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Will the Real Robert Gates Please Stand Up?

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Will the Real Robert Gates Please Stand Up?

by Neoptolemus

Download the Full Article: Will the Real Robert Gates Please Stand Up?

It's hard not to like the provocative nature of the SecDef's speeches—which often have serious messages and outright swipes at sclerotic bureaucratic habits. For example in his West Point speech, he talked over the heads of the cadets in the room and railed about the future as an "opportunity to attack the institutional and bureaucratic constipation of Big Army, and re-think the way it deals with the outstanding young leaders in its lower- and middle-ranks."

Likewise, his advocacy for greater diversity and flexibility in careers and educational opportunities. "For example, instead of being assigned to new positions every two or three years," Mr. Gates opined that officers could "apply for job openings in a competitive system more akin to what happens in large organizations in the private sector." I really liked his public endorsement of Lieutenant General David Barno's proposals for Army reform and the need for tomorrow's smaller professional force to compete and retain the best talent as a "must do" for the incoming Army Chief of Staff.

But Mr. Gates has also a deliberate taste for rhetorical overstretch when he makes irritating if not dangerous comments on "likely" and implausible scenarios about the future use of military force.

Download the Full Article: Will the Real Robert Gates Please Stand Up?

Neoptolemus, a retired infantry officer, is currently imprisoned as a senior defense official in the Pentagon. Neoptolemus was the son of the warrior Achilles and the princess Deidamia in Greek mythology.

About the Author(s)


Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:24pm

<em>"Quite simply, the Army does not reward officers who step outside the ranks of 'traditional assignments' and 'common career paths'."</em> - Anonymous @ 4:25PM

We might also want to consider rethinking policies about permitting recently separated officers back into the ranks if they only ETS'd to further their education or spend a few years in a job where they were highly successful. Consider...

- If you took the Army's money a few years back to go to school in return for incurring additional ADSO time, then you're probably either commanding a company or pinning on major now.


- If you opted to ETS and pay your own way to get one or more advanced degrees and are willing to come back and incur a new ADSO at your old rank or a reduced rank, you are out of luck.

I can see reasons for giving some preference to one over the other (gives HRC some predictability and perhaps allows DA to influence development of officers). I can see no reason for categorically barring the latter.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 03/03/2011 - 5:25pm

I have to chuckle when I read about how our Army must take this "opportunity to attack the institutional and bureaucratic constipation of Big Army, and re-think the way it deals with the outstanding young leaders in its lower- and middle-ranks." Quite simply, the Army does not reward officers who step outside the ranks of "traditional assignments" and "common career paths".

Sure, you can look to promotion rates over the past several years to MAJ/LTC, but that was out of necessity, not a deliberate choosing of future non-traditional thinkers/doers. As they say, "the proof is in the pudding", and as the Army draws down, it will be very telling to see if those who opted out of the traditional XO/S3 assignments, choosing instead for the Advisor, Advanced Civil School, Internships, Educators, etc... fare as well.

I predict they will not, because all officers, regardless of their career path, still fall under the old OER/AER system, and the cold hard truth is current senior raters (the BN/BDE/DIV CDRs of the world) are former XO/S3 bubbas and absolutely LOVE to prop up those junior mirror-images of themselves.

Sorry to be a pessimist, but until the Army turns the way we recognize, evaluate officers for their true potential, we will continue to see the co-dependent relationship between those who get promoted being selected by those who see themselves and were in turn promoted by the patriarchal grandfather of XOS3s of 20 years ago who are wearing little stars on their collars... . Its almost a bit incestuous, is it not?

Of course, the demographics of this next LTC Board could certainly shoot a hole in this hypothesis, but that truly sensitive data is awfully hard to get a hold of.

Just my .02

Jim Ramage (not verified)

Thu, 03/03/2011 - 2:30am

I agree with Gates, a land war in Central Asis is not a good idea. We have stretched our resources to the limit to substain the effort in Afghanistan. Anyone reading this will realize instantly that I'm not a genius; however, I know that without the cooperation of several of the "stans" and the Taliban we would be walking in Afghanistan instead of riding around in our fleet of MRAPs and Hummers. There is absolutely no way that we can fly enough fuel into Afghanistan to operate all of our generators and vehicles. Thanks to the kickbacks from contractors and the jobs provided to their cousins as convoy security guards the Taliban have not made a concerted effort to shut down the fuel supply to ISAF.

