Today, PoliTALK and the Daniel Webster Legal Society hosted a special lunch for Dr. David S. C. Chu, the baritone-voiced CEO of the Institute for Defense Analyses and former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness in the George W. Bush administration. First and foremost, Dr. Chu is a partisan, but not in the political way. If there is one flag he carries, it's the banner of the Department of Defense. Just about every problem that the DoD gets blame for is someone else's fault. And I believe him.
Exhibit one: The Constitution. The Senate declares war and the President fights it; the Army does not set its mission. Congress sets the statues and the DoD enforces it; "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was not our idea. The State Department requires guard forces and instead of bolstering its diplomatic security branches, it hires Blackwater. The DoD is just a tool-- like a gun on the table. Completely incapable of doing good or harm without the guidance of someone to pick it up and use it.
Dr. Chu is emphatic about the volunteer nature of the U.S. Military. If the soldiers don't want to be there, he doesn't want them. Under his leadership at DoD, a reassignment program was instituted to allow GIs to bid to change their deployment, thereby allowing each solider to serve according to their preferences. I asked him about the fate of those soldiers who joined to fight terrorism after 9/11 and instead found themselves in Iraq. He said that this new program was designed to counter disagreements in mission, as well as aligning preferences for location and duty. Incentive pay for difficult-to-fill missions is the kind of smart management that the DoD now embraces.
When asked about the roll of contractors, Dr. Chu thinks it's much ado about nothing. Why waste the time of a GI to be a cook when you can just contract out to catering companies? Efficiency, lower price, and freeing up GIs for soldiering are the benefits.
"But what about mercenaries like Blackwater?" I ask.
"I know people have their complaints but they keep writing to the wrong address. Personal security is not really a duty of the Armed Forces. Even outside military bases, the guard personnel are civilian. If the State Department wants to get off security contractors, they should increase their diplomatic security branch, not complain to me."
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? Well this is college so someone asked about it. "If Clinton -- a usually astute politician -- hadn't stepped in and made it an issue, Defense would have sorted it out ourselves. In the past, to get out of duty, people might say 'I'm a homosexual' and their superior would discharge them. Honorably, that is. Now, people might say 'I'm gay' and their superior says 'Alright... get back to work.' Only a couple hundred are discharged each year for a homosexual lifestyle out of tens of thousands for other reasons. We'll get there [allowing gays to serve openly], but it will be some time."
At his lecture, the Brooks Family Lecture, he reiterated these points and the general outline of his introduction: the Army is lean and mean, we operate in an uncertain world, our capabilities must be diverse to deal with the changing situations, and we must capitalize on our most valuable asset: human capital.