Win today’s war, Gates says

Times Staff Writer

In a pointed admonition to Pentagon planners, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that the U.S. military was afflicted with “next-war-itis” and must concentrate more on winning in Iraq and less on future conflicts that might never happen.

Gates said that since he took office, his priority had been to “concentrate the minds” of the defense establishment on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I have noticed too much of a tendency towards what might be called ‘next-war-itis,’ the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict,” Gates said.


While acknowledging hardships on troops and their families, Gates said succeeding in Iraq was vital.

“That is the war we are in,” Gates said. “That is the war we must win.”

In the speech, delivered in Colorado Springs to the conservative Heritage Foundation, he escalated his recent criticism of weapons systems and aircraft programs.

Gates dismissed the likelihood of a large-scale conventional war in the future, and said the U.S. must prepare for the more likely reality of low-intensity conflicts.

“Smaller, irregular forces -- insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists -- will find ways, as they always have, to frustrate and neutralize the advantages of larger, regular militaries,” Gates said.

Although Gates acknowledged the need to build up the Navy and modernize the Air Force, he said the Pentagon could expect more scrutiny in regard to conventional weapons systems.

Instead of large, complex systems, Gates called for simpler, more numerous and presumably less costly designs for new equipment.


He also said that every new weapons system would have to be useful for fighting irregular wars.

Gates specifically cited the Army’s Future Combat System, a program of interlinked armored fighting vehicles, unmanned aircraft and cannons, which he said could cost more than $200 billion.

He did not offer an explicit opinion on the system, widely known as FCS, but the speech appeared to be intended to put Army leaders on notice that they would need to justify the expense of the program and its battlefield utility.

“A program like FCS . . . must continue to demonstrate its value for the types of irregular challenges we will face, as well as for full-spectrum warfare,” Gates said.

Gates in recent months has criticized Air Force officials for speaking out about the need to prepare for future threats by building high-tech fighter planes. He also has urged the Air Force to increase the number of unmanned aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates has criticized Army and Marine Corps officials for their hesitancy about buying mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, commonly referred to as MRAPs. Gates pointed to the lifesaving abilities of MRAPs and countered arguments that they would have little use after Iraq.


In some ways, Gates shared concerns voiced by his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, who complained that the military was too slow to change from its Cold War-era stance.

But Gates has cast himself as a Defense secretary different from Rumsfeld, and he offered a veiled criticism of his predecessor during a question-and-answer session after his speech.

Gates said the next president should be sure to appoint a national security team whose members get along. Gates enjoys a close rapport with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but Rumsfeld had a poor working relationship with Colin L. Powell, Rice’s predecessor.

“It is relations among people that make government work,” Gates said. “They don’t have to agree all the time; they just have to get along.”

The speech is available on