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March 16, 2005

Wolfowitz II: A Pentagon Transformation?
Posted by Derek Chollet

In the coming days, there will be a lot of rumbling both in Washington and around the world about Wolfowitz’s appointment as head of the World Bank. Hopefully the analysis will be more thoughtful (like the one below) than less, but given the passions the man elicits –especially abroad – I doubt it.

While they’ll be a lot of newsprint, airtime and cyberspace consumed by what Wolfowitz would mean for where he is going, it would be a huge mistake to overlook the impact this will have on the place he is leaving: the Pentagon.

No doubt there was some quiet cheering today inside the Pentagon’s rings, especially among the uniformed military. Although this was Wolfowitz’s third tour of duty at the Defense Department (he started as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Carter Administration and had the number three job there under Bush 41), he was never very popular inside the building. Few forget his colossal misjudgments about post-war Iraq, including his public repudiation of then-Army Chief of Staff Shinseki about the prolonged need for large numbers of American troops there.  Many now hope that Wolfowitz’s departure -- along the previously announced exit of the Pentagon’s number three civilian official, Douglas Feith – means that Rumsfeld’s retirement is not far off. Washington military circles have been buzzing for weeks with rumors that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is much beloved inside the Pentagon, will be named as Rumsfeld’s replacement as early as this summer.

Wolfowitz’s departure will only intensify this anticipation, adding another empty seat for Washington’s favorite parlor game of who gets what. But more important, this move comes at a critical time for the Pentagon, and could have a lasting impact on the future of the U.S. military.

Right now military leaders and defense officials are in the middle of a massive exercise conducted every four years to review U.S. military strategy, policy and planning, known as the “Quadrennial Defense Review,” or QDR. This is the first QDR since 9-11 (the last one was completed only days before 9-11 and released after), and it will establish the goals for defense policy as well as guide future decisions about practically every aspect of military affairs: from the troops we need and the weapons we buy to the places and kinds of battles we should be ready to fight.

Wolfowitz has been a central player in this important effort (as has Feith), as part of a small circle of advisors around Rumsfeld. The QDR is due by October, so there is no chance that his (or Feith’s) replacement will have much of an impact on the outcome. In the days ahead, we need to pay more attention to the QDR and what this will mean for the future of America’s military forces. But at this point, we know that Wolfowitz’s departure means at least one thing: that Rumsfeld’s strong hand on the QDR has only become stronger.


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