The recent decision by a panel of senior Pentagon officials to begin production of the Air Force’s stealthy F-22 fighter aircraft is yet another indication that George W. Bush’s high flying rhetoric about transforming defense is likely to be largely empty. The aircraft, costing a staggering $200 million per aircraft, is the most expensive fighter built. Although very capable, the plane was designed during the Cold War to fight a threat from advanced Soviet aircraft that never materialized. In the post-Cold War world, the air-to-air threat is so limited that the United States can maintain crushing dominance of the skies by producing an upgraded version of the existing F-15C fighter and modernizing the AWACS battle management aircraft.

The F-22 decision was not the first sign that the Bush’’s defense transformation is dead. The Pentagon also recently decided to build the problem-plagued V-22 tiltrotor aircraft for transporting Marines from ship to shore. The fixed wing aircraft takes off like a helicopter, tilts its propellers, and then flies like a plane. The Department of Defense decided to produce the aircraft in low quantities until it can figure out how to redesign the plane so that it can be operated safely. Deciding to build an aircraft that is 10 years behind schedule, $15 billion over original cost estimates, and may not be safe was highly questionable.

For both the V-22 and the F-22, the Pentagon keeps increasing the costs, slipping the schedule, and reducing the number of planes to be purchased. But those two weapons are not unique. The U.S. defense industry-plagued by a mixture of socialism, industrial policy and excessive regulation-continues to build new generations of weaponry that often cost double that of the previous generations, are consequently fewer in numbers, and take 15 to 20 years from program initiation to production. In contrast, in the commercial sector-in which market forces often operates-each generation of products is lower cost, higher quality, and produced in a shorter time.

But recent decisions to produce costly or unneeded weapons that were designed during the Cold War are not the only reason to believe that President Bush’s seemingly earnest desire to transform defense is doomed. Secretary Rumsfeld, either because of bungling or because he never really bought into the Bush campaign pledges of defense reform, has squandered any opportunity radically transform U.S. defense forces, the weapons they use or how those weapons are developed and produced. At the time of his nomination, Rumsfeld was billed as a savvy insider who knew how the game in Washington was played. An adroit bureaucrat, however, should have known that two paths existed to achieve any reform. Unfortunately, Rumsfeld has mixed the worst aspects of both paths.

One path to success in Washington is to know what you want to do, hit the ground running and ram your policies through Congress before the vested interests supporting the status quo can rise up in opposition. This path requires secrecy and more importantly a popular mandate for the particular policies that can be used against the vested interests.

The second, slower, path is to study the problem and find the right solution, build a consensus in the bureaucracy for change, and schmooze the Congress by making them feel a part of the process. This path requires openness and inclusion and a willingness to broker a compromise with the vested interests in the bureaucracy and Congress.

In reality, Rumsfeld had only the second path as an option. He did not have a popular mandate for defense transformation. After the Cold War ended, Americans pay less attention to national security issues. More important, George W. Bush did not win an overwhelming mandate in the election to promulgate any of his policies, let alone defense reform.

Yet Rumsfeld has sabotaged achieving his goals through the second pathway by being secretive and only belatedly working to develop a consensus in the bureaucracy and Congress for transformation. In fact, instead of schmoozing Congress, Rumsfeld has dumped kerosene on the fire by delaying his budget submission and developing proposals to reduce the Pentagon’s constitutionally-required accountability to Congress by reducing requirements for testimony and reporting. Furthermore, even under the second, slower path, Rumsfeld has studied the problem to death. He has now turned the problem over to the bureaucracy in the Quadrennial Defense Review, making it likely that no meaningful reform will occur (it has not in past defense reviews).

Could Rumsfeld be this naive or is he trying to quash a reform program that was never his idea in the first place? Richard Armitage developed the ideas for defense reform for the Bush campaign but he is now at the State Department. In the end, it doesn’’t matter because the result is the same: defense transformation will be a lot less than advertised.