Zak Smacks Gates Guess

Dov Zakheim, a top Pentagon official in the Reagan and Bush II years, threw a major punch at SECDEF Bob Gates’s approach to force planning. Writing in the June issue of The American Spectator, Zakheim noted that Gates believes “there is a need to balance the prevailing emphasis on conventional operations with a response to the challenge of irregular warfare.” However, Zakheim continues: “Gates may be swinging the strategic pendulum too far in the direction of the latter. In so doing, he may be repeating the mistake that America’s military has made for generations: planning the next war on the basis of the last one, or, in this case, the current one. The fact that no ‘peer competitor’ is discernible today does not mean that there will be none two decades hence. … In the first place, we tend to assume that if a country is quiescent today it will always remain quiescent; that is what we assumed about Iraq on July 31, 1990 [before Iraq invaded Kuwait]. That is what appears to be our current assumption about North Korea, despite its missile tests. Saddam Hussein proved us wrong; can we assert with certainty that Kim Jong Il, or some successor, will not do the same? Moreover, 20 years or even less may be all that another competitor needs to pose a serious threat to our allies, if not ourselves. Fewer than 20 years after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the Nazis moved into the Sudetenland. With technology advancing far more rapidly, … the emergence of a peer competitor could take closer to a decade rather than two. Gates is betting that will not happen. How safe is his bet?” Zaheim’s answer to his rhetorical question is, Not very safe. He noted, “The price … may not be immediately visible, but if history is any guide, it will definitely be paid, though perhaps after those involved in today’s strategic choices will have all long since retired.”