The more Pentagon officials talk about this Quadrennial Defense Review the more it looks as if the QDR will serve as the 2011 budget justification and not the broad strategic and policy exercise that Congress intends it to be.
"The QDR will drive the 2011 budget," Vice. Adm. Stephen Stanley said today at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association lunch. Stanley, the Joint Staff director for force structure, resources, and assessment, admitted pushing the QDR this fast involved a very "tight timeline." Since much of the 2011 budget has already been drafted by the services, that is clearly something of an understatement. I asked the admiral how the Pentagon could avoid turning this QDR into yet another "salami-slice" exercise. After being very kind and agreeing that it was a good question, Stanley proceeded to offer a justification for this approach.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is "trying to keep the QDR focused on policy issues and t let the budget flow from that," he said. He noted that "a lot of the work" on the global posture review and force sizing "has already been done." OSD could take that work "and use it for our view of the future."
My luncheon companion, who has worked every QDR, rolled eyes at Stanley's talk of the QDR driving the budget and said something along the lines of -- yeah, right.
Aside from being a fun topic for us inside-the-Beltway types to niggle away at, the QDR is taken seriously by Congress (which invented them). And they are one of the rare times the military takes the time and invests the resources in a macro-analysis of the defense enterprise. Each QDR generates at least half-a-dozen major decisions that drive policy, strategy and programs for years to come. Gates and company, no matter how pressing the economic climate, would swerve the country well by engaging in a well executed and relatively intellectually honest QDR. It may well be the biggest chance Gates has to influence the future course of the department. And those pressing economic times should incite careful strategic and policy analysis to ensure the Pentagon isn't just cutting for the sake of cutting or apportioning cuts according to tried and true service equities.