GATES MAKES IT PLAIN…. It’s unlikely Congress will care, but Robert Gates offered quite a bit of common sense today.

At a speech today in Chicago, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates lashed out at members of Congress, at the “defense and aerospace industry,” and at the “institutional military itself” for trying to keep ultra-expensive, often-useless weapons programs in the Pentagon budget. It’s just not right, he said, while the country is fighting two wars in which such gear is clearly not required.

“The grim reality is that with regard to the budget we have entered a zero-sum game. Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity… is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries, and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk that I will not take and one that I cannot accept,” he said.

Gates took particular aim at proponents of the futuristic, $250 million-a-pop F-22 stealth dogfighter. Senior military leaders all say they have plenty of the planes, to ward off any potential foe. Congress keeps trying to force the Pentagon to pay for more — despite the threat of a Presidential veto of any defense bill which contains more F-22 cash. It’s typical, he observed, of a Beltway process that keeps defense programs going forever, regardless of their military value. It’s exactly why Gates’ largely common sense overhaul of the Pentagon’s arsenal is, in its own way, so radical.

“If we can’t bring ourselves to make this tough but straightforward decision – reflecting the judgment of two very different presidents, two different secretaries of defense, two chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, and the current Air Force Secretary and Chief of Staff, where do we draw the line? And if not now, when? If we can’t get this right — what on earth can we get right? It is time to draw the line on doing Defense business as usual. The President has drawn that line. And that red line with regard to a veto is real.”

The United States can either adapt to a new foreign policy landscape, use scarce resources wisely, and be better prepared for the national security threats of the 21st century, or we can follow the lead of lawmakers whose principal goal is how these decisions affect their district.

Noah Shachtman posted the text of Gates’ entire speech. It’s well worth reading — and sending a copy of to every lawmaker fighting for more F-22s.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.