There is a new, reflective, forward leaning Secretary Gates touring the world. And this Gates would clearly fire the old one.
The new Gates is concerned about power projection and the global role of the United States and is providing dire warnings to the political class (of which Gates I is an ideal expression) against engagement in long ground wars with no end in site.
This new Gates would clearly fire the old one, for the old one whether by subservience to his political masters or by personal instincts has subordinated DOD to the Afghanistan engagement.
Let us hear some thoughts of Gates II. “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia, or in the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”
And Gates II adds that in this new situation – post Big Army – “the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements.”
This new bold Gates II looking to the future has assured Asian allies that the U.S. will shape forces for an Asian engagement. And this Gates II is very concerned about air and naval power in the Pacific.
For example, this visionary underscores that “Maritime security remains an issue of particular importance for the region, with questions about territorial claims and the appropriate use of the maritime domain an on-going challenge to regional stability and prosperity. The U.S. position on maritime security remains clear: we have a national interest in freedom of navigation; in unimpeded economic development and commerce; and in respect for international law.”
If words were policies, then Gates II would wave his magic wand, and the legacy of Gates I would be overcome.
Just what is that legacy?
First, it is embracing the endless engagement in Afghanistan. There are no war termination goals; there are no ends to the engagement, which must be won at any cost, whatever that means.
Second, Gates I has bought equipment for now that mortgages the future. Any investment in the future is Next-War-itis, which is anathema to Gates I. Investments in the present are, of course, determinates of the future force, but this seems to have escaped Gates I and would be very troubling for Gates II.
For the US Army, this means that the vision, which Gates II sketched at West Point –a mobile US Army –can not be capitalized. The nearly 60 billion dollars invested in multiple versions of MRAPs, a vehicle well known to not be capable of effective modern sustainment techniques and processes – becomes the vehicle in which the US Army has mortgaged its future.
Third, Gates I cancelled the flagship of 5th generation aircraft when its costs had reached below $90 million dollars per platform. Gates I assured us that there would be no “peer” competitor before 2025. What was that flying over Gates I’s head when visiting China?
Fourth, Gates I led the team which failed to offer the Indians a competitive aircraft. And we learn from Gates II that there is “a partnership based on shared democratic values and vital economic and security interests.” A partnership that will be an indispensable pillar of stability in South Asia and beyond – whether countering piracy, increasing participation in multilateral venues, or aiding the development of Afghanistan, our partnership is playing a vital role.”
Apparently the far-sighted Gates II missed the news about the results from the Indian fighter competition and associated spin-offs from this competition.
In this respect, Gates II can be forgiven, because Inside the Beltway is about our own spin, not anything going on in the real world. In fact, I expect Disney World to open up a new land in the future, Inside the Beltway Land, for a an advanced form of virtual reality testing.
Fifth, Gates II is keenly concerned with strengthening the USN and USMC team.
But Gates I has put the F-35B on probation and has supported a “ship building plan” which contemplates keeping key platforms in operation for more than 70 years. Rather than a Green Navy, we are going to have an orange, rusting navy.
I could go on but will simply stop here. If Afghanistan is so important to the nation, and there is no need to define an end point, then this armed humanitarian effort should be moved out of the Defense Department’s budget and the USN, USMC and USAF fully resourced, to use one of Michelle Flournoy’s favorite lines.
Anything less would make Gates II angry and disappointed in the country.