The Real Challenges Facing the Next Secretary of Defense
The problem is not just a strategic one of extracting our forces with dignity; nor is it a political one of fingering who is to blame, although there is plenty of blame to go around. It stems from deep institutional roots that reveal a need for reform in our military bureaucracies and particularly our leadership selection policies.
That is because the next Secretary of Defense must deal with the consequences of a strategic oversight that was made by and approved at the highest professional levels of the American military establishment — a plan which it then imposed on its weak and insecure political leaders. This suggests a question: Will the new defense secretary succumb to business as usual by sweeping the dysfunctional institutional causes of the Afghan debacle under the rug or have the courage and wisdom to use this sorry affair as a reason to clean out the Pentagon’s Augean Stables?
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A far more significant challenge will be posed by the need to sort out the programmatic chaos in the Pentagon’s hugely bloated defense budget, which, while not unrelated to the Afghan debacle, is caused primarily by out-of-control institutional prerogatives and bureaucratic game playing. Notwithstanding its bloat, the current defense budget plan cannot modernize the military’s weapons inventories on a timely basis; nor can it insure our shrinking, aging equipment will be maintained in a state of combat readiness, while providing sufficient funds for training troops. Most importantly, the Pentagon’s accounting systems are a shambles. The Pentagon’s budget and program planning books can not even pass the most basic constitutional requirements for accountability, much less provide the management information needed to fix the aforementioned modernization, force structure, and readiness problems.
As I explained here and here, these dysfunctional problems are connected and have deep behavioral roots. Fixing these problems will require harmonizing and reining in the disparate factions making up the dysfunctional political-economy of the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex — a heretofore intractable problem President Eisenhower first warned America about in his farewell address in January 1961 (note: the reference to Congress was included in the first draft of his speech but subsequently dropped).
What I find depressing is that not one of these pressing issues has been the subject of speculations about the choice of a new defense secretary. Au contraire, the press has been obsessed with the lobbying concerns of the discredited neocons on the right who helped to create Afghan and Iraqi messes, proponents of continuing American empire in the middle (who are now promoting our intervention in Syria and the budget busting pivot to the Pacific), and gender balancers on the left.
ROBERT STEELE: There are a tiny handful of people in this town that actually know what they are talking about, and Chuck Spinney is one of them, along with Pierre Sprey, Winslow Wheeler and some of the top analysts at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and Government Accountability Office (GAO)–the latter only when they are off the record. The fact that the last several Secretaries of Defense have either been oblivious to Chuck’s existence, or unwilling to tap into his deep knowledge, is in my view an indictment of each of them. The two documents Chuck points to above are also listed below, along with his book and my own comments on reform. Chuck Hagel is not going to have a problem being confirmed — his problem is going to be finding people he can trust to tell him the truth as a basis upon which to make decisions. Virtually everyone that will be recommended to him, including the usual suspects from Democratic and Republican defense circles, forgot long ago how to recognize the truth, choosing instead to make themselves a perpetual web of lies and misinformation.
2011 Spinney, Wheeler et al The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It
1985 Spinney Defense Facts of Life: The Plans/Reality Mismatch