President Obama was calling for an altogether new review on Wednesday in saying he, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen would search for places to cut the Pentagon's budget over the long term -- or so DoD understands. When's it going to start? Who's going to run it? There aren't many details, and the White House apparently hasn't issued instructions for what's going to happen next, but this much we do know: Obama wasn't referring to a Quadrennial Defense Review or any of the other regularly scheduled reviews, said Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan.
For many people inside the Beltway, life is review whack-a-mole. A general wants a study on what to do about a program. Members of Congress want reviews about why DoD should buy the widget produced in their districts. The budget is coming up. Or there's a big one like the QDR, the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, the Quadrennial Missile Defense Review, and so on. Often these reports appear with great fanfare and have absolutely no effect. Every once in awhile, a review will uncover something the brass doesn't want to see the light of day, and so the report never materializes.
But a big, unscheduled "fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world," as Obama called for Wednesday, is definitely unusual. This is bigger than whether DoD should buy 41 more F/A-18s. This could raise long-simmering questions about whether the services should be funded unequally -- we're never going to fight another big land war, right? (The argument goes.) So cut the Army and Marines and grow the Navy and Air Force. Or could it mean fewer troops forward deployed in Europe and Asia? Could it mean the U.S. scales back its nuclear umbrella?
So not only will DoD be forced into a major review to define its future, it will force Washington to confront some unpleasant realities about the future of American power.