In a series of speeches over the past few days - at Notre Dame, at the American Enterprise Institute and at the Naval Academy - the outgoing Secretary of Defense has sounded a series of warnings that the ship of state, or at least the carrier battle group that protects it, is headed for the rocks.
That is surely so. But, welcome as his alarm is, the course is one Mr. Gates has largely charted himself. Of late, President Obama has simply ordered "full steam ahead," with encouragement from some in both parties on Capitol Hill.
Secretary Gates has particularly warned against a "hollowing out" of the military, a not-so-implicit criticism of the $400 billion Mr. Obama has announced that he intends to cut from Pentagon accounts. This reduction would come on top of the roughly $178 billion already being excised by the Gates team.
In so doing, Mr. Gates recalls the mistake made twice during my decades in this town - first by Presidents Ford and Carter, then by Presidents Bush '41 and Clinton: Yielding to the ever-present-temptation to meet contemporary budgetary exigencies by cutting the nation's investment in its armed forces, leaving them without the modern equipment, realistic training, adequately sized forces, up-to-date facilities and development of the future technologies needed to deter and, if deterrence fails, to prevail in tomorrow's wars.
It took an immensely expensive buildup under Ronald Reagan to rectify the first of these perilous mistakes. Thanks in part to the Gates legacy, the second has still not been remedied. The effect has been to condemn the armed services - currently in the midst of three far-flung military campaigns - to an unwise and unsustainable reliance for the foreseeable future on obsolescing tanks, ships, aircraft and missiles purchased during the Reagan years (if not before).
A couple of examples illustrate the problem we already have, let alone what will come if President Obama has his way:
In his recent speeches, Secretary Gates has emphasized the need to modernize the military's various air forces with the F-35, a "stealthy" fifth-generation aircraft that has run into production delays and increased costs. The risks associated with the attendant slowing-down of deliveries of this plane have been greatly compounded by Mr. Gates' insistence on the premature shutting down of the production line for the far more capable F-22 - one of 30 Pentagon modernization programs he has eviscerated.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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