Largely lost in the period after 11 September was the Bush administration’s official plan for the U.S. armed forces. Known as the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), it was released on 30 September, as Congress had mandated—even though Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld obviously had other priorities on that date, just a week before the commencement of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Few government reviews in recent times had caused more of a stir in their initial stages, yet been greeted with less interest upon their actual release.
But just as much of the early criticism of Rumsfeld was unfair, the subsequent neglect of the contents of his defence review was unfortunate. Although the review was hardly the radical document many had expected, it nonetheless will guide the next four years of American defence policymaking. As such, even its secondary recommendations are important and worthy of considerable scrutiny.
In addition, since the release of the 2001 QDR, we have learned a great deal more about modern warfare. Although it is just one case, reflecting a peculiar and perhaps unique set of combat circumstances, the war in Afghanistan has been instructive about what works well and what still needs improvement within the American military. It also suggests that certain types of investments and certain types of forces may be more, or less, worthwhile than previously recognised. It is important not to overgeneralise from one conflict; U.S. armed forces, after all, have a wide range of responsibilities on six continents and a wide range of potential foes to confront. But Operation Enduring Freedom nonetheless provides important insights useful for future defence planning, and these insights should guide the way in which the QDR is implemented.
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