In an essay for the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Defense Secretary Robert Gates issues yet another welcome call for reform. While the QDR may not exactly have been “shaped by a bracing dose of realism,” Gates does seem to be setting his priorities, one by one (very little by very little).
Yesterday in The Hill, Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman point out that the 2010 QDR:
… gives equal priority to every mission the Pentagon and the military want to undertake: current wars, future conventional deterrence and war-fighting, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, stability operations, overseas presence, power projection, and homeland defense. No mission is given lower priority. In fact, rather than change its mission planning, the Pentagon has added the new missions to the existing requirement of fighting two major wars at nearly the same time.
This is too much, and Gates seems to agree. In Foreign Affairs, Gates argues that in the future, the U.S. will “only be as good as the effectiveness, credibility, and sustainability of its local partners” and lends credence to the Nixon Doctrine, which used military and economic assistance to resist Soviet-sponsored insurgencies without using U.S. troops.
As we all know well today, military intervention is costly, both monetarily and morally. Gates notes that, “The U.S. military, although resilient in spirit and magnificent in performance, is under stress and strain fighting two wars and confronting diffuse challenges around the globe.”
The U.S. military must be able to advise, train, and equip indigenous security forces, so as not to repeat mistakes made in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is not gainful or reasonable for the U.S. to continue to serve its current role. For this reason, the U.S. “is unlikely to repeat a mission on the scale of those in Afghanistan or Iraq anytime soon – that is, forced regime change followed by nation building under fire.”
Gates offers five recommendations, including an emphasis on long-term security assistance efforts and a maintained focus on foreign policy. He also goes after the U.S. defense budget. Gates emphasizes that the budget is not well suited to dealing with emerging threats and opportunities. I would also point out that the budget is not well suited to dealing with those threats that are not on the immediate agenda. As is the case in the 2010 QDR and FY 2011 Budget, the Pentagon and Congress often focus on every possible threat rather than every probable one. Along these lines, Gates also calls for more congressional oversight, to ensure that funds are spent properly.
Finally, Gates emphasizes that, “everything must be suffused with strong doses of modesty and realism.” If this is the same realism that Gates referred to in February, count me out. Something tells me, though, that the Pentagon may be moving toward something more concrete – something with the ability to elicit real change in priorities and effectiveness.
But then, maybe I’m being overly optimistic.