Cheney at Defense ...

IRONICALLY, the magnitude of the work to be done at the Defense Department was outlined very well by John Tower in his recent speech to the National Press Club. His main points, which now become good advice for nominee Dick Cheney: The public does not trust defense officials to manage its defense dollars wisely. Strategy and forces planned for do not match available resources. Critical choices have to be made in both nuclear and conventional arsenals. Weapons procurement must be reformed and abuses rooted out. Defense contractors and the uniformed services will have to get used to hearing the word ``no'' from a tough and clear-eyed secretary of defense.

Most of the Reagan-Weinberger era at the Pentagon was a time of ``arm to parley,'' to use Churchill's phrase. That's essentially over, not only for economic reasons but because the world is changing. Some hawks like to say this is a pre-war (not the post-war) era. The rationale for such an assertion - that violent conflict is inevitable - is wrong. But it's correct in one sense: the US and its allies should not be preparing to fight (or deter) the last war, but a form of conflict (to use another strategists' phrase) that is increasingly ``unconventional.''

Just look at what's happening today in the Middle East and South Asia, in Central and South America, in Europe itself, and it becomes clear that the size, complexion, equipping, and deployment of US forces is likely to go through more change in the next 10 years than it did in the past 40.

This presents great challenges (and opportunities) for the next secretary of defense. The Tower fight is finished. Time to get on with the more important task of meeting those challenges.

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