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Official Rebuts Quadrennial Review Critics

Jordan Reimer - American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2010 - A month after the release of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, a senior defense official directly addressed critiques of the report here yesterday.

The 2010 QDR, released on Feb. 1, is a comprehensive review of Defense Department strategy and priorities and identifies several key goals for the department in the next decade.

Speaking on background at a two-day seminar on the review hosted by the National Defense University, the official said it has become a well-established tradition to criticize the QDR, the fourth published to date.

"We've learned a lot about the critiques over the years [and] how they've evolved," the official said.

Rather than condemn the QDR's critics, the official noted the importance of having opposing viewpoints to make sure the administration is aware of all possible concerns.

"The great thing about this country truly is that we have this debate and that this debate creates innovation," the official said. "It asks the hard questions, it pushes us to rethink our assumptions. I think that's critical."

Without naming specific detractors or citing specific sources, the official outlined several negative observations that the current report has generated, and presented the department's response to each.

Beginning with the assertion that the 2010 QDR doesn't provide a strategic vision or overall conceptual framework, the official said that the review process begins with a thorough assessment of the U.S. security environment through extensive interagency meetings and discussions with allies and partners.

"We wanted to have very strong strategy themes. We didn't want our QDR to be misconstrued as either about [one particular weapons system or another]," the official said. "We wanted a very clear, obvious, strategy approach to the QDR, and that's how we came to the 'prevail, prevent, prepare, and preserve' themes."

Those themes, the official said, provide a 20-year outlook for Defense Department prerogatives, as the congressional mandate for the review requires.

The official noted that criticisms sometimes are contradictory, asserting that while the QDR has strategic vision, that vision is too divorced from fiscal realities.

"You get this a lot with QDRs," the official said. "You get hit on all sides."

The 2010 report is tied closely to the budget, the official pointed out, because the preceding QDR was accused of being too separated from the budget.

"I guess we would plead guilty. ... The secretary [of defense] did indeed push the department through the program review [and] budget process to ensure that we were always linking our decisions back up to what our strategic goals were," the official stated.

Regarding the concern that the QDR is too focused on prevailing in today's conflicts at the expense of tomorrow's threats, the official said it does address future challenges by laying out several high-end threats from potential state adversaries. But more importantly, the official added, the emphasis on today's threats is warranted.

"The secretary's emphasis is right," the official asserted. "We would be irresponsible if we did not pay foremost attention to giving the support necessary to the men and women in uniform in harm's way in operational theaters today."

The official added that military planners foresee that ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not aberrations, but rather are harbingers of the types of warfare in which the U.S. will engage over the next several years.

In reference to the dual accusations that the report outlined decisions made before the process began and that its conclusions were out of line with the current administration's goals, the official stressed the unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination during the review process, both within the Defense Department and with other departments and agencies.

"All of the combatant commanders were brought into the process from the beginning, which is the first time that has occurred," the official said. The review team also "worked very closely with the national security staff to make sure we understood the president's priorities."

The official acknowledged that the QDR could not address every issue related to the Defense Department, and that in only setting forth a way ahead, the QDR leaves some issues undecided for now. However, the official added, these omissions provide opportunities for those outside of government to contribute their insights.

"For those who think we didn't do enough, challenge us to tell us what more you would do right now," the official said.

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