On August 23, the Defense Department’s Under Secretary for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone, will brief President Bush on military transformation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. This isn’t the first time Dr. Cambone has journeyed to Crawford to give such a presentation. Three years ago, on August 21, 2001, he gave the President a 12-page brief describing the findings of the Quadrennial Defense Review. Cambone’s goal then was to explain how policymakers proposed to implement the vision of military transformation set forth in Bush’s campaign speech at the Citadel in September 1999. Now his goal is to demonstrate the progress that has been made.
Secretary Cambone and his department have been through a lot since that first briefing. Only weeks after he gave it, the 9-11 attacks occurred, drastically rearranging Pentagon plans and nearly derailing transformation efforts. More recently, Cambone has gotten caught up in the ridiculously overblown Abu Graib prison scandal. But with regard to military transformation, two things have not changed. First, Congress and the general media have never grasped the complexity and importance of transformation. Second, Cambone remains one of the most important change agents the U.S. military has encountered in its entire history — second in this generation only to his boss, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
I’ve been a critic from the beginning concerning the Bush Administration’s approach to military transformation. I thought the administration overestimated the warfighting potential of some emerging technologies; that it underestimated the importance of modernizing legacy weapons; that it was too dismissive of the role of Congress; and that it was too ready to see confirmation for its biases in ambiguous experience. On a handful of programs, like the Air Force’s F/A-22 Raptor fighter and E-10 surveillance plane, I thought its negativism was downright destructive. But having said all that, I think it’s important to acknowledge that almost everything Secretary Cambone told the President three years ago has turned out to be true.
First, Cambone told Bush that the military was too balkanized to be efficient or effective, and that joint operations needed to be “empowered.” Second, he said that better intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — along with related networking technology — would be critical to future military success. Third, he said that in selecting the systems that would provide improved strategic and tactical awareness, the military should stress precision, speed, mobility, survivability and sustainability. Fourth, he said that defense of the homeland needed to receive much greater emphasis. Finally, among specific issues requiring near-term attention he cited chem-bio protection, cruise-missile defense, long-range strike, persistent surveillance, recapitalization of overused electronic aircraft, balancing the active-reserve force mix, and better training.
Looking back, it’s clear that Cambone’s 2001 assessment basically got it right. In fact, it was prescient in anticipating many of the problems the military now faces. Rumsfeld and his team could have done a far better job of explaining themselves to Congress, but when it comes to understanding what needed to be done, they deserve high marks.
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