- April 12, 2012 |
- 12:00 pm - posted on DANGER ROOM
The Lexington Institute is probably the defense industry’s favorite Beltway think tank. If there’s big defense dollars at stake on a project, Lexington’s experts will reliably write thousands of words about why national security will suffer unless the Pentagon sees the project through. But on Wednesday, the Institute decided to step away from military matters, and turn its attention towards the 2012 presidential race. Judging from a blog post by Lexington’s founder, the defense industry’s pet policy shop wants President Obama to lose his reelection bid.
A day after Mitt Romney essentially sewed up the GOP nomination, Merrick “Mac” Carey, the founder and CEO of Lexington, proclaimed, “President Barack Obama finds himself in an increasingly precarious position.” His evidence: Obama’s anemic performance in polls compiled by the political-junkie site Real Clear Politics; the weak economy; and a host of policy criticisms. “[A] president with ratings as weak as Obama’s is likely to continue to hurt his party come November,” Carey concludes.
Obama may well be in dire political straits. As Carey points out, he polls under 50 percent, the standard marker of peril for incumbents, since political professionals presume that anyone who’s not already convinced will vote for the challenger. But Carey’s evidence leaves out the other side of the story. Every poll Carey cites shows Obama beating Romney, with the trend lines moving in Obama’s direction. That doesn’t show that Obama is going to be reelected; it certainly doesn’t show that he’s a good president. But it shows that Carey’s analysis is off.
Asked if his post is cheerleading for Romney, Carey concedes, “Maybe so.” If Obama gets above 50 percent and stays there, he says, “I’ll be first guy to publish if he moves into reelection territory.”
Carey’s analysis is less significant on its merits — everyone in Washington has political opinions — than for the think tank it emerged from. Lexington gets cash from defense contractors like Boeing and Northrop Grumman, reaping what its chief operating officer once called “quite a significant” amount of cash from them. (The non-profit Lexington’s total revenue haul in 2009, from all its donors, was$2,451,505, according to its tax records.) That officer, Loren Thompson, also gets consulting moneyfrom defense contractors directly, as he runs a for-profit defense consulting firm called Source Associates. Other think tanks in Washington get defense industry dollars — including the Brookings Institution, which counts Danger Room boss Noah Shachtman as a non-resident fellow. But among D.C.’s policy shops, Lexington is the most reliable advocate of that’s industry’s interests.
It’s not just that Lexington has bashed the Obama administration for its efforts at pruning the defense budget. When aerospace firms peddle the dubious line that prospective defense cuts could cost the economy one million jobs, Thompson promotes it — and blames Obama for impending economic doom and not, say, the GOP-led House that made deficit reduction a priority. When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urges against deep defense cuts, Thompson proclaims it a problem for Obama’s reelection. Army’s getting rid of some of its equipment modernization? Thompson has a question of his own: “Does anybody in the Obama Administration understand that killing such programs nearly guarantees soldiers will die unnecessarily in future wars?”
Thompson’s colleague, Dan Goure, warned that potential defense budget cuts pose “intolerable risks to national security” and so “defense industry leaders need to make it clear to our political leaders that proposed draconian cuts in defense spending will mean the loss of irreplaceable production, engineering and design capability.” And on and on and so forth. (Although, in fairness, they sometimes go after the Obama Pentagon’s critics, too.)
There’s no evidence that Thompson, Goure, and Carey are insincere in their beliefs. Chances are, they work at an industry-aligned think tank because they generally think the Lockheeds and the Northrops of the world have the clearest view of the geopolitical landscape. Of course, the money doesn’t exactly hurt.
Obama has cut the rate of growth of the defense budget. That will inevitably attract opposition from the defense industry. Romney, by contrast, has yet to meet a defense spending idea he didn’t like. His plan to beef up the Navy will mean a windfall of cash for industry.
What’s notable is the discrepancy between the intensity of the industry’s opposition to Obama and therelatively mild cuts Obama has made. The defense budget in 2013 will be about the same size as it was in 2007.
Asked if the defense industry wanted to see Obama lose, Carey replied, “I don’t know. It’s a big sector, a big industry. I’m not sure it’s formed an opinion, and it’s got a heck of a lot of Democrats.” Perhaps: asthis breakdown of defense industry political donations shows, the big military contractors tend to hedge its bets. But the defense industry’s favorite think tank hasn’t.