In Greek mythology, Achilles was the bravest and handsomest soldier of the Trojan War, a warrior rendered nearly invincible because his mother Thetis dipped him in the River Styx during childhood. Unfortunately, the heel by which she held him never got submerged, and became his undoing when Paris shot a fatal arrow into it.
Military history is full of real-life instances in which a minor oversight or shortfall became the Achilles Heel of a whole campaign. As George Herbert put it, “For want of a nail the shoe is lost; for want of a shoe the horse is lost; for want of a horse the rider is lost.” The Achilles Heel of the Bush Administration’s efforts to transform the military is congressional support — or rather, lack thereof.
From the very first days of his return to the Pentagon as the nation’s 21st defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly stated his intention to “take control of this building back from the Congress.” Despite the best efforts of supporters such as Senator Warner to dissuade Rumsfeld from being confrontational, congressional relations have been tense.
Now the consequences of Rumsfeld’s dismissive attitude are becoming apparent. His most important transformation initiatives, such as Space-Based Radar and next-generation communications satellites, are not being funded at the requested levels by appropriators. Authorizers are threatening to impose unsought increases in force structure that would further cut into the funding available for transformation. And confirmation of key appointees such as James Roche for Army Secretary are being held up in part because they are seen as champions of Rumsfeld policies.
Nobody ever expected Congress to embrace some of Rumsfeld’s more radical goals, such as closing a quarter of domestic base capacity in a single round. But programs like Space-Based Radar and transformational communications should be easy sells on Capitol Hill, because they create jobs and save the lives of soldiers. The fact that no legislator cared enough about either to protect the initial, relatively modest, funding requests bodes ill for the future of military transformation.
Similar congressional indifference is apparent in the case of the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS), arguably the most visionary transformation initiative undertaken by any service. Legislators care about pieces of FCS likely to benefit their states, but where is the champion of the overall plan? It’s pretty obvious nobody from the Pentagon has done an adequate job of educating the Hill about why transformation matters — which may explain why there are a hundred members in the “Depot Maintenance Caucus” and no “Transformation Caucus” at all.
This is bad management, pure and simple. If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then the reverse must be true too. The campaign to transform America’s military is being jeopardized by the Pentagon’s attitude that Congress is a problem rather than a partner. It’s time for a midcourse attitude adjustment, before transformation is derailed by congressional indifference.
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