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The Deputy Secretary of Defense Gets It Wrong

Posted by Anonymous in Government on

Sometimes — not very often, to be sure — someone in government feels so strongly that things are headed in the wrong direction that they feel compelled to break ranks and tell the American people. We have such a case here. Our author, who agreed to be identified only as ‘Anonymous in Government’, knows a great deal about the subject being addressed and harbors such a strong view that the senior Pentagon leadership is heading in the wrong direction that he contacted us in hopes of sharing his — or her — analysis. Given his — or her — knowledge and position, we are making our forum available

-The Editor

On June 8th, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn delivered a keynote address, “The Future of War,” to the CSIS Global Security Forum. Coming amidst increasing calls to rein in government spending across the board, the speech should have been an opportunity to identify what capabilities and programs would be protected during a defense drawdown. Instead, Lynn portrayed a future necessitating an American military ready for any and all adversaries. Any statement as to which missions, capabilities, or programs the department would forgo was conspicuously absent.

Granted, the newly announced comprehensive review of roles and missions has just begun, but preceding exercises do not inspire confidence. Between the 2009 Quadrennial Roles and Mission Review and the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the department has only demonstrated its ability to continue justifying legacy force structures and programs. Indeed, the dearth of strategic thought evident in these two reviews was reinforced by one of Lynn’s observations in particular.

Lynn named three trends — lethality, asymmetry, and duration — that would shape the national security environment and would affect how programs are designed going forward.

Of the third, duration, Lynn observed the expectation for relatively short kinetic engagements has not been borne out. As such, the principal concern is how to manage the resulting burden on “our troops, their families, and the national treasury.” For Lynn, the answer is maintaining enough force structure to allow adequate dwell times between deployments — even though a reduction in military personnel is where nearly all observers agree substantial cost savings will be achieved. Moreover, Lynn stated the long-term costs of extended conflicts “must be considered in our strategic calculus” — an astonishing call because strategy has been absent from American planning for some time now.

In fact, those long duration conflicts have occurred principally because American decision-makers have failed to conceive a coherent strategy.

In the most recent Infinity Journal, Col. T.X. Hammes discussed how to strategize when “the cupboard is bare.” Defining strategy as the successful alignment of ends, ways and means, Hammes concluded U.S. strategic documents fail to even discuss the means needed for a specific effort and merely state the desired goals. More pointedly, it has been American decision-makers’ failure to adapt to realities imposed by limited resources that has assured failure in recent undertakings (e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan). Indeed, Hammes asserted it has been the failure to achieve coherence among the end, ways and means that have resulted in the long and inconclusive wars Lynn was lamenting.

In the same journal, Col. Gian Gentile acknowledged there may be places in the world where the United States should commit to long term nation building, “but strategy should make such determinations.” In the end, Gentile is less sparing than Hammes in his conclusions — “American strategy – strategy, the idea that in war the ways and means to carry it out should be employed considering alternatives and with the least cost of blood and treasure to achieve policy goals – is dead. The slayer of American strategy is counterinsurgency tactics.”

Lynn warned that each of the three trends, “if not carefully managed, could weaken our security.” As the nation’s warfighters and fiscal balance sheet can attest, the absence of strategy has had a far graver impact.

What do you think?