In the context of the news this week – surprising to few who know him well – of his intention to retire in 2011, it’s clear that reforming the defense budget is what Gates sees as his legacy. His activity on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are important, and while he would never downplay those efforts, it’s fairly obvious Gates views these wars as being won by the generals and troops he supports. What’s more, he’s smart enough to recognize the unique opportunity he has to make these budgetary changes while maintaining the current defense level and supporting two wars. These cutbacks don’t just respond to the current desire to give in to American voters’ demands for smaller government, but are a significant first step toward increased efficiency.
This is a political opportunity that may not present itself again, and Gates is taking it. Kaplan may think his approach is inadequate, but unlike more sweeping, blunt reforms, Gates’ strategy has the advantage of being workable and achievable in the real world. As author John Nagl told Politico last week: “No one has gotten rich betting against Bob Gates. This is not a man to be trifled with.”
Read the whole thing. Gates’ approach to budgeting is a significant first step — the real question is whether this is a change that endures beyond his tenure as SECDEF, or if his replacement decides to go the easier, and far less responsible, route.
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