Commentary Magazine


Air Force Firings

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talked a lot about the need for good management in this sprawling government bureaucracy. His successor, Bob Gates, seems to be practicing it.

First he forced out the Army secretary, Francis Harvey, in March 2007, because of the scandal at Walter Read Army Medical Center over the handling of disabled veterans. Then this March he got rid of Admiral Fox Fallon, the head of Central Command, who had made his position untenable through what were perceived as public disagreements with administration foreign policy. Now he has canned Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne. Gates had developed a long line of grievances against them. As detailed by Air Force Times:

Those grievances include criticism of the Air Force’s nuclear weapons handling, two major acquisitions programs that have been stalled by protests, the service’s inability to rush more surveillance drones to the war zones, apparent conflicts of interest of current and retired senior officials related to a $50 million contract to produce a multimedia show for the Thunderbirds, and repeated clashes with Pentagon leaders over the number of F-22s the Air Force will buy and other budget issues.

The most serious blow to the credibility of the Air Force and its leadership has been a scandal spawned by the service’s accidental transfer in August of six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. . . .

Then in March, it was discovered that the Air Force had accidentally shipped classified nuclear warhead fuses to Taiwan in 2006. That prompted Gates to order a military-wide inventory of nuclear weapons and components. That report was recently submitted to Gates but has not been released publicly.

It is to Gates’s credit that he has moved to hold the most senior commanders responsible for foul-ups on their watch. If only his boss, President Bush, had consistently followed the same policy, his administration would have avoided a number of screw-ups in operations ranging from Hurricane Katrina relief to the war in Iraq.