Taking Exception

A Leaner, Meaner Military

By Newt Gingrich
Saturday, March 4, 2006

The Post's Feb. 13 editorial "Mr. Rumsfeld's Flawed Vision" managed to miss the major achievements of a remarkable Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). This was the most thorough and systematically managed review in Pentagon history. The review board, co-chaired by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, spent half a year forcing changes in a complex bureaucratic system famous for its ability to hide and wait for the current civilian leadership to disappear so it can continue its old, comfortable ways. Only by sheer force of will has the senior leadership, under the direction of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, muscled through substantial and historic change in the Defense Department.

This effort to craft a change-oriented QDR has to be seen in the larger context of change throughout the Defense Department. The fact that Gen. Peter Schoomaker was brought out of retirement to impose Rumsfeld's vision on a reluctant Army is the best example of the determined, systematic change involved. Schoomaker has become the most single-minded Army modernizer since George Catlett Marshall. As Army chief of staff he ended the individual replacement system, dating to 1917, which everyone knew was destructive to unit cohesion but no one had had the will and determination to replace. Ending the practice of heedlessly moving individual soldiers in and out of units has produced the highest level of unit readiness in modern history.

The Army has shifted from 11 unwieldy World War II-type divisions to 77 rapidly deployable brigades designed for modern war. This makes it more deployable, more usable and more effective. Army modernization is being extended by the creation of more Special Operations units and the Marine Corps is being turned into a more effective organization for what I call "the long war against the irreconcilable wing of Islam."

The Navy and Air Force have continued to shift toward unmanned vehicles, more effective power projection and more sophisticated capabilities to contain and deter China. The shift toward unmanned vehicles alone would have been considered dramatic a decade ago. The development of new submarine capability is a powerful tool as Chinese imports and seaborne trade increase.

In terms of reshaping the Pentagon, the largest and most comprehensive base closing in defense history was recently completed; it will yield billions in savings. Under Rumsfeld's leadership, the Pentagon has also reconfigured forces from Europe and Korea into more usable and effective form. Furthermore, these changes have been made while increasing the amount of training and cooperation undertaken with our allies.

At the Pentagon, the creation of the National Security Personnel System -- which is being challenged in the courts -- is historic and vitally necessary to the effective use of resources for national security. The fact that it has been opposed by every labor union in the Defense Department is one indication of how thorough and far-reaching it is.

There are a number of steps that have to be taken to modernize the nondefense aspects of national security. As Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner has noted, large segments of the civilian government are not doing their job and in some cases are not even showing up for their assignments. Rumsfeld is aware of these problems, but it is hard to imagine that he could challenge other departments in a public document such as the QDR.

The Post wrongly asserts that "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." In fact, there is no evidence that more troops would have accomplished anything more than what was accomplished in Afghanistan. The mistake in Iraq was not keeping the Iraqi regular army intact to assume the responsibility of policing in June 2003. Additional troops were not sent to Iraq for the very reason that military leaders did not want to create an even bigger footprint leading to greater alienation and hostility on the part of the Iraqi people.

Finally, The Post seems upset that some new weapons systems have not been entirely eliminated. The F-22, for example, has been cut from 380 aircraft to 180, reflecting the low likelihood of major air battles against a large and modern adversary. Yet there may come a morning when -- facing a challenge in Iran, North Korea or potentially with China in the Taiwan Straits -- the F-22 will prove its worth. The issue with next-generation aircraft is not, as The Post asserts, a question of air superiority but of survivability against antiaircraft missiles when Russia's and other countries are prepared to sell their best systems to a range of countries that oppose the United States. It is also true that the Navy continues to build aircraft carriers. But carriers have been modernized, and today's movable naval airfields are far more capable than they were a generation ago.

Someone at The Post has a fixation on "weapons systems killed" as proof of leadership ability in the Defense Department. That fixation reduces change in national security to a narrow and inaccurate calculation.

Rumsfeld's second tour of duty as defense secretary marks a period of dramatic change in which the United States has been simultaneously fighting a global war against Islamic extremists, conducting campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, making preparations to preempt North Korea and Iran if necessary, undertaking strategies to contain China over the next two decades, dramatically changing the structure and rhythm of the Army, and beginning a revolution in both special operations capabilities and unmanned vehicles. This is an extraordinary level of change, and the QDR is best seen as one more building block in this new architecture of 21st-century American security.

The writer, a former speaker of the House, serves on the Defense Policy Board, to which he was appointed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company