With the Pentagon eyeing $500 billion in mandatory defense cuts that even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says go too far, the United States Senate Appropriations Committee seems intent on doing even more damage to America's military by squandering precious resources on a missile system that will never be put to use.
The Defense Department has acknowledged that the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) will never be operational, and with good reason.
MEADS was concocted as a means to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones -- essentially an unnecessary duplication of the Patriot Missile system that has been one of America's successes since the first Gulf War.
Since it was conceived in 1996, MEADS has been riddled with problems that have put its development off schedule and has been consistently off budget.
While MEADS was originally billed as having 360-degree surveillance capability -- a theoretical improvement over the Patriot -- Pentagon planners have now determined that by equipping the Patriot system with three "multi-functional" radar, it, too, has 360-degree coverage. MEADS, in other words, offers no increased capabilities over the existing system.
Three House and Senate Committees have wisely zeroed out MEADS after the Pentagon, in 2011 determined that, because of cost concerns, it would not make MEADS operational.
Nevertheless, the Obama White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are pressuring Congress to continue funding the ill-fated MEADS system. The Senate Appropriations Committee has now caved to the administration, voting last month to restore $380 million to the wasteful and duplicative system.
For her part, Secretary Clinton contends that the MEADS appropriation is necessary for the United States to "honor our commitments" to Germany and Italy.
"Germany and Italy envision MEADS not only as an essential basis for their own future air defense capabilities, but more importantly as the basis for their respective contributions to NATO missile defense," Clinton asserted in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Daniel Inouye (D-HI).
That just doesn't make sense.
Surely Italy, on the verge of financial collapse, doesn't have the spare cash to drop on a redundant white elephant like MEADS -- and if Germany does, it's money better spent helping guide the continent through the euro crisis.
Our relationships with both Germany and Italy are grounded on decades of mutual cooperation in endeavors ranging from agriculture to trade and mutual defense. Any notion that our friendships now hinge on our throwing good money after bad on a system like MEADS is nonsense.
Regrettably, this isn't the only instance where Washington politicians have sacrificed America's security by treating the Pentagon budget like an ATM.
There is a lot of money to be made in wasteful government spending, and nowhere more so than the Pentagon.
Last year's audit by the General Accounting Office found $70 billion in Defense Department waste just in the preceding two years. Another GAO report uncovered $7 billion in spending by the Defense Logistics Agency two years ago for equipment the military never used.
Cronyism is likewise evident in the Defense Department's budget, and both Congress and the White House share the fault.
Obama administration donors have recently been rewarded with a $12 million stunt intended to show that an entire carrier strike group could be run on biofuels for a single day. To facilitate the White House's alternative energy photo op, the Air Force wound up spending $639,000 on 11,000 gallons of alcohol-to-jet fuels from a company whose owners included a six-figure Democratic donor -- about $59 a gallon for fuel that normally costs about $3.60.
If the United States is to remain secure, spending decisions must now be made from a strategic vantage point, not a political one.
Even if our budget was in surplus, our strategic interests could never justify a duplicative, wasteful system like MEADS, which even the Pentagon says will never be made operational.
With massive defense cuts looming, that's doubly true.