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The former official said Mr. Gates has developed a vision of how the future military should look without first ordering a broad strategic review of future threats.

At a budget briefing May 7, Vice Adm. Steve Stanley, a director on the staff of the Joint Chiefs, said Mr. Gates conducted an unprecedented number of budget conversations with his major commanders before deciding on the cuts.

“The service chiefs were part of all these discussions, and none of them are shrinking violets,” Adm. Stanley said. “They all spoke up. The [combatant commanders’] involvement in the large-group sessions that the secretary hosted was larger than I’ve ever seen. … I expect, in fact, that that emphasis by Secretary Gates is going to continue through the [Quadrennial Defense Review]. He’s already reaching out to them in a way that we haven’t seen before.”

Mr. Gates took office at a turning point. Mr. Bush fired Donald H. Rumsfeld after Republicans suffered large congressional losses in 2006 - a defeat many blamed on failures in Iraq. Mr. Bush persuaded Mr. Gates to leave the presidency of Texas A&M and he took office amid a troop surge and a new counterinsurgency gambit that produced dramatic improvements in Iraq.

Looking for a Republican for his Cabinet and persuaded by Gates admirers, Mr. Obama asked him to stay on. Mr. Gates reluctantly agreed, under the condition that he not be a caretaker secretary.

The defense secretary is now focusing on Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban has used safe havens in Pakistan to regroup and retake territory in their homeland. He guided development of a new strategy that mirrors Iraq - more U.S. troops and a plan to persuade the population at the village level to reject the Taliban.

‘Irregular’ vs. future warfare

When it comes to dealing in the Pentagon, however, Mr. Gates listens to counterarguments but does not encourage dissent, said the former senior official who used to meet with him weekly. Mr. Gates has fired two Joint Chiefs members, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman, over Iraq failures; and Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the previous Air Force chief of staff, who was obliged to take responsibility for several serious nuclear safeguard failures.

The former senior official,as well as a current Pentagon civilian, told The Washington Times that Gen. Moseley had been the strongest dissenter among the Joint Chiefs on the issue of modernizing for the future, versus “irregular warfare” - counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. Mr. Gates, who has publicly acknowledged policy differences with Gen. Moseley, has criticized the top brass for what he terms “next-war-itis” and rebuked the previous leadership in explaining why he is shifting money.

“Much of the problem, in my view, stemmed from the fact that for too long there was a belief or a hope that Iraq and Afghanistan were exotic distractions that would be wrapped up relatively soon - the regimes toppled, the insurgencies crushed, the troops brought home,” he said last month at the Army War College. “As a result of these failed assumptions, the capabilities most urgently needed by our war fighters, were for the most part fielded ad hoc and on the fly.”

The cuts Mr. Gates is seeking fall heavily on missile defense and Air Force fighters.

In a sharp break with his predecessor, Mr. Gates is scaling back systems intended to knock out long-range nuclear warheads in space. He downscaled the airborne laser to a research effort and, more significantly, froze ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California at 30, as opposed to a planned 44.

Missile defense advocates expressed chagrin.

“There was a determination six months ago that the total number needed to protect the United States homeland from a simultaneous attack from North Korea and Iran was 44 missiles,” said Riki Ellison, who heads the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, funded by private citizens and business. “I don’t see the threat being reduced.”

Problems with the F-35

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