It is a minor miracle that no federal office building or Washington think tank has ever collapsed under the weight of unread transition studies. Presidents elect simply don’t have the time to read the flood of material they are sent, transition teams often spend more time job-seeking than transitioning, and once new Administrations actually pick their team at the cabinet level, the cabinet member conducts his or her own transition effort.
It is important for President Obama and his team to understand, however, that they face a transition where they need to take immediate action in several key aspects national security. The new President elect is not going to have the time to meditate, have task forces examine broad changes in strategy, and think conceptually. As of January 20th, he will have to deal with the inheritance of ongoing wars and crises in many aspects of defense.
Immediate National Security Priorities
He must deal with the domestic and international financial crisis, but he will not have the luxury of focusing on a narrow range of issues. President Obama will be a wartime President from day one, and he will have to make immediate decisions and come to grips with immediate national security priorities:
-- Immediate decisions on how to fight the Afghan-Pakistan War and deal with the Iraq War.
-- Reshaping the FY2010 defense budget and future year defense program to create balanced, affordable programs.
-- Dealing with the cost-containment crisis in defense procurement.
-- Restructuring deployment plans to reflect new priorities in Afghanistan while dealing with recruiting and retention programs.
He must simultaneously deal with a crisis in US-Iraqi relations over the future role of US forces in Iraq, and a recommendation from his military commanders that some 20,000-25,000 more US troops be deployed in Afghanistan. There will be no pause in the terrorist pressure from Al Qa’ida in Iraq, a winter campaign will already be underway in Afghanistan, and the many of the details of an extraordinarily bleak NIE on the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan will almost certainly have become public.
The new President will also inherit massive problems in US defense planning, programming, and budgeting. While Secretary Gates has salvaged something from the Rumsfeld mess, he has not resolved a planning, budget, and management disaster that permeates every aspect of the Department of Defense. There will be an immediate need to compensate for nearly eight years of conceptual strategies decoupled from force plans, and budgets, poorly structured wartime budget supplementals, a grossly mismanaged procurement effort in every military service, and a failure to contain the cost of US defense spending.
Secretary Gates may be able to help with a better structure FY2010 defense budget submission, and an FY2010-FY2014 future year defense program FYDP that corrects some of these problems, but the onus will fall on the new Presidency. Restructuring and rebalancing the FYDP, procurement plan, and military manpower and deployment cycles will be critical priorities for immediate action.
The extent to which the Obama Administration acts on this basis, rather than the basis of the ideological extremism and failed management of the Bush Administration, will determine much of its success and the state of US national security. The US had pragmatic, reality-based Administrations for half a century following World War II, and had extraordinary success. It is time to return to that realism. (end of excerpt)
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