Last year’s Quadrennial Defense Review was an imperfect document. As Gordon Adams and I pointed out at the time, “an absence of restraint and a failure to set priorities, as revealed in the Quadrennial Defense Review, has put the Pentagon on a collision course with fiscal realities and a changing political environment.” Congress, however, has found a different bone to pick.
In the National Defense Authorization Act released Monday night, lawmakers imply that they feel the QDR is too driven by budget considerations (see §942). They amend its authorization to emphasize that it must “make recommendations that are not constrained to comply with and are fully independent of the budget submitted to Congress by the President.” Track that back against the existing law and you’ll see only one thing has changed: the insertion of the clause “…and are fully independent of…”
Apparently our legislators felt that strategy recommendations “not constrained” by the budget still were insufficiently “independent of” it. Interesting.
ADM Mullen, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, offered a different cue last January:
This budget has basically doubled in the last decade. And my own experience here is in that doubling, we've lost our ability to prioritize, to make hard decisions, to do tough analysis, to make trades.
Prioritizing, analyzing trade-offs, and making hard decisions would seem to be the essence of strategizing. A recent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs thinks we’ve lost that skill because of budget indiscipline. Yet Congress wants to correct the skill by aggravating the very thing that undermines it.
The truth of the matter is that strategy and spending are inseparable. Bernard Brodie framed it most eloquently – “strategy wears a dollar sign” – and even HASC “acknowledges that ultimately resources must shape any strategy.” Trying to divorce the two is a recipe not for purer strategy but rather for a less relevant and meaningful QDR.