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Gates warns of 'managerial cowardice'

Secretary Gates repeated his caution this week that the worst way to attack the defense budget would be with an across-the-board haircut. It'd be better to have a long political battle, he said, and wait for strategic direction from the Mother of All Reviews, than to take the easy way and just pick a percentage. Gates told soldiers in Kabul that the Army will come out all right from the current projected drawdowns and budget cuts, but he used some of the strongest language yet to warn against cuts across the board:

Said Gates:

With one exception, there's been no decision in terms of downsizing the Army. What we're looking at now is, in 2015 and 2016, reducing the size of the active Army by about 27,000. Now, when I took this job, the permanent end strength of the Army was 482,000. The first month I was on the job, January 2007, I approved an increase in the end strength by 65,000 and two years ago approved a temporary increase in end strength of another 22,000, mainly to get rid of stop-loss. And I can tell you that today, there are no soldiers on stop-loss.

So even if 27,000 are cut in '15 and '16, the size of the Army would still be 40,000 bigger than when I took this office. So we'll just have to wait and see. And one of the things that I'm -- we're working on in the Pentagon is to lay out a series of options for the president and the Congress in terms of if they want to reduce the level of investment in defense, here are your options and here are the things that the military won't be able to do if a certain level of -- if the investment level is dropped by certain amounts.

The last thing I want to do -- the worst thing in the world would be what was done in the '70s and '90s which is a same -- give everybody in the military a same percentage cut across the board. That's the way you hollow out the military. That's the way you don't have enough ammunition to use at firing ranges, you don't have enough money for exercising or training, you don't have enough money for tank miles or steaming days or flight hours. And so we have to make -- I think that is managerial cowardice. And so I think people have to make the tough decisions, first in the Department of Defense and then the president and the Congress, in terms of making choices what don't they want us to do in the future, because if we have to reduce the size of the military in some way, I want the level of excellence when we're done to be at the same standard it is today.

And so these involve tough choices and tough decisions. And I think there will be a big political debate going forward over the next year or so about it. But I have a feeling that -- I'm fairly confident that people will make the right decisions, and that while we may have to make some reductions in force structure that this is still going to be by far the most powerful and best military in the world.

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