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DoD "Worst Run Department": Cordesman

CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman gave a speech yesterday at the National Defense University where he blasted the defense culture that has produced what he called “the worst run department in our history.” He emailed the speech around and I’d thought I’d reproduce a few of the choicer bits. He said the current “crisis” facing all the services’ procurement and force structure plans, where “we are killing force structure to try to buy new weapons,” is a failure of leadership, not of process.

“We talk of “jointness,” but the reality is that each service is involved in an existential battle for resources against the others. We have gone into two wars with no clear plan for conflict termination or for stability operations. We have tried to manage wars through supplementals in the absence of long-term plans, decoupled military operations from nation building, and been so slow to react to the growth of the threat in Afghanistan that we are now losing a war we once thought we had decisively won.”

“Some of this can be blamed on what may have been the worst national security team of the postwar era. As someone who thought Robert McNamara represented the nadir in defense leadership, I have to give Donald Rumsfeld credit for being the epitome of a micromanaging bully who scattered snowflakes like dandruff, and with about as much effect. I also have a horrifying sense of déjà vu when I compare McGeorge Bundy and the Rostows to Cheney and our recent national security advisers. There is far too little difference between the “neoconservatives” of Iraq and Afghanistan and the “neoliberals” of Vietnam.”

“Year after year, our top civilian and military decision makers came and went letting the under-budgeting of procurement, force plans, and manpower grow. We then found ourselves fighting “long” wars that we took years to fully deploy and budget for, each year asking for supplementals that tacitly assumed we would win in the next year. We were slow to react in Iraq, and took until FY2007 to seriously budget for Afghanistan. In fact, we used the totally predictable inability to precisely predict the cost of war to create a nightmare of unrealistic annual baseline budgets, half thought-out supplementals, and pointless Future Year Defense Plans (FYDPs).”

Cordesman said the last thing DOD needs is another commission or study to examine the defense “process.” Rather, what is needed are leaders willing to make tough choices, that means cutting cherished weapons programs, and who are held accountable for their decisions. “There is only one test: what did you do that served the broader national interest of the U.S. successfully during your tour of duty. Not your party, not your ideology, not your service, and not your program.”

The crisis befalling DOD is also the product of a complete decoupling of any meaningful strategy and detailed force and procurement plans and honest budgeting. Cordesman had some choice comments on the upcoming QDR, being run on the OSD side by under secretary of defense Michele Flournoy’s policy shop.

“If God really hates you, you may end up working on a Quadrennial Defense Review: The most pointless and destructive planning effort imaginable. You will waste two years on a document decoupled from a real world force plan, from an honest set of decisions about manpower or procurement, with no clear budget or FYDP, and with no metrics to measure or determine its success. If God merely dislikes you, you may end up helping your service chief or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs draft one of those vague, anodyne strategy documents that is all concepts and no plans or execution. If God is totally indifferent, you will end up working on our national strategy and simply be irrelevant.”

“Is $533.7 billion in FY2010 and 4.2% of the GNP enough? Enough for what? Our most recent QDR is a morass of half thought-out ideas—many calling for further study or otherwise deferring tangible action. We don’t have a force plan. We don’t have a clearly defined procurement plan. We don’t tie it to end strength goals that are clearly defined and costed. We haven’t provided meaningful budget figures because the FYDP is not tied to the QDR. We haven’t set clear goals to be achieved. We have no metrics.”

“Would we be where we are today if we forced the department to tie its strategy to plans and budget, if we demanded metrics, if we required a public annual accounting, and if we held our top leadership fully accountable? Can any change in process or business practices make up for this failure? The answer is no.”
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