Saturday, June 23, 2007

Soldiers and strategy

One thing that the Congress needs to avoid is to simply add more troops based simply on the reality that troop shortages quickly developed in the Iraq War. The armed forces should be "right-sized" (to use a corporate clichee of a few years back) based on a long-term strategy of what kind of conflicts are expected. We already see how both parties can agree on "more" without any decision - or even discussion - on the longer-term assumptions.

Andrew Bacevich recently addressed this issue in
More troops, more troubles Los Angeles Times 06/18/07. Citing the broad bipartisan support for increasing the number of active-duty Army and Marine soldiers, he writes:
In fact, this enthusiasm for putting more Americans in uniform (and for increasing overall military spending) reflects the persistence of a second consensus to which leading Democrats and Republicans alike stubbornly subscribe.

This second consensus consists of two elements. According to the first element, the only way to win the so-called global war on terrorism, thereby precluding another 9/11, is to "fix" whatever ails the Islamic world. According to the second element, the United States possesses the wherewithal to effect just such a transformation. In essence, by employing American power, beginning with military power, to ameliorate the ills afflicting Islam, we will ensure our own safety.
Increasing the number of troops is not right or wrong in itself. But it should be based on clear strategic decisions about the role the United States intends to play in the world. And continuing to pursue the neocon-inspired Bush Doctrine is not an acceptable option. Certainly Bacevich does not think it is:
The underlying problem is that the basic orientation of U.S. policy since 9/11 has been flat wrong. Bush's conception of waging an open-ended global "war" to eliminate terrorism has failed, disastrously and irredeemably. Simply trying harder — no matter how many more soldiers we recruit and no matter how many more Muslim countries we invade and "liberate" — will not reverse that failure.
Robert Dreyfuss recently wrote (Financing the Imperial Armed Forces 06/05/07):
[P]residential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, at present, competing with each other in their calls for the expansion of the Armed Forces. Both are supporting manpower increases in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 troops, mostly for the Army and the Marines. (The current, Bush-backed authorization for fiscal year 2008 calls for the addition of 65,000 more Army recruits and 27,000 Marines by 2012.)
The armed forces in 2001 were optimized for conventional warfare with heavy reliance on high-tech airpower. Rumsfeld's goal for military "transformation" was to continue and increase such reliance, further minimizing the number of troops required for wars.

If that's the direction the Congress and the country want to continue, it may not make much sense to be expanding the size of the Army and Marines. But if the direction needs to change to optimize the services for expected counterinsurgency operations, then the need for the current level of investment in aircraft and missiles is too high. (The Star Wars "missile defense" program is a question of a different order; only if the goal is to optimize the military for boondoggle projects does that system make sense.)

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