Every four years, the Pentagon releases its Quadrennial
Defense Review (QDR), more accurately the Quadrennial Defense Rubberstamp. Usually,
it offers the same, more of the same or less of the same. That is true of this
QDR as well, with one interesting exception. Perhaps uniquely in the annals
of strategic planning, this QDR promises strategic failure a priori.
It puts that promise right up front, in its first sentence, which reads, "The
United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war."
Long wars are usually strategic disasters for winners as well as losers, because
they leave all parties exhausted. If they work to anyone's advantage, it tends
to be the weaker party's, because its alternative is rapid defeat. The Rumsfeld
Pentagon certainly does not see the United States as the weaker party in its
"Global War on Terrorism." So why has it adopted a long war strategy,
or more accurately lack of strategy, unless one sees national exhaustion as
The answer is a common strategic blunder, but again one that is seldom seen
up front; it normally arises as a war continues longer and proves more difficult
than expected. The blunder is maximalist objectives. In a speech announcing
the QDR, Secretary Rumsfeld said, speaking of our Fourth Generation opponents,
"Compelled by a militant ideology that celebrates murder and suicide,
with no territory to defend, with little to lose, they will either succeed in
changing our way of life or we will succeed in changing theirs."
It would be difficult for war objectives to be stated in more maximalist terms.
Either they will succeed in turning us into Taliban-style Muslims or we will
turn them into happy consumers in globalism's Brave New World. Since most Americans
would rather be dead than Talibs and most pious Muslims would rather perish
than lose their souls to the Brave New World, Mr. Rumsfeld has proclaimed a
war of mutual annihilation. That will indeed be another Thirty Years' War, with
little chance of a renewed Westphalian order as the outcome.
It is easy enough to define alternate, less ambitious objectives that might
avoid the strategic disaster of a long war. We might say that our objective
is to be left alone in our part of the globe, to enjoy peace, prosperity, and
an ordered liberty at home, while we leave Muslims alone in their traditional
territories. Sadly, from the Pentagon's perspective, such a strategy would fail
the pork test: it would not guarantee to keep the money flowing, which is what
QDRs are ultimately about.
Here, the new QDR reverts to type. After a few ritual bows to non-state opponents,
it calls for more of the same: more Second Generation weapons systems, of ever
increasing complexity and cost. According to a story in the Feb. 4 Washington
Times, we are even to be blessed with a new penetrating bomber, which is
about as useful for Fourth Generation war as a squadron of pre-dreadnoughts.
But it seems that in its blatant disconnect between programs and reality, the
Rumsfeld Pentagon may this time have overplayed its hand. The same Washington
Times story reports that the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee,
Congressman Duncan Hunter, called it like it is. "It appears that the QDR
has become a budget-driven exercise, which limits its utility to Congress,"
he said. The HASC has been holding hearings on genuine alternatives (I testified
at one last fall, on Fourth Generation war), in a process that "will provide
us with a more complete picture of America's national security needs."
In other words, the Congress, or at least the House, may refuse to rubber stamp
To anyone familiar with the Hill, this is nothing short of a revolution. The
Pentagon stopped taking the authorizing committees seriously years ago, and
with reason. They had become backwaters, seldom asking serious questions. The
real action shifted to the appropriations committees, where the money gets doled
But the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have serious powers, if
they once again choose to exercise them. Chairman Hunter's response to the QDR
suggests that the HASC may do just that. If it happens, not only might the relevance
of many weapons programs come into question, so might Mr. Rumsfeld's demand
for maximalist objectives in a permanent war for permanent peace.