Obama follows in Rumsfeld's footprints

An unexpected name started popping up after President Barack Obama laid out his new defense strategy: Donald Rumsfeld.

Obama and Pentagon leaders used words like “leaner” and “agile” Thursday in describing the kind of military they intend to build.

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Senior Pentagon officials said the leaner, more agile force Obama’s new strategy envisions is necessary so the force can both fight a major conflict while also quickly responding to a number of other situations and conflicts.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the envisioned force’s “greatest strength” is that it would be “more agile, flexible, ready to deploy, innovative and technologically advanced.”

The commander in chief acknowledged in the strategy that, “yes, our military will be leaner.”

“But the world must know — the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats,” Obama said.

If those descriptions sound familiar, they should.

When George W. Bush appointed Rumsfeld to be defense secretary after the 2000 election, the two-time Pentagon chief set about his so-called “transformation agenda.”

Rumsfeld, too, wanted a leaner, meaner military able to adapt quickly to various situations and deploy quickly.

“We need rapidly deployable, fully integrated joint forces capable of reaching distant theaters quickly and working with our air and sea forces to strike adversaries swiftly, successfully, and with devastating effect,” then-secretary Rumsfeld said in January 2002.

“We need improved intelligence, long-range precision strikes, sea-based platforms to help counter the access denial capabilities of adversaries,” Rumsfeld said. The latter is a major thrust of the new Obama defense plan.

“While transformation requires building new capabilities and expanding our arsenal, it also means reducing stocks of weapons that are no longer necessary for the defense of our country,” Rumsfeld said nearly a decade ago.

Echoing “Rummy,” Obama and Panetta said Thursday the Pentagon will begin, starting with the 2013 spending plan it will unveil in coming weeks, to terminate Cold War-era weapon programs.

Defense analysts almost immediately drew the comparison between Rumsfeld’s vision and the one spelled out in Obama’s plan.

“It is easy to emphasize Asia, technology, and quality over quantity,” Pentagon adviser and Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Anthony Cordesman said Thursday. “In fact, this is what Secretary Rumsfeld did.”

Center for Defense Information analyst Winslow Wheeler, a former congressional defense aide, said the Obama plan is “very much like Rumsfeld's ‘Transformation’ agenda.”

What’s more, Wheeler said, the Obama plan’s shifting of the nation’s defense strategy toward the Asia-Pacific region “re-emphasizes the focus on the Air Force and Navy as the ‘transformative’ military services — Rumsfeld's word, not theirs — but they seem to mean very much the same thing.”

The transformation plan started out gangbusters. The military services bought in. There was no groundswell of opposition on Capitol Hill.

But it was derailed by the 9/11 attacks and the two massive, prolonged and expensive land wars that followed.

Those conflicts, according to Cordesman, “began to force an almost total reversal in every aspect of our strategy and plans less than a year after the Bush administration came to office.”

Wheeler said Rumsfeld’s push for change “did not result in much success in Iraq and Afghanistan and required substantial augmentation.”

“The similarity between Rumsfeld's original plan and [the Obama plan] tells us two things,” said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. “There is a bipartisan consensus on what the future requires of the joint force, and the last 10 years were a strategic detour.”