David H. Hackworth
April 5, 1994


When a captain tells a sergeant to take out a patrol, the NCO asks: What's the mission and what's the skinny on the enemy? Once he knows the job and the threats, he cranks in his estimate: the number of troops available, the terrain and the weather. Then he organizes his patrol and moves out.

Down at the bottom, troop-leading procedure hasn't changed much since Washington and his boys wintered at Valley Forge. It's still gunpowder simple. The main concerns are getting the job done and coming back alive. Up at the top, the mission gets blurred by brass who feel they never have enough chips to play war poker, and the threat gets blown up by spy guys who are keen to keep their jobs and see a bad guy behind every vodka bottle

In the post-Soviet era, the competition between the armed services as to who will be the featured skater in the world's War Olympics is leg-breaking high. Both the Air Force and the Navy want to be the air-war top gun, and the Army and Marines are slugging it out to be the main grunt on the ground.

Former Defense Secretary Les Aspin says he tried to stop this back- biting inter-service rivalry and duplication with a "bottom-up" review. His idea was to start with a clean slate and figure out what was needed for defense. Nothing was to be taken for granted, everything was to be challenged.

Aspin first asked: What's the threat to national security7 His study showed the threat would not be from another Soviet Union or even a pint- sized version of the "Evil Empire." Most likely, America's foe would be an enemy who could make a blitz- krieg attack with a large ground force, supported by missiles, against an ally such as Kuwait or South Korea. The three main potential foes were North Korea, Iran and Iraq, and Aspin reckoned- using a worn- out WWII formula -- that we might have to fight two wars at the same time.

From this unrealistic threat analysis came a proposed force structure. The military would shrink from 1.7 to 1.4 million by cutting Army divisions, Navy carriers and Air Force wings. All the services were to be scaled back a tad, but not one role or mission was redefined or Cold War program cut for fear of upsetting the powerful general and admiral lobby. The study also failed to provide for weapons that are needed, but supported other weapons that aren't.

Aspin's new-look concept got gutted by pork, politics and Pentagon fog, missing a big chance for reform that would create long-term savings and sharpened combat-readiness. Deep cuts were not made in defense spending, nor were overlapping missions chopped.

Aspin's initial idea to shape a future force that would be based mainly in the United States and be loose, lean and lethal was excellent. His plan turned sour when he played the pork game to keep everyone happy by buying into a force big enough to fight two Desert Storms simultaneously.

The nation can't afford to maintain a costly force that's far bigger than needed based on hypothetical here-comes-the-bogeyman threat scenarios. The Aspin plan, which calls for the United States to fight the good global fight by itself, is absent of strategic thought and is more about protecting jobs in the defense industry and within the military's top echelons than defending America. It doesn't, for example, consider al- lies such as South Korea, Middle East nations and Britain joining with the United States to defend their interests.

President Clinton should deep-six this flawed work and start again. He should ask: What is the enemy threat today, tomorrow, in 2040, and what type of force do we need to cope with this threat?

When Clinton has these answers, he should order his chiefs to cut the blubber and saddle up a force that can do the defense job based on the actual threats and with the dollars available. I'm not sure the blinkered top brass can reform themselves, but I know dozens of sergeants who would volunteer for this mission just as soon as they get back from patrol.