Robert Gates has put the Pentagon on notice – they need to tighten their belts.

His goal is $7 billion in spending cuts and efficiencies for 2012, growing to $37 billion annually by 2016.

Every modern defense secretary has declared war on Pentagon waste and redundancy. And there have been notable, but relatively narrow successes, in closing and consolidating military bases or in canceling a handful of weapons systems.

But if Mr. Gates’s sweeping plan is fully enacted, none of the armed services or Pentagon civilian agencies and directorates would be immune from the pain of annual cost-cutting, which would become institutionalized across the Defense Department.

Let’s be clear – Gates wants to save money on operations to have more money to use to fight wars. The lack of supplementals would save the overall bottom line a bit, but we’re talking about change on the margins with respect to the military budget. Only a rethinking of American military policy, and the bases in 100-plus countries, would really get the kind of savings to make an impact.

But I’ll throw out one area for cutbacks – stopping the counter-productive drone strikes that even the CIA operators oppose. In addition to inflaming Al Qaeda and raising that threat level (which costs more in counter-terrorism efforts), the raw cost of a drone plan, the operations, the inevitable payments for collateral damage, etc., can add up.

“Some of the CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect, it is doing more harm than good,” said Jeffrey Addicott, former legal adviser to U.S. Special Forces and director of the Centre for Terrorism Law at St Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, in an interview with IPS.

Addicott said the CIA operatives he knows have told him the drone strikes are being used effectively by al Qaeda and Taliban leaders to recruit more militants.

CIA officers “are very upset” with the drone strike policy, Addicott said. “They’ll do what the boss says, but they view it as a harmful exercise.”

“They say we’re largely killing rank and file Pakistani Taliban, and they are the ones who are agitated by the campaign,” he added.

Because the drone strikes kill innocent civilians and bystanders along with leaders from far away, they “infuriate the Muslim male”, said Addicott, thus making them more willing to join the movement. The men in Pakistan’s tribal region “view Americans as cowards and weasels”, he added.

Maybe not expanding the secret wars in often illegal ways would save a nickel or two as well. Deployments in 75 countries can get pricey. (See Jeremy Scahill for more on this.)

Point being, there’s quite a lot of fat to trim at the Pentagon – but it would require an outlook that didn’t think spending more on the military than every other country in the world combined was perfectly reasonable and justified.