President Barack Obama's first 100 days in office
have been marked by several major initiatives on national security issues -
including new strategies for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a defense
department budget designed to transform the way the world's most powerful
On Wednesday, Pentagon officials ticked off what they see as the major
accomplishments of the last 100 days - new plans for Iraq, Afghanistan and
Pakistan, the launch of a major review of defense policies and operations, and
efforts to improve the care given to wounded troops, and provided better support
and equipment to forces in the field, among other initiatives. The list does not
even include efforts to address regional issues such as piracy off the African
coast, China's fast-moving military modernization program, European missile
defense, nuclear arms talks with Russia and concerns about the nuclear programs
in Iran and North Korea.
Among the most far-reaching decisions is President Obama's proposed defense
budget for next year, which cuts some major weapons and aircraft programs, and
places a clear emphasis on the counterinsurgency warfare the United States finds
itself involved in now.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates presented the budget on April 6. "We must
re-balance this department's programs in order to institutionalize and finance
our capabilities to fight the wars we are in today, and the scenarios we are
most likely to face in the years ahead, while at the same time providing a hedge
against other risks and contingencies," he said.
Gates is using his stature as the only defense secretary in U.S. history to
be asked to stay on from one administration to the next. He says his budget plan
is based on the country's needs, and has indicated that any criticism is likely
be politically motivated.
But analysts like Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute say
there is plenty of legitimate criticism to make. "I'm very much disturbed by the
announced cuts in the defense budget and in defense programs that inevitably
will lead to a diminution of the capability of American military forces over the
course of time," he said.
Donnelly says while Secretary Gates speaks of balancing risks, what he really
is doing is increasing risks. "To balance risk, but at a greater total level of
risk, is ultimately a big step backward. So to be equally unable to respond to
conventional warfare - and we have seen the stresses and the struggles of the
force to respond to the challenges of irregular warfare over the last couple of
years - doesn't strike me as much of an improvement whatsoever," he said.
Donnelly is also concerned that the defense department is being asked to cut
costs, while other government departments are being allowed to spend more on
At the other end of the political spectrum, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings
Institution shares that concern, but says alarms being rung by some critics are
exaggerated, as are claims that the Obama-Gates defense plan is revolutionary.
"Despite the fact that Mr. Gates has proposed a number of generally well thought
through proposals, I still would put this in the category of evolution, not
revolution. And that's just fine by me," he said.
Both O'Hanlon and Donnelly note that there could be major changes in the
administration's defense plan now that Congress is preparing to debate it.
The two analysts agree that the next several hundred days will be as
important as President Obama's first hundred days.
O'Hanlon says now it is time to take the big ideas the president has
articulated - the war strategies and the budget, for example - and do the hard
work of implementing them.
"There are a lot of specific, concrete, substantive changes that now need to
be implemented on the ground. And the initial period of just getting the big
picture right and changing the tone of American foreign policy is now going to
have to be replaced by the period of tactical execution and of rolling up one's
sleeves and getting down to work in a more detailed way," he said.
Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman summed it up this way. "It's been a busy 100
days by anybody's account. And I suspect that the next hundred is going to be
just as busy," he said.
With two wars, a security crisis in Pakistan, a pending budget fight in
Congress and a variety defense issues worldwide, that may be an understatement.