Mr. Rumsfeld's Flawed Vision

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Monday, February 13, 2006

DEFENSE SECRETARY Donald H. Rumsfeld, whose failures in Iraq and in prisoner detention should have led to his departure long ago, reportedly clung to his position in part to oversee the comprehensive defense review that the Pentagon conducts every four years. There might have been some merit to that: Mr. Rumsfeld has had more experience with U.S. defense issues than most modern defense secretaries and doesn't shrink from confrontation. Some hoped that he would decisively push the American military out of the outdated conventional war posture it was in on Sept. 11, 2001, and provide it with the means to deal with terrorism and the low-intensity conflicts that seem likely to dominate the coming years. But Mr. Rumsfeld's Quadrennial Defense Review, delivered last week in sync with the Pentagon's budget proposal for fiscal 2007, is a disappointment. While it envisions a partial adjustment of the armed forces to what it calls "the long war," it dodges almost all the hard decisions that Mr. Rumsfeld should have made.

A defense review conducted by any secretary would have concluded, as this one does, that terrorists are now the primary threat to U.S. security. The report also cites rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction, natural disasters and the rise of China, which it says has the "greatest potential to compete militarily" with the United States. Appropriately, the review advocates a 15 percent increase in Special Operations Forces, continuing a buildup underway since 2001; calls for the purchase of hundreds more unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the Predators that have carried out strikes on al Qaeda militants; and proposes a substantial increase in civic affairs specialists and linguists, of which U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have been desperately short. The Marine Corps would establish a 2,600-member force for training foreign militaries, conducting reconnaissance and carrying out strikes.

It's easy to propose new spending for such missions. What Mr. Rumsfeld flinched from was tackling the bloated weapons programs left behind by the changing threat. The services will continue to need new weapons, of course; the review sensibly proposes a fleet of long-range bombers and more attack submarines to hedge against a possible threat from China. Yet the plan also proposes spending tens of billions of dollars on three advanced short-range warplanes, including the Air Force's gold-plated F/A-22, even though there is no threat to U.S. air superiority from China or anyone else. Billions more are being thrown at next-generation destroyers and aircraft carriers. Having fought bitterly with Congress over the cancellation of just two weapons systems during his five years at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld seems to have abandoned any thought of trying again in an election year. Defense contractors, who had expected cuts, were giddy over the $84 billion for weapons included in the Pentagon's $439 billion budget for next year -- shares of Lockheed Martin Corp. rose smartly last week.

This profligacy merely bequeaths to Mr. Rumsfeld's successor tough decisions about weapons. One thing that military analysts agree on is that, even given the 40 percent increase in defense spending during the Bush administration -- including 7 percent for next year -- there will not be enough money to pay for the four dozen systems under development. Even worse, Mr. Rumsfeld postpones the day of reckoning in part by sticking to a stubborn refusal to increase the size of the Army. Though he no longer proposes a downsizing and is overseeing a brigade reorganization that should free up more troops for conflicts such as Iraq, the secretary's plan would hold the Army to the same size it was before Sept. 11, eliminating the temporary increase of 30,000 troops for Iraq forced by pressure from Congress. Mr. Rumsfeld essentially proposes to reinforce and perpetuate the greatest single mistake of his tenure, which was failing to deploy enough soldiers to win the wars the United States has taken on. Congress should not allow him to inflict this damage.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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