TEXT OF COMMENTARY
KAI RYSSDAL: Boeing lost another big tanker contract today. London announced it’s chosen the European consortium behind Airbus to replace air-to-air refueling planes for the Royal Air Force. Chicago-based Boeing’s still steaming over the Pentagon’s decision to pass on its bid to build 179 new tankers. The contract went instead to Airbus and Northrup Grumman, a decision that’s been met by no small amount of Congressional flag-waving. Commentator Benjamin Barber says that in today’s global economy, the idea that Boeing is American while Airbus is foreign is simply antiquated.
BENJAMIN BARBER: Just a couple of weeks ago, Boeing — the favorite to win the Pentagon’s new 35 billion dollar contract for a refueling tanker — was edged out by a “foreign” company, airbus parent EADs. Working with Northrop Grumman, (hey, isn’t Grumman “American”?) EADs promised a bigger, better tanker and showcased a new fueling boom.
Meanwhile, Boeing didn’t build a boom prototype and couldn’t promise the 49 tankers EADs said would be ready by 2013. But it did remind the Pentagon — wink, wink — it was “American,” and American jobs depended on the contract.
The Pentagon didn’t bite. It awarded the contract to the bidder with the best airplane. Politicians like Sen. Patty Murray were irate: “We really have to wake up the country. We are at risk of losing a major part of our aerospace industry to the Europeans forever.”
Only it ain’t so. It’s Dubai Ports all over again. We learned then that port security planning is handled by global firms, whether based in Dubai or London. Just like “all-American” Chevy’s are built in Mexico with a majority of foreign parts, while “foreign” Toyotas are built in the U.S. more American parts.
Likewise, Boeing’s American tanker promises 85 percent American parts and supports 44,000 American jobs. But guess what? The Airbus plane has 60 percent American parts, creates 44,000 American jobs, and has GE engines.
Pandering politicians will continue to shout “buy American,” but the rest of us need to figure how to oversee and regulate the global economy in which both Boeing and Airbus are global, not American, players. And if Boeing wants Pentagon contracts, it should stop playing the patriot card and start making better products.
RYSSDAL: Benjamin Barber is with the New York think tank Demos.
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