The Dubious Genius of Andrew Marshall


Early next month, HREF="http://www.prospect.org/print/V12/4/vest-j.html">Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's Adviser on
Net Assessment will produce a report that will be the working blueprint
for the Pentagon's future. Given that the Adviser -- Andrew Marshall --
is a futurist fascinated with the most advanced technologies, observers
expect the report to be chock full of recommendations emphasizing an
expansive embrace of "information age" technologies, and a shift away
from more conventional procurements.


Indeed, if you read last Friday's HREF="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46423-
2001Feb8.ht
ml">Washington Post
, you'd be
inclined to think that Andrew Marshall is an island of ingenuity,
intellect, and integrity floating amidst the vast archipelago of corrupt
and conniving Defense bureaucracies. He is, wrote the Post's
Thomas Ricks, "one of the Pentagon's most unconventional thinkers," a
man who's "controversial" in part due to his prescient, visionary views
that are "hardly conservative." Because he's scrapped with the military
brass over a handful of doctrinal and procurement issues, he's a
"radical reformer." Not that the average person would know any of this,
of course, as Marshall is "all but unknown outside national security
circles" and is legendary for being "publicity-shy."


Indeed, for a guy who's been ensconced at the Pentagon since 1973,
the 79-year old Marshall has done a remarkable job of flying below the
radar. Put his name and office into the news database Nexis and you'll
find less than 50 hits. Among them is a reprinted piece in The Palm
Beach Post
Ricks did for his former employer, the Wall Street
Journal
, which could hardly have been more effusive in depicting
Marshall as the quiet, Oz-like genius of the Pentagon. Far from being
probing, this article puts Ricks in the company of a bevy of defense
contracting executives and their cut-out advocacy groups, like Frank
Gaffney's HREF="http://www.security-policy.org/papers/1998/98-P16at.html">Center for Security Policy, who adore Marshall for his dire
prognostications about an inevitably bellicose and hegemonic China and
his advocacy of " HREF="http://www.cfcsc.dnd.ca/irc/amsc/amsc1/038.html">Revolution in Military Affairs" -- something critics
charge is an intellectual cover for spending largess on "precision" Buck
Rogers-type weaponry that has been less than 100 percent effective. But
it's his subtle role as a national missile defense booster that has many
concerned about his new tasking as uber-Pentagon program reviewer.


"Putting Andy Marshall in charge of this is a ploy to make sure
national missile defense gets funded," holds Mel Goodman, a veteran
Central Intelligence Agency analyst now at the National Defense
University
. "If he can justify making cuts in conventional procurement,
they can then justify taking $60 billion to throw at [missile defense].
[Rumsfeld] is the first secretary of defense to turn over a key problem
to his Net Assessment Adviser, which is a strange way to do business. If
they were serious about this, they would not be looking for answers in
several weeks."


According to those who have worked with Marshall or kept an eye on
him, Marshall's forward vision of defense revolves around the notion
that in the near future, the U.S. will not have access it currently
enjoys to forward bases around the world, so force projection must
necessarily become an action that revolves not around aircraft carrier
sorties and armor and infantry deployment, but long-range arsenal ships
and planes, networked sensor arrays and precision-weapons. As such,
Marshall's been particularly critical of the Air Force's HREF="http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-22.htm">F-22 fighter
program -- the plane, he says, has too short a range to be useful to the
American military of the future.


Some have touted Marshall's opposition to the F-22 as an example of
his "iconoclastic" thinking. But according to investigative author Ken
Silverstein -- perhaps the only journalist who's written critically of
Marshall -- this is bunk. "So he's been a critic of the F-22. Fine and
dandy, " says Silverstein. "But you can find case after case where he's
come out in support of other systems that are just as worthy of
skewering. Saying he's a tough critic is like saying Jack Valenti is a
tough critic of the movie industry."


While Marshall gave rare interviews to Ricks in 1994 and right-wing
historian Jay Winik for an admiring April 1999 Washingtonian
piece, Marshall declined to answer any of Silverstein's queries when
Silverstein was working on a series of defense-related investigations
for The Nation that he later expanded for his book, last year's
HREF="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/stores/detail/-/books/18598
47560/reviews/ref%3Dpm%5Fdp%5Fln%5Fb%5F6/107-6371924-6701307">Private Warriors
.


Noting that only a handful of sycophantic articles were responsible
for Marshall's public image, Silverstein expressed great skepticism
about some of Marshall's claims, including one that Office of Net
Assessment had been the first to sound the national security alarm about
AIDS in the 1980s, going so far as to alert the Centers for Disease
Control (CDC) to take the problem seriously. (The Centers did not
respond to queries from The American Prospect about any contact
between the Office of Net Assessment and the CDC, but according to
interviews with Pentagon sources who remember early 1980's briefings on
AIDS from the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center, no one can
recall any involvement -- or advocacy role -- from Marshall's office.)


Another claim Silverstein found a bit difficult to swallow was a riff
from Ricks' Wall Street Journal piece, in which he asserted,
"Well ahead of most Sovietologists, Mr. Marshall noticed the weakness of
Soviet society in 1977, he focused on the environmental and demographic
crisis that were undermining the Soviet system." In fact, Silverstein
wrote, Marshall's "associates have no recollection of Marshall ever
having expressed such views," quoting a former staffer as saying, "until
the very end he was a major promoter of the line that 'The Russians are
coming and they're 10 feet tall.'"


