Can Robert Gates Tame the Military-Industrial Complex?

The Defense Secretary has Pentagon bloat in his cross hairs

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In Dwight Eisenhower's landmark 1961 farewell speech, he warned about a "disastrous rise of misplaced power" in America's so-called military-industrial complex. Almost 50 years later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now hearkening back to those words. Speaking at the Eisenhower Library, Gates said "The Defense Department must take a hard look at every aspect of how it is organized, staffed and operated - indeed every aspect of how it does business." He rattled off a laundry-list of defense projects meant to exemplify Pentagon excess, including Boeing Super Hornet fighter jets, skyrocketing health care costs for military personnel, and the possession of 11 aircraft carriers. His call for scaling back the Pentagon was met mostly with approval among commentators:

  • This Is an Uphill Battle, writes Noah Schachtman at Wired: "Now, just about every military listener will answer this talk with a loud 'amen.' The question is how many generals and how many senior execs will really put their little fiefdoms on the chopping block. As Gates noted, his successors have waged war on the Pentagon’s bureaucracy, too — only to be forced to retreat."
  • Terrific Speech, praises Booman at Booman Tribune: "I have to admit that it is a surprising but pleasing sight to see Defense Secretary Robert Gates quoting Eisenhower and talking about cutting the military budget. It helps that Gates has traditionally served in Republican administrations and can't be painted as some kind of peacenik."
  • I Have One Nitpick, writes Spencer Ackerman: "Gates’s speech arguably should have focused more — or, really, at all — on the defense-contractor-funded cottage industry that pumps out think-tank reports and about the inevitability of confrontation with China or a resurgent Russia or name your enemy of the moment; that presumes the military is the only dependable tool of American strategy and that non-military options are either naive paths to failure or pretexts for ultimate aggression; and a media that generally never met a war that it wouldn’t treat as presumptively justified."
  • These Are Dangerous Ideas, warns Dan Riehl: "I understand the need to control spending across the board. But I'm also mindful of spending cuts under Clinton that left us short after 9/11 and I'm not sure how they specifically reduce healthcare spending, either. As for the notion of not being able to afford another war, is that really a financial decision? That metric didn't come into play in the ObamaCare debate."
  • This Kind of Thinking Is Welcome, writes James Joyner at Outside the Beltway: "Gates is asking the right questions here... The amount of firepower and flexibility represented by a carrier group is enormous and likely well worth the cost, given our budget.  But I don’t know anyone who really thinks we need eleven of them.  My inclination would be to figure out how many we’ll plausibly need and add two.  But my strong guess is that would still leave us well short of eleven.  And, given the margin of advantage between us and the next strongest maritime power, the need for the Ford class is less than obvious. And the likelihood of a massive amphibious landing akin to that on Omaha Beach is slightly less than that of a division-strength airborne landing."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.