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Somewhere in the middle regions of Barack Obama's Herculean to-do list is a task that's defeated many of his predecessors: taming the runaway $534 billion Pentagon budget. (And that's only the official defense budget. Add in things like the supplemental spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the total is more like $780 billion.) Earlier this year, Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates made headlines when they announced a major crackdown on DOD spending, including a promise to slash several troubled weapons programs. Cynics might point out that Washington pols have been making pledges like that since the Pentagon was created; yet with the economy in crisis and the deficit out of sight, Pentagon profligacy seems like the perfect budget-cutting target.
So where to start? In March, the Government Accountability Office calculated that existing major weapons commitments will ultimately cost $1.6 trillion. A big chunk of that—$296 billion, to be exact—is cost overruns that have already accumulated. That $296 billion, for perspective, is more than the annual military budget of any other nation on the face of the Earth. China, the world's second-biggest single defense spender after the United States and supposedly such an existential threat that it justifies our exorbitant weapons programs, spends less than a third of what the Pentagon wastes. Our overruns on these weapons to date exceed the entire GDPs of Norway ($256 billion) and Israel ($201 billion).