Before November's election, anyone wanting to know where the White House and Pentagon might be headed, read papers from the Heritage Foundation and talked to its experts. Well, those days are gone but the folks at Heritage now serve the important role of unfettered loyal opposition, and they have weighed in on one of the most crucial efforts we'll see during the Obama administration -- the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The QDR is mandated by law and could be an enormously powerful tool in the hands of a determined defense secretary since it is supposed to force the building to reexamine its fundamental roles, why they are done and how they are done. All too often they end up as the first one did -- what most analysts at the time called a salami-slice exercise. Each service took its issues and presented its arguments in the way most likely to preserve its budget priorities. That Rumsfeld fella did a better job with this last QDR but the service chiefs still used it to advance their own interests in the face of often considerable opposition from their civilian masters.
This time we face a possibly calamitous budget situation, those two wars we've been fighting for a while now and a new administration that is still learning the ropes, getting its first detailed classified briefings and learning the facts of life all over again. Combine that with the congressional calendar and the folks at Heritage -- Baker Spring and Mackenzie Eaglen -- are worried.
"Too often, the requirements of the budget calendar have marginalized the more deliberate policymaking process. As the incoming Obama Administration turns its attention to this essential task, it needs to ensure that the policy process is the driving force in defense planning. To achieve this, the Secretary of Defense will need to carefully manage the calendar and issue clear directives on how defense budgets will result from the relevant policymaking endeavors," they write.
They note that the "QDR's importance and relevance have waned during recent iterations even as the analytical process and support to the strategy review have been bolstered. Congress should ensure that the new assessment goes back to the basics, as originally intended, to achieve sound national security planning with significant buy-in from Capitol Hill."
They also reject the idea that defense spending should be a bill payer for the federal deficit. Baker and Eaglen believe the US must commit the sending 4 percent of GNP on defense. "Going into the QDR, all stakeholders should acknowledge that the economy can afford to devote no less than 4 percent of GDP to the core defense program. This approach offers a long-term policy option for the broader federal budget that serves to protect the U.S. economy.