More Caissons Rolling Along
(Published in The Weekly Standard,
from the February 9, 2004 Volume 009, Issue 21)
Virtually since this magazine started eight years ago, we have argued that the American military, and especially the U.S. Army, was too small. We agreed with most defense experts that American troops need new technologies to 'transform' their operations and maintain their tactical prowess. But we also took the position that the overall force had to be expanded to handle the many new missions, both combat and post-combat, in which we would find ourselves engaged in the post-Cold War world.
We are happy to report that, after doggedly resisting this argument, the Bush administration, in the person of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has (more or less) accepted its logic. As the Washington Post reported on January 29, Rumsfeld has approved a 30,000-man increase in the troop strength of the Army. While hardly sufficient, this is a necessary and crucial step toward rebuilding America's armed forces in order to help accomplish a central task of American foreign policy: fostering a decent and more democratic order in the greater Middle East.
Alas, Rumsfeld has waited until nearly the last minute to make the right decision and has limited its value by taking half-measures. Facing an open-ended occupation of Iraq--Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently acknowledged that troop strength in Iraq will most likely remain over 100,000 through 2005, and perhaps beyond--the regular Army has been stretched to its breaking point; the force now assuming the second Iraq rotation is 40 percent National Guard and Army Reserve. Still, the Pentagon professes uncertainty as to whether this kind of deployment in the post-9/11 world is an anomaly or a new reality.
It's a reality. The acknowledgment of reality was announced by Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, a former Special Operations head brought back from retirement by Rumsfeld to reform the Army but also to help repair the ripped relationship between Rumsfeld and the Army. Perhaps Schoomaker can persuade Rumsfeld that a reform agenda for the military isn't inconsistent with an increase in its size, and that, given the world we live in--a world so different from the 'strategic pause' expected by military reformers--both a transformed and a larger army are needed.
At the same time, it remains clear that Rumsfeld is less than fully committed to a significant expansion of the force. Distressingly, Schoomaker couched his announcement in the pillowy language of defense transformation: 'We should take advantage of this movement that we currently have'--meaning the delicate and dangerous rotation of forces in and out of Iraq--'to reset and transform during this emergency. And that's what gives me the encouragement that in fact we can do this.' This seems to make the 'emergency' in Iraq a means to transforming the military. Instead, we need to design a force that can handle emergencies in Iraq--and secure our foreign policy ends.
Too many Pentagon leaders continue to delude themselves that the current pace of operations in the greater Middle East is an anomaly rather than the new norm. They seem not to have grasped the most basic fact about American foreign policy post 9/11--that the United States is promoting a new order in the region, not simply managing the current one. While this does not mean that we have embarked on endless military campaigns, it does mean that U.S. forces will be active and present in the region, in the service of furthering a decent alternative to the violent, corrupt, and anti-American status quo. Afghanistan and Iraq are the beginning, not the end, of what National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice describes as a 'generational commitment.'
The details of the plan to raise Army strength underscore the basic problem. The 'increase' of 30,000 soldiers extends temporary measures already in place, including 'stop-loss' orders that postpone the dates when troops leaving service may muster out. The planned renewal of stop-loss is no long-term solution, and it will have a bad effect on troop morale, especially coming on top of the Pentagon's inept handling of personnel matters during the Iraq war.
In keeping with another of its bad habits, the Pentagon also has not directly addressed the question of how it intends to pay for the manpower increase. This year, the costs will be covered by the $87 billion supplemental appropriation for operations and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that is no way to plan or to budget for the future. Nor is it a way to build long-term congressional and public support--which would be easy to secure, if the case were made--for the military we need.
The facts are simple: We reduced U.S. military strength too much in the 1990s--beginning in the first Bush presidency. The Clinton administration deepened the Bush cuts by hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of billions of dollars. And the care with which the Clinton Pentagon managed the 'drawdown,' shrinking the educational, training, and institutional base of the defense establishment as well as the size of the field force, makes reconstituting it all the harder. Simple neglect, in the form of a traditional demobilization, might have been less damaging. Nor has the Rumsfeld program of defense reform achieved anything close to the personnel and budgetary savings hoped for.
So the gap between America's strategic grasp and its military reach remains. Defense spending has increased during the Bush years, but virtually all of that has gone to the prosecution of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has not bought much new capability, either in weapons systems or troop strength.
This gap cannot in the end be bridged in an incremental, ad hoc way. The president's vision of a global 'balance of power that favors freedom' rests on a foundation of sufficient American military strength. Increasing the size of the Army addresses the most immediate weakness in that foundation, but the overall structure of the U.S. military remains dangerously small. We note that the Democratic frontrunner, John Kerry, though not an advocate of increased military spending or capabilities in the past, has called for a two-division increase in the Army. We trust that the next president, whether a reelected Bush or a newly elected Kerry, will finally come to grips with our power deficit and commit us to the military we need for the world we live in.