WASHINGTON--Recoiling from the carnage of the static warfare of 1914-18, a few French officers, including a young major named de Gaulle, argued that tanks were going to be crucial in the mobile warfare for which Germany was preparing. However, French military leaders were averse to change. Patrician cavalry officers said, ``Oil is dirty, dung is not,'' and one general said tanks would require mechanics, many of whom would be communists. The price of such obduracy was paid in 1940, when the Wehrmacht required just six weeks to roll from the Rhine to the Champs Elysees.
America's prompt, effective projection of power into Central Asia proves that the military has hardly been resting on its Cold War laurels. Still, Donald Rumsfeld agreed to a second stint as secretary of defense because he is determined to change the military's institutional culture. For people averse to change, he is a nightmare: He is wealthy and almost 70, so he does not need this job and is not auditioning for any other. He wants to do something, not just be something.
His televised media briefings, which the president reportedly watches, have made him akin to a movie star--George Clooney in government--but last summer critics in the Pentagon were referring to him as Rip Van Rummy, implying he had slept through the 24 years since he left the Pentagon. Actually, he spent those years successfully running large corporations in a rapidly changing business environment and thinking about the nation's rapidly changing security environment.
Another thinker is the man he chose for a third tour at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, who was undersecretary for policy under the first President Bush and had been dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Looking beyond the current crisis, Wolfowitz, now deputy secretary of defense, speaks of three ``transformation goals'' to avoid ``creating the conditions for the Pearl Harbor of the next decade.'' Those goals are to protect our own information networks from attack and to be able to attack those of adversaries; ``to leverage information technology to enhance joint operational capabilities''; and ``to maintain unhindered access to space and protect the infrastructure that supports our critical space capabilities.''
Achieving those goals will be expensive, but so are nasty surprises. As Wolfowitz says, who knew six months ago that billions would be needed to conduct combat operations in Asia while ``a large fraction of our surveillance assets and combat air patrol aircraft were engaged over the United States.'' And in addition to the loss of life, economic losses because of Sept. 11 are ``in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars.'' So Americans should have ``a new perspective on the issue of what is affordable.''
Besides, precision munitions illustrate the way smarter forces can be smaller forces. In World War II about one bomb in 400 landed close enough even to affect--not necessarily destroy--its target. Now, often nine out of 10 do. The numbers of planes and pilots and the amount of logistical support can decrease as effectiveness increases.
But institutional predispositions can be impediments. The Air Force reportedly has purchased fewer Predators--the small unmanned crafts that provide real-time intelligence that makes air and ground forces ``smarter''--than are needed, partly because they do not require pilots. And in all the services there are stubborn constituencies for so-called ``legacy programs''--those already in place or authorized--irrespective of changes in the threat assessment that might originally have justified them.
The Army, particularly, must become more agile, flexible and ``expeditionary,'' meaning more like the Marines. Army bases are called forts--Benning, Hood, Bragg, etc. The Marines call their bases camps--Lejeune, Pendleton--to make a point: Marines can be, as their song says, ``first to fight'' because they can, so to speak, quickly strike camp and be off.
Finally, Rumsfeld reportedly considers space an underexploited asset as a vantage point from which to project power onto the earth's surface. It probably will be possible someday for technology in space to find, illuminate and perhaps destroy targets--ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, planes. In any case, it not an accident that the man who became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after Rumsfeld became secretary, Gen. Richard Myers, spent 19 months as head of Space Command.
The Pentagon has its share of inner rivalries and institutional inertia. But with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Myers and kindred spirits making the menu of defense policies, the nation should be protected from the kind of military failure that can be called French toast.