The Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon's official soul-searching assessment of the military's challenges is not the kind of document to attract wide attention. Does the fourth QDR, leaked this weekend, matter to anyone but the wonkiest wonks? International affairs professor Robert Farley thinks so.
Farley, who writes at small group blog Lawyers Guns and Money, argues that the dry, 128-page document has implications well beyond the military. The Pentagon consumes one fifth of the federal budget and operates across the globe. The QDR defines the entire military machinery, so even a small change can fundamentally alter the deployment of billions of dollars:
[T]he details really do matter. The 2010 QDR is quite a bit different than the 2006, which was quite a bit different than the 2000. The precepts set forth in the QDR are often honored in the breach, but they nevertheless help structure what the military will look like, and consequently what the military will be good and bad at for decades to come. You could argue that the 2010 QDR pays only lip service to climate change and to the humanitarian potential of military capability, but this lip service will be replicated in policy in ways that will affect how the US military is structured, behaves, and interacts with the real world. The US military is a huge organization of organizations, and by virtue of its size even small course corrections affect the lives of millions of people.
Farley not only argues for the QDR's general importance. He makes a case that this report is particularly significant. What it suggests, Farley says, is that the "long war" is over. A phrase that peppered the last QDR in 2006, "the long war" defines enemies across the world--from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to Somalia, America to Europe--as a single monolithic enemy akin to the Soviet Union. It treats those conflicts as interconnected in a single, indefinite war against terror. This week's new QDR abandons that approach entirely, treating each conflict and enemy as distinct. It redefines the way that the military--and, as a result, the entire American national security structure--approaches those threats.
Rather than responding to multiple, quite different crises around the world, the 2006 QDR wanted us to understand US military operations as part of a coherent strategic response to the threat posed by terror, much in the same way that the various forms of Containment were responses to the threat posed by the USSR and international revolutionary communism.
In the 2010 QDR, not so much. The United States is fighting "wars" rather than a "Long War" which is a crucial distinction to my mind. "Complexity" is the watchword, and each of the major conflicts involving the United States is treated distinctly, rather than as part of a tapestry. It must be said that this change makes the argument much less fluid; a Long War makes much more thematic sense than a series of not-terribly-related conflicts that involve some interest or other of the United States in some or another part of the globe. What it lacks in narrative, however, it makes up for in general good sense.