Donald Rumsfeld will survive the Iraqi prison scandal, but his freedom to deal with Congress as he wishes will not. Rumsfeld has been blessed with a passive Congress controlled by Republicans who were loathe to challenge their administration on military priorities. But as intelligence failures and operational mistakes have multiplied in Iraq, Congress has grown restive. The revelations regarding treatment of detainees probably mark the beginning of an erosion in Rumsfeld’s power as Congress reasserts itself in defense policy.
It isn’t hard to figure out what some of the victims of an assertive Congress might be. There won’t be a tanker lease. Pentagon plans for deep cuts in domestic bases look doomed. And then there is the jewel in Rumsfeld’s crown, military transformation. That phrase means many things to many people, but since 9-11 Rumsfeld has decided what it would mean for the Bush Administration. The result has been a fashionable but arbitrary mix of space systems, information networks and unmanned vehicles that equated new with better. Congress didn’t really get it, but gave Rumsfeld the benefit of the doubt. Now it will begin questioning his priorities. Here are a few areas that deserve a hard look.
1. Networks. The Pentagon is spending vast sums on networking technology to create an information-age force. Some of these initiatives, like the Navy’s Forcenet, look feasible and affordable. Others, like the Army’s Future Combat System, are wildly impractical. Congress needs to ask what any of this has to do with defeating terrorists — or fighting future enemies who understand networks as well as we do.
2. Space. Rumsfeld’s team has an unhealthy obsession with space. There’s no question that space provides unique reach for communications and reconnaissance, but it also gives enemies a clean shot at some very high-value assets. Congress has already figured out that space-based lasers are a fantasy. It ought to take a close look at space-based radar too, because that program is undermining airborne alternatives that are available much sooner.
3. Unmanned vehicles. Unmanned reconnaissance drones like Global Hawk have proven their value, but Rumsfeld’s team wants to use unmanned systems for combat missions like jamming enemy radars and dropping bombs. This is a waste of money that demonstrates how little policymakers understand combat or technology. Congress should force the services to say what they really think about using unmanned combat vehicles in place of manned systems.
More generally, Congress should ask whether the current definition of military transformation is based on an optical illusion. It seems like air superiority and armored warfare aren’t as important as they used to be, but maybe that’s because America is so far ahead in those areas that enemies choose to compete elsewhere. If we don’t modernize our fighters and tanks, the rest of the world could catch up with us, and then the threat would shift back to more traditional forms of military power — which are a lot more destructive than suicide bombers.
Find Archived Articles: