BY Jeffrey Lewis (FP)
OCTOBER 24, 2014
Well, the news is out. Andy Marshall is finally retiring.
Last year, word leaked that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was considering shutting down Marshall’s Office of Net Assessment and shunting him off into retirement. The decision was framed in terms of sequestration, but you can’t balance the budget with Marshall’s meager $5-10 million budget.
Previous secretaries of defense have considered ways to ease Andrew Marshall off the stage in fatter economic times. He has held the same job in the Pentagon — director of the Office of Net Assessment — since Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger hired him away from the RAND Corp. in 1973. Originally set up to provide the Pentagon with a long-term perspective, the Office of Net Assessment outlived even Schlesinger himself, who passed away in March.
A furious rearguard action seemed to save Marshall and Net Assessment sinecure, but now Yoda is leaving on his own terms. Earned it, has he.
Now that Marshall is leaving, I am sure we’ll be treated to one long fawning remembrance after another telling us that Mr. Andy Marshall, 93, was a wise old cipher who earned his nickname, Yoda. This is silly.
The only way in which Andy Marshall resembles Yoda is that he is old. Marshall is not a cipher and, once one understands his views, I think one would conclude that he wasn’t particularly wise.
Now, my complaint is with the man’s ideas, not the man himself; Marshall is invariably described as kind and thoughtful. Unfortunately, praise for the Office of Net Assessment is inextricable from praise for the man himself. As a result, the image of Andy Marshall as Yoda serves to obscure what are some pretty awful policy ideas.
Although he rarely publishes or even speaks at length, Marshall’s views are neither hard to decipher nor particularly groundbreaking. Marshall’s opinions in print — two hard-to-find examples of which I am making available online here and here — are broadly similar to those of his hawkish colleagues from his RAND days. (Check out this great 1958 image of Marshall holding forth at a late night bull session in Albert Wohlstetter’s home. Also present are Fred Hoffman, Harry Rowen, and Alain Enthoven. These characters all make the requisite appearance in Fred Kaplan’s tour of the bestiary, Wizards of Armageddon.).