Indeed, in 1977, Marshall was one of the quietly forceful hands
behind the infamous HREF="http://www.bullatomsci.org/issues/1993/a93/a93Teamb.html">Team B episode, the Central Intelligence Agency gave
members of the far-right Committee on the Present Danger access to CIA
data and allowed to histrionically rewrite the National Intelligence
Estimate on Soviet Military Intentions. Though Winik wrote that he later
rebuked the intelligence community for overestimating Soviet strengths
in the '80s, Silverstein noted in his book that Marshall's aid in
authoring a secret Reagan Administration-era study on winning a nuclear
war with the Soviets (the U.S. should "be able to force the Soviet Union
to seek earliest termination of hostilities on terms favorable to the
United States," it held) didn't exactly smack of prognostic optimism
about the USSR's military capabilities.


National Defense University's Goodman -- one of the Agency's top
Sovietologists who testified against Robert Gates for the latter's
exaggerating the Soviet threat -- adds the assertions about Marshall's
Sovieticus prescience strains credulity. "I don't recall where he was
out in front of the whole Soviet issue -- if anything, he may have said
it was time to throw more money into taking out the Soviets at a time
when we were spending too much already," Goodman says, adding that this
again brings us back to the current issue of missile defense. "We were
spending in peacetime what we would normally do in wartime budget
allocations. Now, instead of spending 6 percent of the GNP on defense,
we're spending three. National Missile Defense puts that at risk, and if
you're talking about a radical tax cut at the same time, that likely
puts us back in the deficit spending arena."


Though Silverstein holds that Marshall, "has been an enthusiastic
supporter of Star Wars schemes," Marshall's boosterism is more oblique;
unlike the hawks on the Hill and elsewhere, he's not visibly jumping up
and down, shaking his pom-poms in support of National Missile Defense.
Indeed, few of his associates, from the past or present, are willing to
ascribe any particular view to him, and not just because of his
legendary bent towards the taciturn. ("He's as Delphic as they come --
days may go by before he utters a word," says a former Office of Net
Assessment staffer, adding that this proclivity for reticence has earned
him the nickname "Yoda.") "He's hard to draw a bead on," says one
analyst who worked with him, "because he spends his time coming up with
every conceivable future scenario that could threaten the U.S."


"He is not very interested in the here and now, but is primarily
interested in hypothesizing futures that cut against the grain, and you
can argue that we really do need someone like that," says Jonathan
Pollack, a professor at the HREF="http://www.nwc.navy.mil/default.asp">Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island,
and one of the leading analysts of the Chinese military. "His interest
is to take events as they are understood and find a way to turn them on
their head, to conflate understanding, and look for patterns or
possibilities that could be studied. And he often comes up with quirk
results. It's like he thinks of the world as a bell curve and is only
interested in the tails of distribution." Or to put it more succinctly,
he is, Pollack affectionately says, "a worrywart."


And this makes him worth having around, at the very least as an
unconventional sounding board for a Secretary of Defense, or as a grand
vision canary-in-the-coal-mine. But according to a longtime analyst, the
product from Marshall's office often seems to be, "thinking outside of
the box for the sake of thinking outside the box," fused with a touch of
the paranoid. "His views are very much animated by the belief that most
of those at the Pentagon are asleep at the switch, too wedded to the
status quo and weapons systems he believes will be vulnerable in the
future," says the analyst, who concedes, "the fact that he doesn't share
the conceit about an unchallenged United States may have a utility at a
certain level.


"But how much serious policy judgments and spending and procurement
decisions should be based on this approach is another question," he
adds. "Because the reality is a lot of the things he's postulating
aren't provable. His escape clause is that what he's talking about is
not reality today, but is using the equation of, 'based on this
variable, let's extrapolate and postulate that x could happen which
could lead to y which could lead to z, and how do we prepare for that?'
There are times it's great to know you have someone around who runs
those scenarios, especially if they do come to pass. But Andy is not the
Pentagon's indispensable man, nor is he an omniscient seer."


Indeed, according to Silverstein, if there's a good description of
Marshall it's that he's, "one of the most effective pork-seeking
missiles ever deployed by the military brass." While this may be
overstating matters a bit, given Marshall's desire to gut a slew of
conventional weapons programs, it seems to ring true if you're
interested in national missile defense. As a key witness before Donald
Rumsfeld's HREF="http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/missile/rumsfeld/index.html">Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the
United States, Marshall played no small role in convincing the
commission -- whose findings have been cogently criticized by numerous
analysts -- that a real threat is imminent.


"Though Rumsfeld's commission made no recommendation whatsoever on
National Missile Defense, it dealt with the issue very artfully," says
Pollack. "In fact, if that commission had a methodology, it was a very
Marshallian methodology -- you can posit these circumstances, and if you
posit the following it's feasible this next thing could happen."
National Missile Defense deployment should, Pollack adds, be looked at
under the larger rubric on the -- currently in vogue -- doctrine of
"homeland defense," which focuses on protection from ballistic missiles
and terrorism, and offers a lot of moneymaking potential to defense
contractors. "This is going to be a gravy train," he says.

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