There are all kinds of stories told about the Pentagon. But until now it has never been said that the building was haunted. It has been three and a half years since Robert Gates became Secretary of Defense. Last week, something amazing happened. He became his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. This is a particularly incredible metamorphosis since, as we all remember, Gates was brought into office as the anti-Rumsfeld.
In a speech last Saturday at the Eisenhower Library, Secretary Gates gave a dire warning of things to come in his department. The budget going forward would be flat or even declining, the costs associated with supporting and maintaining the people and equipment were growing, the security challenges confronting the nation were growing and becoming more dangerous, and the Department of Defense was top heavy and bureaucratic in its responses. Gates complained about his inability to control spiraling military health care costs or to stop Congress from continuing to fund programs he had sought to cancel. He also predicted the rise of new threats against which the current military was ill-prepared. As a result of these budgetary problems, the Secretary warned, the size of the military would have to be reduced and what remained would have to change.
Secretary Gates’ seemingly new-found concerns for the future of his department are what motivated then Secretary Rumsfeld to invent the now much-maligned concept of transformation. Even as the Bush Administration sought to provide additional resources to the military, even before September 11, Rumsfeld foresaw the problems of a strategy-resources mismatch and sought to correct them. He supported a new round of base closures to reduce his overhead. He tried to control the rise in the costs of military medical care. Like his successor, Rumsfeld also sought to limit or cancel weapons programs he thought were too expensive such as the F-22. Most important, Secretary Rumsfeld attempted to reduce the future costs of the U.S. military by emphasizing technology over manpower and the private sector over government employees. Very early in his tenure, Rumsfeld sought to cut two divisions from the Army. He invested heavily in long-range strike and reconnaissance systems.
Equally important, Secretary Rumsfeld understood that it would not be possible for the U.S. military to be equally capable across the spectrum of conflict. Choices would need to be made regarding which types of conflicts or other operations to emphasize and which to consider lesser, but possibly included, cases. For Rumsfeld the greatest problem was always high-end conflicts and technological surprises. He was very concerned about the growth of China’s military power (this is what Gates refers to as the anti-access/area denial threat).
Admittedly, the metamorphosis of Robert Gates into Donald Rumsfeld is not yet complete. Gates is allowing an out of control orgy of insourcing of private sector jobs into government positions. Sadly, he has allowed a carefully crafted policy intended to provide his department with the skilled manpower to manage its programs to be transformed by the bureaucracy into the almost mindless destruction of private sector jobs in the interest of phantom budget savings. If the public sector were cheaper and better than the private sector the Soviet Union would still be with us.
But otherwise, the metamorphosis is complete. In last Saturday’s speech Gates made the same argument for investing in new weapons systems able to counter the growing anti-access/area denial threats that Rumsfeld had made regarding transformation. By extension, the logic behind Gates’ speech will force him or his successor to de-emphasize irregular warfare and stability operations. They are simply too costly and manpower intensive (and ultimately inconclusive). But Secretary Rumsfeld knew that back in 2001.
Find Archived Articles: