I believe that current U.S. defense policy reflects misplaced priorities, wrong choices, excessive spending, and a failure to make hard choices. I am also concerned that Congress has failed to assert any meaningful oversight over the war in Iraq which has been mismanaged from the very beginning.
With the passage of the 2006 fiscal year Defense Authorization Act, our annual defense spending is now at $490.7 billion, including additional funding for the war in Iraq. This will account for 55% of all discretionary spending. In real terms (adjusted for inflation), it will be 20% higher than the average defense budget during the Cold War. We now spend just shy of a million dollars a minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on defense spending.
I take extremely seriously my oath of office that obligates me to provide for the protection of the American people. Providing for our common defense is critical, but like other federal government programs, we are bound to ensure that each dollar is spent wisely.
Not only is our current defense budget a record, it is also nearly as large as the defense budgets of every other country in the world combined. According to estimates by the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, all nations except for the United States are spending a total of $527 billion. This includes our NATO allies.
In March 2003, before the Iraq war began, I wrote to the President with 22 of my colleagues to ask him to specifically define our objectives and to provide an exit strategy. We asked the President a number of questions including: "Under what circumstances will our military occupation of (and financial commitment to) Iraq end? And how will we know when these circumstances are present." We, and the American people, never received an answer to these crucial questions. Even today, the Administration is unwilling or unable to answer. This is simply unacceptable.
It is absolutely essential that President Bush formulate an exit strategy that clearly specifies our objectives, benchmarks to measure our success, or lack of success, and a realistic timeline for withdrawing out troops. This administration has failed to make tough choices about our military priorities. I support transformation of our armed forces into a more mobile, flexible force that can take on a wide variety of missions, from combat to peacekeeping, from hurricane relief to securing weapons of mass destruction. Our country cannot afford to maintain our current Cold War structure and outdated weapons systems while fully transforming into a modern force.