I may not actually be the best person to speak at a conference titled, ‘The Military Beyond Iraq.’ I say this because for much of the past year I’ve been trying to concentrate the minds and energies of the defense establishment on the current needs and current conflicts. — Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense 

Gates derided the defense establishment for focusing too little on the current conflict. Short of stating tomorrow would take care of itself, it was clear he wants the preponderance of effort to be on the tasks at hand in Iraq and Afghanistan and current operations, in general. He was critical of those service denizens off fighting the next war. He called it “next-war-itis.” It seemed to be a curious and possibly politically motivated comment. Gates was addressing a seminar sponsored by the Heritage Foundation when he made his comments in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

We consulted with our active-duty panel of experts, and they backed Gates without question. Our experts agreed the U.S defense establishment is not fighting the current war. For example, “How did the services let themselves get dragged in the MRAP [(mine-resistant ambush-protected) vehicle] ‘fiasco?’” one asked, meaning that the bulky behemoth completely goes against what current ops warrant. “You have to be among the people and not buttoned up in an MRAP, said a senior officer who served in Afghanistan. (Gates considers MRAP a success, as he mentioned in the speech. Our panel thought the investment might not be a total loss if the U.S. dukes it out on the African Plain. Hello, AFRICOM. Any takers?) 

According to one senior officer, another of Gates’ concerns is we have not learned enough from the current situation to plan correctly for the next. “Gates is right. We still have people stuck in the good old days with the Soviets. You’d think we’d be past that now, but we’re not,” he said. He gave more evidence supporting Gates concerns. “We completely missed the cyclone in Myanmar (Burma) and the earthquake in China. It’s no secret that we don’t have people in place in these crucial areas of the world. And oh by the way, a lot of these people affected by these disasters are susceptible to extremist philosophy.” He continued “These disasters? They ARE the current war, but we don’t get that. These disasters impact and inform future planning. If we don’t get current ops — if we don’t fight the current war — how do we plan for future ops? 

Don’t know. Stay tuned.

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