clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Bush revives '97 report's ideas for military

WASHINGTON — When President Bush delivered his first major speech on military affairs last month, vowing to "challenge the status quo" by investing in new technologies, his words sounded familiar to many military analysts.

"On land, our heavy forces will be lighter, our light forces will be more lethal," he said in Norfolk, Va. "In the air, we will be able to strike across the world with pinpoint accuracy, using both aircraft and unmanned systems. On the oceans, we will connect information and weapons in new ways, maximizing our ability to project power over land."

Bush's speech recalled a 1997 report by a congressionally chartered group known as the National Defense Panel, which recommended a set of far-reaching ideas for modernizing the military.

The panel's report was widely praised by military experts — and then widely ignored by many officials in Congress and the Pentagon, who dismissed its more ambitious proposals as too radical or too vague.

But the Bush administration has given new life and credibility to the panel's work. Not only has Bush embraced some of its broad themes, but his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has also undertaken a sweeping review of Pentagon policies with the help of several former defense panel members. Many military analysts are now asking whether the Bush administration will have more success selling transformation to Congress and the Pentagon than the original sponsors of the National Defense Panel did.

On Friday, the Bush administration got a preview of the kind of frosty reception such sweeping proposals could receive on Capitol Hill. When the idea of building smaller aircraft carriers was floated in a Washington Post article about Rumsfeld's briefing of the president, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, issued a sharp reply.

"Carriers have been, are and will be for the foreseeable future an absolute essential part of our deterrence force and, if required, our offensive first-strike force," Warner, a former secretary of the Navy whose state is where aircraft carriers are built, said in a statement.

Then, in a tart reminder that Congress, not the administration, will decide what Pentagon programs get money, he added: "Congress will definitely have a voice in the new Bush initiatives to keep America strong. As history shows, a president proposes and Congress disposes."

In recent weeks, Republicans in Congress have also raised sharp questions about closing military bases and "skipping a generation" of weapons systems, ideas frequently invoked by the Bush administration.

"This will require real strength at the top if they are going to make it happen," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who has been a leading advocate of military transformation. "There will be a lot of resistance."