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At Pentagon: a new vision, but old budget

A blueprint for the military reflects 9/11 and Iraq, but a budget request is more traditional.

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If poet Robert Frost had written the Pentagon's new road map, it might read: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took both.

This year was expected to be one of decision for the military. The limitations of today's force had been laid bare by the war in Iraq, where a lightning strike became a drawn-out occupation. If the Pentagon was to incorporate lessons learned from fighting the insurgency, priorities would have to be shifted and programs cut.

Yet with their new blueprint and budget for the future, both released last month, military leaders appear to be trying to split the difference - laying great stress on the need to adapt to irregular Iraq-style operations, while at the same time maintaining massive weapons systems that arose from a cold-war mind-set.

To Pentagon officials, the past month is just one glimpse of changes taking place over years. To critics, however, it is evidence of the conflicted thinking of an immense bureaucracy split about how to handle the threats of a new security era.

"You have a document that sounds visionary and a budget request that is steady as she goes," says Loren Thompson, a defense analyst for the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.

In the budget and the new planning document, called the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), officials attempt to answer fundamental questions about the country's security: What are the threats against America likely to be both now and in the future, and how should the Pentagon prepare for them?

The answers, on some levels, are not surprising. Listed first among the threats facing the United States is terrorism. Indeed, the review has marked the rollout of "the Long War" - the administration's new moniker for the war on terror. In the past month, defense officials have repeatedly used the phrase to draw parallels between the cold war and the current conflict.

"Both were and are fundamentally ideological conflicts," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a briefing Tuesday. "Above all, both required perseverance by the American people and by their leadership."

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