It’s a simple message known to anyone who manages the books of a business or a home: focus. Spend resources on the most crucial wants and needs. That was essentially the message of Defense Secretary Robert Gates when he spoke recently to a gathering of reporters and editors in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Gates said American generals should stop strategizing for the next big war, and start fighting the ones we already have.
He explained that while American military barracks have rotted because of neglect, the government has spent lavishly on high-tech weapons and gadgets that aren’t useful in Iraq or Afghanistan or in future wars that most likely will mimic the characteristics of our current wars. He explained that the federal government is spending as if to prepare for another Cold-War-era war, when there’s no apparent reason for it.
“It’s hard to conceive of any country confronting the U.S. in conventional terms,” he said at the forum, sponsored by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. “Overall, the kind of capabilities we need in the years ahead will resemble the kind of capabilities we need today.”
Gates explained that hundreds of billions of dollars are planned for high-tech weapons that could be used to fight an armored opponent. He questioned whether such weapons programs would be useful or necessary for “irregular campaigns” that are most likely the challenge facing America’s military.
In case Congress and the Bush administration haven’t noticed, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have yet to be resolved.
Gates is obviously correct. It’s hard to believe that his message seems to fall on deaf ears among those who control military spending. Finish the business in Afghanistan and Iraq, finish it fast, and finish it to our advantage. Only then should big money chase the needs of possible wars in the distant future — wars that won’t matter much if we can’t win the battles at hand. It’s a simple matter of focus.