Empty Promises: Why the Bush Administration’s Half‐​Hearted Attempts at Defense Reform Have Failed

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The events of September 11 should have beena wake-up call for transforming U.S. defenseplanning. Unfortunately and paradoxically,despite the Bush administration's continuationof rhetoric about defense "transformation,"those events likely drove the last nail into the coffinof reform.

During his campaign and early in his administration,President Bush pledged to create a transformedmilitary, based less on size and more onswiftness, agility, and ease of deployment. To dothat, he talked about modernizing existingweapons selectively, skipping a generation of technology,and investing the savings in cutting-edgetechnologies that would provide a quantum leapin future military capabilities. Such transformationimplied cutting force structure, terminatingsome weapons currently in development, andinvesting the savings in technologies for the future.

Even before September 11, however, defensereform died at the hand of vested interests in themilitary bureaucracy and defense industry andtheir supporters in Congress. After September 11and the war in Afghanistan, President Bush hadthe opportunity to use his prestige and highpublic approval ratings, as well as renewed publicinterest in national security issues, to resuscitatehis defense reform agenda. Instead, the presidenttook the easy way out, asking for the largestincrease in defense spending since the militarybuildup during the Reagan administration.Until recently, all talk of terminating unneededor Cold War-era weapons or cutting or reformingforce structure had ceased.

Merely throwing money at a bureaucracywhose efficiency even Secretary Rumsfeld comparesto Soviet central planning effectively killsany chance of transforming the way thePentagon will fight future wars. Many troublesome,unneeded, and Cold War-era weaponsmust be terminated; the balance of fundinggiven to each of the military services must bealtered; the forces of each service must betrimmed and restructured; and savings fromsuch reforms must be reallocated to fundneglected areas and futuristic technologies.Those promises were included in Bush's agendafor defense transformation and became evenmore vital after September 11, but they will probablybe left unfulfilled.

David Isenberg and Ivan Eland

David Isenberg is a senior analyst at Intellibridge and editor of its Homeland Security Monitor. He is also an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. Ivan Eland is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute.