- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

What began as a pledge to break with the past and reshape the military to fit a specific strategy has regressed to the Pentagon's usual practice of sizing the military based on available tax dollars, say officials involved in the strategy review.
The "strategy first, budget number second" was the pledge from President Bush as he ordered Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to conduct a sweeping review of the 1.36 million armed forces and reorganize it for 21st-century threats.
But as the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) approaches a final report by Congress' Sept. 30 deadline, it is clear the armed forces' size is being forged more by money than by strategy.
"It's another budget drill, not a strategy," said a Navy officer involved in the process. "It's not a strategy review."
An example of this is the argument put forth by Mr. Rumsfeld's aides that the current two-war requirement of the past 10 years needs to be ditched because the Defense Department does not have the resources to maintain a force large enough to do the job.
Mr. Rumsfeld said as much earlier this month when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He justified dumping the ability to fight two major regional conflicts nearly simultaneously by saying: "When one examines that today, several things stand out. First, because we've underfunded and overused our forces, we find that to meet acceptable levels of risk, we're short a division. We're short of airlift. We have been underfunding aging infrastructure and facilities. We are short high-demand and low-density assets. The aircraft fleet is aging."
Pentagon officials said in interviews that Mr. Rumsfeld's statement means that if the Bush administration is to find the money to replace exhausted weapons and equipment it must alter the two-war strategy so it can cut force levels and create savings.
This cold splash of reality hit the Joint Chiefs of Staff last month, when the White House Office of Management and Budget approved an $18 billion add-on to the pending fiscal 2002 defense budget. The number is about half of what the chiefs and Mr. Rumsfeld wanted to cure immediate combat readiness problems before embarking on weapons modernization in 2003. The problem is that the economic slowdown and the $1.35 trillion tax cut have shrunk projected revenues and left a smaller piece of the budgetary pie for the admirals and generals.
The in-progress QDR seems to conflict with Mr. Bush's pledge in February in a speech to the troops. "We must put strategy first, then spending," he said. "Our defense vision will drive our defense budget; not the other way around."
In the Pentagon, some believe that pledge has been broken.
Asked if the QDR has become just another "budget drill," a senior military officer answered, "Absolutely, and it's exactly the opposite of what we were promised. We were promised that they would develop the strategy from which would derive military requirement. But as we tell them how much different options would cost, we keep getting 'that's too much' from the White House, and direction to lower the requirement. We're going to see an old-fashioned Mexican standoff if this keeps up."
Hints of a standoff surfaced last week when Mr. Rumsfeld conducted a hastily scheduled news conference to explain why he rejected the work of one of eight Quadrennial Defense Review panels. The defense secretary had issued guidance, or "terms of reference" to change the two-war requirement. But instead of the guidance leading to plans for a smaller force, it prompted the QDR panel on forces to propose a larger, more expensive one.
"When you get briefed and it adds up in a way that doesn't seem to fit what the guidance was, then logically you say, 'Wait a minute, we've got to go back and take another look at this,'" Mr. Rumsfeld said. "And that's basically what's going on."
A senior Pentagon official said the panel came back with a range of options increasing the military anywhere from 15 percent to 300 percent. In theory, this meant the Navy, for example, could have 14 carrier battle groups or more than 30. Most importantly, none of the panel's options called for a smaller force.
Since then, the panel has received additional oral guidance from Mr. Rumsfeld's staff. "[Mr. Rumsfeld] thought things were going along well when panel members had been telling him for months that things were not going well," said the official involved in the QDR. "When they got the answer, they said, 'you weren't being very innovative. What about new technologies? '"
Asked if Mr. Rumsfeld is looking for a QDR that calls for a smaller force, the official said, "I think that's what they wanted. I think that's where they thought they were going. But if you really want to be a superpower, it's expensive and it takes a lot of folks to do that and I don't know of any magic technologies."
Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledges he wanted more dollars from the White House for 2002. But he defends the $18 billion spending increase in two ways. He says the resulting $329 billion 2002 budget represents the largest one-year defense increase since President Reagan's military buildup of the 1980s. The defense secretary also argues that the force was so underfunded and overused in the 1990s that one budget cycle cannot repair all the damage.
"There is no way on the face of the earth we're going to dig out of the hole we're in, in one year," Mr. Rumsfeld told a House panel last week. "It will take a series of years."

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