- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2001

During his National Security Week trek, President Bush said military pay will increase, service medical care will improve, and slipshod housing will be replaced. Administration spokesmen indicated defense research will get a funding bump.

But as for a big injection of cash into Pentagon programs? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had already delivered that message: No billions until Andrew Marshall has his say.

Or, to be more accurate, until Mr. Marshall gives his assessment of U.S. defense policies, weapons programs and strategic planning.

The 79-year-old Mr. Marshall said he'd trot that assessment out within a week.

Six weeks ago, while airborne, I jotted down a column idea on a Delta Airlines napkin: "Andy Marshall in from the cold. How Bush should leverage defense genius snubbed by Clinton Pentagon. Mention wargames, work in Net Assessments fish joke."

Call that jot notes toward an unwritten and now unnecessary essay. Donald Rumsfeld was clearly ahead of me.

Which segues nicely, since that's Andy Marshall's beat being way ahead, decades ahead, analyzing America's next war and the-war-after-next.

The defense story as told in D.C. Beltway language is guns and budget. The story rarely moves beyond those commanding characters. For the average lobbyist, staffer and senator, why should it? Guns get you TV time almost as fast as sex. Money is congressional lingo for power. The Beltway tale of guns and money usually has a four-year time frame, measured in Quadrennial Defense Reviews (defense aficionados) or presidential administrations (the political calendar).

But when Andy Marshall enters, the plot suddenly includes "future history" an attractive future history, if American leaders make the right long-range decisions; a dangerous future if decisions are faulty or so inflexible they cannot meet the challenge of change and surprise.

Mr. Marshall runs the Office of Net Assessments (ONA), the defense secretary's in-house think tank. The media's quick sketch of Mr. Marshall is "the Pentagon's resident iconoclast and futurist." Occasionally "curmudgeon" subs for iconoclast. Futurist is high-tech slang for seer. "Rigorously analytic fretter" might not be the slickest description of the man and his methods, but it might give Joe Six-Pack a better feel for what Mr. Marshall's been doing for the last 50 years.

Under Mr. Marshall's direction, ONA has been the creative and intellectual nexus of U.S. strategic defense analysis, with Mr. Marshall serving as instigator, nurturer and provocateur. He has been an innovative advocate of "wargame" and "scenario" analytic methods, where player competition energizes creativity.

One of Mr. Marshall's major goals is improving "anticipation." It takes years to build modern shields and swords. When your shield-maker and sword-wielder is a long-lead-time bureaucracy riddled with parochial fiefs (i.e., the Pentagon), you need all the anticipation you can get.

Anticipation improves if you can identify threats developing "beyond the immediate time horizon" and pinpoint ideas, technology and social trends with defense implications. These are all Marshall objectives.

Mr. Marshall, however, is a futurist who knows the future cannot be predicted. Is there a guide to a "Marshall" assessment of a particular DOD program? In my view, Mr. Marshall favors strategic flexibility and adaptability. When I asked him to comment, he said: "The future is really very uncertain. One of the biggest problems we face is when people think they have the answer, and that some part of the future is perfectly understood. We really need a set of programs that are broad enough to provide us with the right options as the future unfolds."

Mr. Marshall didn't say, it but I will: Many government programs (it goes well beyond defense) don't address the future, but the past.

Hence the burn in certain Pentagon corridors when Mr. Rumsfeld said Mr. Marshall would have a major say on which defense programs live and which ones die.

War-game maven, military historian, former NBC-TV defense analyst and one-time Marshall adviser James F. Dunnigan (now editor of Strategypage.com) told me: "Turning Marshall loose is the best thing that's happened to the Puzzle Palace in a long while. Andy's a straight-shooter and straight thinker. And it's nice to see him go out on a high note. The Clinton crowd tried to exile him."

Why the Clintonite snub? My take and no one else's Clinton defense policy focused on "the now," on Bill Clinton's "legacy," on the next news cycle. A genius like Mr. Marshall, who conceptualizes in decades, didn't mesh with Mr. Clinton's policy of ego.

And as for the Net Assessments "fish joke"? Another time.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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