we are still
committed to building a plane conceived to defeat the Evil Empire (not
to be confused with the Axis of Evil). Meanwhile on the real
battlefields of the 21st century, the Raptor, which has been flying
since 2005, has yet to make an appearance. Let’s reiterate that: The
number of missions flown by the F-22 in Iraq and Afghanistan is exactly
The House Appropriations Committee first
voted to kill the project back in the early 1990s when the Cold War
thawed. But like Rocky the snakehead, this beast can slither for miles
in search of new habitat and new prey. It can adapt to different
terrain, and it has done so for a full generation.
The marvelous modern airborne killing
machine known as the F 22 Raptor was designed to fight enemies with
technology that Luke Skywalker would envy. Problem is that the people
killing and maiming our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are armed with
nothing more sophisticated than a whole lot of M80s and a book that
says you can go to heaven if you blow up an infidel. You can’t shoot
that kind of threat down with a Raptor.
By the way, the Raptors cost $350
million apiece. The Pentagon bought 183 of them in the Bush years, and
they would like to buy as many again in the next few years. Given the
propensity for Pentagon projects to cost more than projected, it’s safe
to say that canning the Raptor program could save us a cool $70
billion, perhaps $100 billion.
More to the point, the proposed budget
for next year to operate the Syracuse City School District is just a
hair under $349 million. Hmmm. . . one military plane, or education for
21,000 kids? Seems like an easy call to me.
Can we live without this plane? We can,
literally. You don’t have to take my word for it. No less an authority
than Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has indicated that he wants to halt
the F 22 program. But the strategy, if you are a defense contractor, is
to spread the work, and the eventual deployment, of a high stakes
weaponry project, out over as many states and congressional districts
as possible. In essence you can gain votes by threatening unemployment
if you don’t fund the project. The Raptor has never flown in
Afghanistan or Iraq, but it has proven adept at dodging anti aircraft
fire from congressional budget cutters.
According to Lockheed Martin, which
builds the plane in partnership with Boeing and Pratt & Whitney,
parts and subsystems are provided by 1,000 suppliers in 44 states. The
spoils from this project are spread out across the map so widely that
it has a nearly veto-proof array of interest groups pulling for its
What we need in these times is
leadership willing to take on those interests, and put ours ahead of
them. It’s not a choice between defense spending and domestic spending.
The Raptor doesn’t defend us, it drains us. It adds to the deficit,
warps our priorities and starves other genuine needs.
So how do we stop this beast?
Rocky, do your thing. Kill the Raptor, and we’ll keep you around. Deal?