Obama lashes waste in defense spending

President Barack Obama on Monday lashed special interests and their “exotic projects” that he said drain the defense budget of money needed for U.S. military forces battling everything from nuclear weapons to “18th century style piracy and 21st century cyber threats.”

Going after lawmakers as well, he said, “If Congress sends me a defense bill loaded with that kind of waste, I will veto it.”

As he thanked America’s veterans and praised U.S. fighting forces who continue making heavy sacrifices in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama spoke harshly of a “defense establishment (that) has yet to fully adapt to the post-Cold War world.”

“You know the story,” he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention in Phoenix. “The indefensible no-bid contracts that cost taxpayers billions and make contractors rich. The special interests and their exotic projects that are years behind schedule and billions over budget. The entrenched lobbyists pushing weapons that even our military says it doesn’t want. The impulse in Washington to protect jobs back home building things we don’t need at a cost we can’t afford.”

The president laid out a vision of a nimble, well-armed and multilingual fighting force of the future, not one that was built to fight land battles against the Soviets in Europe.

‘Because in the 21st century, military strength will be measured not only by the weapons our troops carry, but by the languages they speak and the cultures they understand,” the president said.

He praised Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and his opponent in the 2008 presidential contest, for joining him and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in opposing unneeded defense spending. Shortly after Obama won the White House, McCain had pointedly suggested there was no need for the Marine Corps to bring on newer helicopters to ferry the president at a cost of billions of dollars.

“Maybe you heard about this. Among other capabilities, it would let me cook a meal while under nuclear attack,” Obama told the VFW. “I’ll tell you something. If the United States of America is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.