Why Bush is Keeping Mum on his Military 'Revolution'

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President Bush waves during his commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy

TIME.com: President Bush's speech to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis had been billed as the unveiling of a major new blueprint for the U.S. military, over which the media has speculated for weeks. Instead, it turns out that his speech is primarily about public service. Why is the administration hesitating about presenting its plans for overhauling the military?

Mark Thompson: The simple reason is that they don't yet know exactly what they want to do. The rhetoric on military reform has gotten way ahead of the reality. Bush said a lot on the campaign about skipping a generation of weapons, and about making the military more mobile, agile and lethal. Easy to say and pleasing to hear, but saying those things is a lot easier than doing them. A lot of the thinking in the Pentagon now is that the Bush administration may end up simply embracing the Clinton administration's plans for the military, but with proper funding. The military was underfunded by about $50 billion under the last administration, and you could add that much to the defense budget without getting a substantial change in programs.

There had been some hope that the new administration would take on some of the tough decisions about military reform, but right now it's looking as if they'll kick those forward to the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) later this year. And if the record is anything to go by, those don't recommend big changes, either. Not much changed after either the 1997 QDR or General Colin Powell's 1993 Roles and Missions study.

So what are the constraints on overhauling the military?

It's like turning an aircraft carrier. It takes a long time, and you need a big budget. And if you're going to have a tax cut on the scale the administration is planning, you're not going to have much money for expanding defense spending. Then, there's also the "iron triangle" of defense industry lobbyists, legislators on Capitol Hill and senior military officers championing their pet defense programs that makes it very difficult to scrap any programs that may be deemed wasteful in an overhaul of the military. There's a tremendous amount of inertia in an institution that spends $1 billion a day. To change even small aspects requires a tremendous amount of work. Despite all the talk of "revolutionizing" the military, any changes ushered in by the Bush administration are going to be of an oozing incremental type rather than radical changes.

Even if the QDR abandons the two-major-regional-conflicts doctrine that has guided military planning (the idea that the U.S. military needs to maintain the capability to fight two major regional wars at any one time), that won't really mean very much in the short term, either. It's a horizon kind of thing. Besides, the military acknowledges that even now it doesn't have the ability to fight and win two regional wars at one time. In Kosovo, which was a relatively minor operation nowhere close to the scale of a major regional conflict, some of our resources were stretched to the limits — we didn't have enough of certain types of ground-attack aircraft, electronic reconnaissance aircraft, and airlift capability. Abandoning the two wars concept may allow military resources to be more efficiently invested. But it's the Memorial Day weekend, and the President is going to talk about the past, not the future.