The first Quadrennial Defense Review I covered -- also the first QDR there ever was -- included what I thought was a productive and provocative tool, a panel of outside defense experts who were charged with critiquing the QDR as it went along and basically grading it when it was done.
At Wednesday's House Armed Services Committee budget hearing, Rep. Mac Thornberry, one of the most consistently thoughtful and effective legislators on the House Armed Services Committee, asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates if he thought such an outside panel would be a good idea. Gates made the classic bureaucrat's move of preempting the questioner, telling Thornberry he had already ,made a move in that direction, naming Andy Marshall, head of the elect Office of Net Assessment, and Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of Joint Forces Command, as his red team.
Gates said he wanted to avoid any groupthink and so had charged Marshall and Mattis with doing critical analyses of both the QDR's scenarios and its outcomes. With the smart folks we have among our readers, I'd like to get a Buzz debate going about whether this is a good idea to follow in this QDR. This is a chance to perhaps help a good idea get crucial support it might not otherwise -- or a chance to kill a flawed idea before it grows too big, depending on where you come down.
Generally speaking, I really like the idea of an outside panel to help drive the QDR teams to greatness. Here's one reason why. While I can't remember a lot of the details, I do remember getting my hands on a letter the National Defense Panel wrote during the first QDR in the last quarter of the process. That letter sparked considerable discussion about the direction of elements of the QDR and resulted in substantial changes being made to the final QDR product.
But another reason is that people whose jobs don't depend on the conclusions they reach are often willing to offer solutions or analyses that those closer to where the rubber hits the road may fear to tread. Put a few eminence grises such as Paul Kaminski or John Hamre on it to lead, spice it up with a few defense iconoclasts like Loren Thompson or Robbin Laird and add a few solid industry experts and you could end up with one heck of an interesting alternative vision of what the QDR should become.
The kind of red team effort I see working would be one that met this sort of standard. An old special forces buddy told me years ago about a successful raid his red team made on a nuclear sub base, slipping aboard a boat, entering offices and slipping away before the security forces could react. It led to a fair amount of turmoil at the base but demonstrated gaping holes in their security that were then filled. While Gates is clearly willing to make hard decisions, I say he can use all the help he can get from a robust red team that is not too closely tied to the building.
What say you, dear readers?