As to the future of the Army and US foreign policy I think we should be thinking Western hemisphere. China is not and will never be our friend. They will be our competitor for raw materials and they have shorter lines of communication with east Africa and the Middle East than we do. We cannot win a protracted, conventional war against China in that theatre of operations. Once we admit that fact we should begin building stonger alliances with our southern neighbors who can and do supply us with oil, immigrants (labor) and participate with us in trade. All this without the problem of a choke point such as the Malay Straits, Straits of Hormuz, Suez Canal, etc. Like it or not we need to copy the British plan of East of Aden and let India and China decide who will control that part of the world.

With a secure backyard in Latin America we can re-focus our defense on China and the Pacific. The largest land army still needs control of the air and sea to directly threaten the US. Japan has to re-arm or be Finlandized and my bet is that they won't spend a lot of time learning Chinese. The future will be interesting. I pray that our political leaders, with clear guidance from the Pentagon, can make the right decisions. Time will tell.

Achilles (not verified)

Wed, 03/02/2011 - 5:59pm

Neoptolemus has it right. Frankly, I don't care if this piece was written under an aliases and I applaud SMJ for posting his commentary, as long as that person is indeed a "senior defense official". Obviously something ain't right in the five sided building if someone of such stature felt it necessary to reach out as he did without disclosing his identity.

Ken White (not verified)

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 11:44pm


Not to worry. I didn't really see in Gates talk what some seem to but if as occasionally occurs I'm wrong and everyone else is correct, not to worry. Over the years I've seen the Army oscillate between a low of 450K to over 1.5M and virtually every figure in between.

Post Viet Nam, the Army went down from an almost 1.M end strength to 750K in two increments -- it gave up more people than the entire USMC had at the time for each of three years running. Ups and downs. No worries -- it isn't going away.

Bad thing about democracies is the Army always gets cut post war. Neat thing about them is that new administrations bring different ideas. Foe example, Eisenhower was slowly strangling the Army to pay for the USAF and Missiles -- Kennedy boosted the Army back up (Not because he believed he should, simply because it was the opposite of the course taken by his predecessor...).


Well, I always got a '1' in integrity. Sadly, a 2 or a 3 on Tact... ;)


Tue, 03/01/2011 - 11:13pm


I am not fully comfortable with the proposed trade-off either...but...for the sake of the analysis, here is what I see.

Both the Air Force and the Navy cover down on the strategic mission. It appears that we will be relying upon strategic capabilities until we can get our bills and expenditures under control.

Hard choices about needs and wants need to be made...

Bill M.

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 10:33pm

Points taken from the post above, but moving back to the topic at hand, does anyone agree with the SECDEF's comments on the future of war? If so why? What makes you reasonably certain we won't need a large land army?

I agree with the unknown author above that this could lead to some very bad outcomes. We don't always get to choose the wars we fight in, or how they'll be fought. Admittedly you can grow ground forces (at least light ground forces) much quicker than you can air or naval forces, so a peacetime reduction post Afghanistan is probably unavoidable considering our dire financial straights, but hopefully not to the extent that SECDEF appears to be suggesting.

Pubulis (not verified)

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 9:42pm

I generally enjoy the posts at SWJ- it is a professional military journal, except for this entry. Not sure if folks get to play with aliases and get published often here, but it cheapens the website. I say this of course while posting an alias myself- but I am not writing an article to foster intellectual discourse. By hiding behind a fake name, the entire proposal of this article falls under suspect; because this retired officer works in the Pentagon, I understand that they are concerned about publishing something critical of someone high in their food chain. That said- grow a pair. Plenty of active duty officers and academic professionals put their names and credentials to their thoughts to facilitate discourse in a professional forum. They do this at risk as well, but the merits of their argument are often structured so that any critical thinker will realize that sometimes the truth hurts. Hiding behind a fake name and posting an article within a professional journal reflects unfavorably upon the writer, as well as SWJ... Sorry guys but this is just below your standards from my foxhole. Part of professional discourse is having the courage to make an intellectual stand and defend it with honor, discipline, and an open mind. When criticizing the Emperor, you can still tell him he has no clothing if you deliver it tactfully and with integrity.