Here is a prediction not self-evident. The last two years of the Bush administration will prove as turbulent, chaotic, and difficult tor the Pentagon as did the first six. Three points underscore this contrarian forecast.
First, the recently released report of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) and the policy debate it spawned signaled the beginning of a process that may lead to disengagement from Iraq. Regardless of how President Bush reshapes his Iraq strategy, major change is inevitable. That change will impose a major review of U.S. force structure, particularly with regard to ground forces and future funding priorities for the Pentagon, making tough choices and tradeoffs inevitable.
Second, the departure of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld clears the way for a dramatic re-ordering of authority and influence within the Pentagon, between the senior uniformed military and civilian leadership and the Office of the Secretary as Robert dales sets his own priorities. Rumsfeld has also been the driving force behind the President's number one defense priority-as set forth in his 2000 campaign-of "transforming the military for the 21st century." With the Secretary's departure, the future of transformation is murky.
Third, government and the decision-making process are dysfunctional and badly broken. One simple metric makes this case. When Rumsfeld became Defense Secretary the first time in 1975. as the Vietnam War was ending and the nation had more than three million men and women in uniform, the Defense Aulhorization Bill was less than SO pages in length. When he took office the second time in 2001, before 9/11 and when the nation had about hall the number of uniformed forces, the same bill had swollen ten-fold.
These and other factors will mandate yet confound rigorous review of strategic and funding priorities even while U.S. forces are lighting in Iraq and while other issues from North Korea to the rest of the Middle East remain dangerously unsealed. Calls now for increasing total ground forces, not just those in Iraq, and even about resuming the draft, are the first signs of what lies ahead. Consider only the fiscal pressures that could easily lead to an implosion or precipitous build-down of our forces.
As most readers of this journal know, the Pentagon receives more than half a trillion dollars a year to fund our forces. Of that, over $100 billion comes from annual budget supplementals approved by Congress to cover the added costs of war. However, the services are entirely dependent on that extra funding to pay for current operations beyond those in the war zones, such as repairing or replacing a huge amount of damaged and worn-out equipment, a price tag that will run in the tens and probably hundreds of billions of dollars.
Many, especially on Capitol Hill, believe that increases in the nation's ground forces in Iraq are essential and have cited the figure of 100,000 as an appropriate augmentation. Some argue this could be done by culling air and naval forces not needed in Iraq or for operations in failed and failing stales. Further, the assumption is, if and when the United States reduces its forces in Iraq, less supplemental spending will be needed. Both contentions are wrong if the nation wishes to retain about the same level of military capability in the future as it has today.
Unless personnel strength in the Navy and Air Force was cut by the same 100,000 men and women-and that would cripple both services-compensating funds for the additional ground forces could only come from slashing procurement accounts. But procurement funds are spent over years. Hence, not only would large numbers of expensive ships and aircraft be cut. whole programs would have to go in order to realize sufficient savings for the current year to pay tor these new troops, leading to a future procurement debacle.
Regardless of the debate over the size of ground forces, once supplemental spending is cut, capability will also he drastically reduced. This year. $170 billion has been requested above the baseline budget, an increase unlikely to be sustainuble. The military is keenly aware of this fiscal Damoclean sword.
History is also troubling. Another Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney. observed in the early 1990s that every time we go through a defense build-down, "we screw it up." Unless we are very careful, the next two years at the Pentagon will reaffirm the Vice President's observation.
Harlan Ullman is a columnist for Proceedings. His next book is titled Implosion: The Pentagon in a Post-Iraq, Post-Rumsfeld World.