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July 05, 2005

Rumsfeld's Review
Posted by Derek Chollet

Today’s right lead in the New York Times is a must read about one of those Washington exercises that often goes largely unnoticed by the general public (despite occasional press coverage) but has huge consequences for the future. 

The Pentagon is working on a top-to-bottom review of military policy and planning that will establish the goals for defense policy as well as guide 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.

Conducted every four years, this year’s “Quadrennial Defense Review” (QDR) is more that just bureaucratic busywork-- it has the potential to become one of the most important blueprints for America’s defense ever produced.  It is the first systematic review of defense policy since the September 11 attacks, and should draw on the operational experiences fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and the global war on terrorism (or global war on extremism, as it is now called).   

This comes at a critical time for Rumsfeld – he sees the QDR as his chance to leave a lasting legacy other than the war in Iraq.  And as many of his senior colleagues leave the Pentagon (in addition to Wolfowitz, the Defense Department’s number three official Doug Feith has stepped down), Rumsfeld’s influence over this process only grows.  Leave no doubt: this is Rumsfeld’s QDR. 

The QDR will not change the fundamentals of the Bush Administration’s defense strategy.  Correctly or not, the Bush team considers last year’s close election as a ringing endorsement of its approach to the world, so don’t expect a revision of the “preemption” doctrine (although according to the Times, there will be a revision of the goal of being able to fight two wars simultaneously).  Instead, the QDR will address the military’s capabilities to implement the strategy, focusing on what changes need to be made to deal with threats like terrorists or WMD proliferation that were once considered “non traditional” but are now our central focus.

It’s hard to quarrel with the four specific threats the Pentagon’s planners have said that they are focusing on -- fighting terrorists, protecting the homeland, defeating weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists or rogue states, and influencing the direction of rising powers like China.  Most experts agree that these are some of the challenges America’s military must be prepared to meet.  But few would argue that these represent the full range of challenges – or even the most immediate.  The QDR’s glaring weakness is that while it tries to be strategically visionary, it might end up being short-sighted. 

For example, the challenges associated with conducting the kinds of military missions that dominate today’s headlines – peacemaking operations like Iraq and Afghanistan – are not singled out.  Such missions place tremendous stress on our forces, with such long and frequent deployments wearing out our fighting men and women.  And we don’t have the supply of forces to meet the expected demand for such operations in the future. 

Military leaders understand this – and they are worried. The Army vice chief of staff told Congress last spring that the question that “keeps me awake at night” is “what will this all-volunteer force look like in 2007?”  Recruitment and retention are only getting harder. 

Moreover, while it is smart to focus on capabilities, one must also deal with the question of limits.  Put simply, what kind of military force can we afford?  The defense budget has ballooned due to such heavy personnel demands coupled with runaway costs for maintaining equipment.  Just maintaining the force as it is has proven expensive enough. 

The QDR should be the place to ask – not avoid – such questions as whether we need, and can afford, a larger Army or Marine Corps to handle the rotational requirements of such missions.  It must outline what kind of role we expect our National Guard and Reserves to play in meeting these challenges.  And it needs to provide Rumsfeld's answer for what, given the huge gap between demand and supply, many military experts believe is inevitable: a “broken force.”


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While it will be wonderful when all of the three stooges will have left OSD, you oversell the importance of the QDR. The military industrial complex of Congress and the services will ensure that no matter how radically our written defense policy is changed, procurement and other expenditures will remain protected. The differences between a 2MRC strategy and a 1-4-2-1 strategy are huge. Yet it had no impact on, for example, deciding whether we need three new short range fighters (F/A 18E/F, F-22, F-35), how many carriers we need,, whether we needed the C-130J, or many others. DoD may propose, but Congress disposes--usually lots of our tax dollars down black holes for their constituents.

But few would argue that these represent the full range of challenges – or even the most immediate.

The last time I checked, no one was arguing that those were the full range of challenges.

One of the things a good manager does is set priorities- if you don't, the organization will implode into bureacuratic paralysis as each manager responsible for each priority will fight as hard as possible for as many resources as possible, and the outcome will depend on how effective each manager is at buraucratic infighting- not how important each priority is.

Good leadership doesn't eliminate this problem, but it does minimize it.

"Put simply, what kind of military force can we afford?" ... "The QDR should be the place to ask – not avoid – such questions as whether we need, and can afford, a larger Army or Marine Corps to handle the rotational requirements of such missions."

Now is the wrong time to be worrying about the costs of the Army and Marine Corps. Bush and Rumsfeld's pet-projects for "low-yield" nukes and missile defense should certainly be put on hold, but properly manning and equipping the military should be our highest priority.

Our second priority should be properly manning and equipping the Iraqi army, who are currently riding around with no armor in the back of pickup trucks. Is the suggestion that they will relieve us soon some kind of sick joke?

Yes, it may mean that Bush and Paris Hilton will have to be taxed on their respective inheritances, but our soldiers are worth it.

Tom Delay on paying to equip our soldiers:

"Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes." 3/12/03

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