Defense Capitol Hill deputy bureau chief
The other day I went to see what Rep. Buck McKeon, the
presumptive next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, might have to
say about things will change on his watch.
The California Republican was a bit coy. The theme of his
talk at the Foreign Policy Initiative's 2010 Forum was leadership. He quoted
Gen. Omar Bradley, saying that, "Leadership is intangible, and therefore no
weapon ever designed can replace it." HASC, as he sees it, needs to restore
leadership where President Obama and congressional Democrats have failed. This
includes setting a timeline for drawing down troops in Afghanistan, losing
focus on Iraq, cutting missile defense programs, and mishandling the War on
Mr. McKeon committed to working in a bipartisan manner and
promised that HASC would not wade into partisan "gotcha" oversight, but the
verbs he used in describing his agenda were telling, as he vowed to "expose," "expedite,"
"challenge," and "focus," among other things. But he made few concrete
statements about anything outside of the normal oversight power that is given
to any congressional committee, other than calling wartime cuts in defense
spending "a red line for me and a red line for all Americans." Mr. McKeon even
acknowledged that his committee's ability to call Gen. David Petraeus to
testify on Afghanistan could be limited by the executive branch. "Well, we can
ask," McKeon said, "But as I said, we only have one commander in chief, and if
he commands Gen. Petraeus to be busy doing something else, he may not show
Leadership is intangible, but the final outcome of
defense policy is not. Republicans are no doubt committed to strengthening
national defense through expanding the budget, exposing poor practices in the
defense bureaucracy, and making a long-term military commitment in Afghanistan,
but his committee's ability to change the status quo remains to be seen. The
same was true of the 110th Congress, where a Democratic majority
elected on an anti-war platform ultimately failed to end the Iraq War. With a
Democratic Senate and, if necessary, a presidential veto standing in the way,
Mr. McKeon and House Republicans have their work cut out for themselves. Still
unresolved is the stance newly elected deficit-hawk Republicans will take on
defense spending, a divide Sen.
John McCain predicted earlier in the day at the FPI hoedown.
Bottom line: Don't expect too much out of
the HASC in the next two years.