I'm way too cynical these days. After leafing through the doublespeak and circlicued excuses for inaction that make up the Pentagon's new "Defense Language Transformation Roadmap," I blew it off.Yes, the Roadmap is a textbook example of bureaucrats forming committees and "assessing needs" rather than going to work. And sure, it's awful that the Pentagon still doesn't have a wide-scale program to teach soldiers Arabic and other foreign tongues -- three and a half years after 9/11. But whadya expect?Slate's Fred Kaplan has a better attitude. He's outraged. Completely disgusted. And with good reason.
The document only 19 pages, so take a look traces, all too clearly, the project's shameful chronology. It got under way in November 2002 over a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness was directed to have the military departments review their requirements for language professionals...In September 2003 two years after the 9/11 attacks that made officials realize they didn't know enough about the rest of the world the deputy undersecretary of defense for plans commissioned a study "assessing language needs..."From June through August, 2004, the steering committee oversaw the development and on Aug. 31, approvedthe "Roadmap," and submitted it to the undersecretary of defense.So, by the end of last summer, it had taken 21 months simply to draw up a 19-page plan.It gets worse.The plan lays out a series of "required actions" to improve language skills and incorporate expertise in languages and area studies in the military's programs for recruitment, promotion, and training. But look at the plan's dawdling deadlines.For instance: "Publish a DoD Instruction providing guidance for language program management." The deadline: July 2005. That's 11 months not to come up with a program, but to issue guidance for managing the program..."Develop and sustain a personnel information system that maintains accurate data on all DoD personnel skilled in foreign-language and regional expertise. Work closely to ensure stabilized data entry and management procedures." Deadline: September 2008...In the three and a half years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States built a massive arsenal, equipped an equally massive fighting force, and declared victory in a worldwide war over imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.In the three and a half years after the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, the U.S. government funded dozens if not hundreds of Russian-language and Russian-studies departments not just within the military but in high schools and colleges all across America.Now, three and a half years after Islamic fundamentalists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Department of Defense is three months away from publishing an official "instruction" providing "guidance for language program management."It's pathetic.