“QDR Is Broken,” Opines Heritage

UPDATED: Heritage Analysis "Politically Naive," Says Loren Thompson Two of the most influential Republican defense analysts have come out swinging after the Christmas lull, saying the QDR is "broken." Why is it in such sad shape, aside from the usual partisan disagreements about every QDR? The core of their argument is that DefSec Gates: "will reduce force structure to levels that are inconsistent with the nation's security commitments, focus on a limited number of threats, and mortgage future military capabilities to pay for today's battles under the flawed assumption that America will likely never again face a conventional enemy."

UPDATED: Heritage Analysis “Politically Naive,” Says Loren Thompson

Republicans have expressed concern about the Quadr3enniual Defense Review for most of the last year, pretty much ever since President Obama took office.

Two of the most influential Republican defense analysts have come out swinging after the Christmas lull, saying the QDR is “broken.” Why is it in such sad shape, aside from the usual partisan disagreements about every QDR?

The core of their argument can be found here: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has indicated that he will reduce force structure to levels that are inconsistent with the nation’s security commitments, focus on a limited number of threats, and mortgage future military capabilities to pay for today’s battles under the flawed assumption that America will likely never again face a conventional enemy. Vegetius, with his charge to prepare for the unexpected, would never have condoned such excessive optimism, especially not in the face of the rise of sophisticated military powers that are hostile to U.S. allies and interests. A flawed QDR will lead to a weakened and underprepared military. A misguided strategy could justify a repeat of the procurement holiday and defense cuts of the 1990s and harm America’s ability to deter war or, if necessary, to fight and win.” But hope springs eternal, even among GOP analysts during a Democratic administration.

So the Heritage authors note that “Congress can still rescue the overall process.” What would Congress have to do? Appoint all members of a QDR oversight panel, “as opposed to the Secretary of Defense appointing a majority–to ensure the group provides a truly independent assessment.” And tie the QDR “more closely with the White House’s foreign policy guidance, increasing buy-in from Congress, ensuring that the process is not purely budget-driven, and addressing both short-term and long-term national security risks,”

One sage watcher of Pentagon politics called the Heritage critique “politically naive.” Loren Thompson, defense consultant and COO of the Lexington Institute, said defense analysts, “have learned two big lessons from conducting post-cold-war strategic assessments. First, it is impossible to ignore near-term military and fiscal challenges. Second, we have no idea what threats we will be facing in 10 or 20 years. The QDR process simply reflects these facts. Using the Heritage formulation, we would still be sticking with the Rumsfeld transformation priorities as the centerpiece of our force posture planning, even though they have become militarily irrelevant and fiscally unaffordable. That makes no sense. Rather than trying to make QDR do the impossible — ignore politics and predict the future — we need to focus our deliberations on what the near term strategic environment requires and can sustain.”

A GOP congressional aide, asked for an assessment of the Heritage piece, believes there will be opposition from “both sides of the aisle the moment they deliver it.”

This aide said the QDR will basically be “a shiny, happy justification for the Gates cuts and possibly future FY11 cuts. While good folks are working hard on the QDR, we all know the real decisions are being made at the top and the QDR will have to justify the budget decisions, whatever they are. Also, the DOD has done a horrible job of getting buy-in from the Hill.”

For the record, the Heritage folks have been listened to on QDR issues by both parties so this shouldn’t just be dismissed as a pointless partisan attack.

I also emailed Democratic aides but have not yet heard back from them. We will update with their views as soon as we get them.