Robert Haddick at Foreign Policy says SecDef Don Rumsfeld (the evil Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars), was more influential, policy-wise, than Robert Gates (the Yoda-like and popular successor). The money quote:
If the battle is over management style, Gates wins in a knockout. But events, combined with experience gained through trial-and-error, have given the ultimate victory to Rumsfeld’s military doctrine.
Actually, Gates won in a knockout regardless. In this case, pragmatic beat dogmatic.
Part of it was circumstance (Gates was favored by comparison in following the most despised SecDef since Robert McNamara), part of it was good fortune (being in place when the surge achieved success); part of it was politics (carrying the defense water as a moderate Republican in a Democrat’s administration). This part of the article shows the desire for a man-bites-dog story in the media can be a powerful thing.
The crux is that Rumsfeld was transformation focused, having the Army, for example move from a division-level focus to a brigade-level focus. The Army was big, slow, powerful, and bureaucratic. The change we can see today is that it isn’t quite as big, slow, or powerful. After all, Rumsfeld got the Army’s leviathan Crusader artillery system cancelled.
OK, OK, but can we say Gates was transformation focused as well? I mean Gates was at the front of an expected military evolution versus a Rumsfeld-driven revolution in military affairs. Air Force-centric examples include the SecAF and Chief of Staff being relieved by Gates for the nuclear enterprise debacle (those two refusing to shut up about the number of F-22s the USAF needed had to be part of the calculus as well) and the emphasis on UAVs.
The problem with the Rumsfeld Doctrine (once we’ve gone in and busted stuff up and dispersed the adversary’s military force) is a profound one: what’s next? It remains a problem. It will be a problem in perpetuity.
Now, at least a generation of military leadership has been profoundly shaped by lower-intensity conflict, one that institutionally values deployments even as global-level problems that are more likely to affect our national survival have largely worsened. Beyond the economy, these include nuclear and missile proliferation from Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea which are growing and huge concerns, as is the military build-up of China which affects huge parts of the Pacific.
Now, with defense budget cuts looming and a hollow-force being openly discussed, do you think Rumsfeld’s transformations will bear much fruit? Chances are that personnel accounts will be first raided followed quickly by the investment accounts which are essential to transformation.
I’m sure Gates learned much from Rumsfeld, including what not to do along with which ideas to embrace and nurture. Rumsfeld generally wanted cheaper, faster, smaller, better and like most of the boilerplate we see in policy (and doctrine and “strategy”), how can you argue against inherent goodness?
Early on, Rumsfeld’s basic intellectual position seemed to be that which was held by much of the military in the Clinton years: we aren’t good at nation-building; we can’t afford to nation-build; don’t nation-build. That was conventional wisdom fifteen years ago and it’s become conventional wisdom once again. When we didn’t have the forces in place to nation-build/secure Iraq, things went south.
The lesson: sometimes conventional wisdom has it right.
Later in the article, the author shifts to the issue of proposed foreign military sales (F-16s to Taiwan) and offers:
What Taiwan needs instead is to mimic mainland China’s missile program. Mobile launchers, which unlike airfields could evade detection and targeting, could support both battlefield and strategic missiles that could hold targets on the mainland at risk. Such a program could do a better job of restoring a military balance across the Taiwan Strait than would fixed-wing aircraft operating from vulnerable bases.
But Taiwan’s struggle to adapt to the immense missile threat from the mainland — over a thousand ballistic missiles are now aimed at Taiwan and a hundred more are added every year — also applies to U.S. military strategy in the region. United States military plans can no more rely on fixed bases and concentrated surface naval forces than Taiwan can. In the meantime, Taiwan could use some missile engineers instead of more F-16s.
Here, the author nails it (although he could have mentioned missile defense). Once again, it is a simple case of the trend towards future military conflict being largely unmanned. At what point in this century does the manned warplane become the horse-mounted cavalry of the last?