When President Bush last Friday announced his choice of General Richard Myers to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he not only selected a man with precisely the background and skills required for the job of fixing and transforming the military, he also gave a welcome vote of confidence in the judgment and leadership of his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
The Myers nomination, of course, originated with Secretary Rumsfeld and might be described as the first decision taken by the Pentagon chief in which he had full latitude to act as he saw fit. The budgetary decisions that have done much to traumatize the first months of Mr. Rumsfeld's tenure were largely dictated by the Office of Management and Budget. The limits on available funds have, in turn, driven the controversial Defense Planning Guidance and Quadrennial Defense Review; these documents and the procurement programs they will define are, moreover, being produced by a difficult give-and-take with the armed services and the secretary's assortment of outside advisers and recently-anointed subordinates.
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But Secretary Rumsfeld had considerable – if not complete – latitude to determine not only who he wanted to lead the armed forces for the next few years, but the direction in which he wanted them led. In picking Gen. Myers, his priorities are clear – and correct. They can be described as follows:
- A real commitment to "transformation": By virtue of his previous tenure as commander of U.S. Space Command, Gen. Myers has had first-hand experience with the challenges that are likely to shape the security and economic well-being of the United States in the 21st century. In particular, he appreciates: the imperatives of America exercising control of outer space for both military and commercial reasons, the growing threats to our ability to do so and what this mission will require in the way of vastly improved surveillance, access-to-space and power-projection capabilities.
It is a credit to Gen. Myers' integrity and courage that he was willing to lay out these requirements during the Clinton administration, when his civilian superiors wanted to do nothing more than enunciate rhetorical commitments to U.S. space power while eviscerating any program that would enable the United States to meet the stated requirement. Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush will need such a man to speak with equal independence as chairman about the inadequacies of defense funding.
- Missile defense is a transforming capability: Gen. Myers shares the commitment felt by the president and the secretary to end America's vulnerability to ballistic- and cruise-missile attack. During his tenure at Space Command, he witnessed visitors to its headquarters expressing incredulity that the United States could only watch helplessly if a missile were launched at this country, even if by accident. He has been a vigorous advocate of developing and deploying militarily and cost-effective means to destroy such weapons in flight. He also understands that this cannot be done so long as the United States adheres to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which explicitly prohibits such activities.
Importantly, Gen. Myers appreciates that without missile defenses, in the future, it may not matter how formidable, modern and hi-tech – or, in the current vernacular, "transformed" – are the U.S.' conventional forces. It is likely that even impoverished and relatively backwards militaries will be able to deter the United States from engaging them, let alone defeating them, if our cities and people remain utterly vulnerable to mass destruction. As a result, perfecting and fielding anti-missile capabilities is not an alternative to transformation – it is an indispensable investment needed to enable the transformation of the rest of the military.
- China is a problem: Prior to his stint at Space Command, Gen. Myers served in the terrestrial theater most likely to cause us problems down the road: The Pacific and its East Asian rim. As the commander of U.S. air forces in the region, he has been acquainted with Communist China's increasing assertiveness, its repeated characterization of the United States as "the main enemy" and declarations by officials in Beijing that war between the two nations is "inevitable."
Gen. Myers also appears to appreciate the danger that the PRC could pose to American interests and military forces long before its current modernization program translates into anything approaching comparable conventional capabilities. He understands that the investment China is making in "asymmetric" capabilities – the ability, for example, to use cyber-warfare, electro-magnetic pulse weapons and weapons of mass destruction to neutralize or otherwise offset U.S. military advantages – could give rise to a formidable threat, even in the near-term.
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These insights and priorities clearly track with those of Donald Rumsfeld. By enlisting a man who shares them, the Secretary of Defense has found a partner who should prove most helpful in articulating them publicly, translating them into budgetary realities and enlisting the support for them from his counterparts in the military services. To get the maximum benefit out of this appointment, however, the secretary and the new chairman should make the first order of business seeking congressional help in reforming the Goldwater-Nicholls Act, a well-meaning but ultimately counter-productive piece of legislation that has had the effect of politicizing – and otherwise diminishing – the senior-most ranks of the U.S. military.
After a rough patch over the past few months and a spate of bad press last week, Donald Rumsfeld can doubtless use a bit of good news. The best news of all, however, is that not only his secretaryship but the future security of the country stands to benefit from his decision to promote Dick Myers.
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