Thursday, June 24, 2004

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (1)

Philip Carter weighs in

Philip Carter manages to meld together the theme of my last two posts -- troop levels and the crisis in Sudan. On the first question, Carter has a Slate piece criticizing pretty much everyone inside the Beltway for using fuzzy math on the question of optimal troop levels. The highlights:

[A]dding more troops for their own sake may not be the right answer, despite the current strains on the military from the Iraq and Afghanistan missions. So far, no one is asking the most fundamental question of all: How many troops does the United States really need? Those who want to make the Army bigger assume that adding more troops will magically solve the military's overstretch problems, but that's not necessarily the case. Without an honest assessment of U.S. military requirements, we have no way of knowing how many troops to add (and what kind) or whether drastic measures (like a draft) might be necessary. More important, an honest study of U.S. military requirements may tell us that added manpower is not the answer and that other solutions will buy more bang for our taxpayer buck....

The [current DoD] 1-4-2-1 model also provides very little help in predicting a force size because the range of possible post-9/11 missions is so vast—everything from formal major regional conflicts to small special forces and civil affairs deployments (as in the Philippines) to ongoing peacekeeping (as in the Balkans) to special ops works all over the world. The 1-4-2-1 model still sees military requirements through the prism of state-based warfare. But as the post-9/11 deployments show, that prism may be anachronistic. Tomorrow's major military deployment might not be for combat at all—it might require the deployment of an expeditionary nation-building force to stave off a humanitarian crisis. A new military planning model ought to take these kinds of missions into account, too.

In many of these places, firepower might not be the answer, and the 1-4-2-1 model also fails to predict the other kinds of forces which might be necessary for a given situation. If America decides to intervene somewhere like Sudan, it will need a mix of civil affairs troops, military police, engineers, and medical personnel, not just pure combat forces. Furthermore, military forces alone may not be sufficient; we may need to create units with the Treasury Department capable of managing the economic aspects of nation-building, or within the Department of Justice to manage the legal parts of the job. The 1-4-2-1 model also assumes the mission will end when major combat operations end—something which has proved to be wildly off the mark....

It would be very easy to throw more money at the troop-strength problem by hiring more infantrymen. But doing so won't fix the deeper structural issues which make today's military inefficient—like the decades-old decisions to concentrate critical support functions like military police and logistics in the reserves. Nor will throwing more troops at the problem take into account the revolutionary changes in warfare that have taken place just in the past 15 years. We may need more ground troops today to win wars and decisively manage the postwar aftermath, but we may not need more support personnel, sailors, and airmen. The only way to find out is through an intellectually honest assessment of America's military requirements. This is an assignment the next president—whoever he is—should give his Secretary of Defense immediately.

In a follow-up blog post, Carter ties the debate about troop levels into the case of Sudan.

Go check it all out.

posted by Dan on 06.24.04 at 10:56 AM


There is some irony in the fact that the Bush administration began with precisely the "soup-to-nuts" reevaluation of the ways the American military could fulfill its missions that Phil Carter calls for. This was the whole point of Sec. Rumsfeld's "Revolution in Military Affairs" reforms, that aimed at radical restructuring of the armed forces to take greatest advantage of the American edge in standoff weaponry and high technology generally.

The missions Rumsfeld had in mind for the military to perform were squarely in the tradition of American popular thinking about threats to national security: you identify them, destroy them, and don't hang around afterward unless there is no alternative. Before 9/11 Rumsfeld did not get a lot of support from the White House for his efforts, and faced bitter and effective opposition from senior military officers, particularly in the Army. And then 9/11 happened, and the missions changed.

So while individual components of Rumsfeld's grand strategy for military reform remain -- and some have even been implemented faster than they would have been otherwise because of Rumsfeld's greater clout in Washington after 9/11 -- the strategy as a whole doesn't fit the missions that either that his administration (sorry. George Bush's administration) has committed the country to or that people like Phil Carter think America should now take on in places like Sudan. And were back to another soup-to-nuts reevaluation, which will be succeeded by another next year, or in the next couple of years anyway.

FWIW, I think our contribution to Sudan should be primarily logistical. We should have enough airlift capacity to put large numbers of German and Canadian troops on the ground in that country, in close enough contact with Arab militias so that some of them are killed.

There is no way American will support creation of a military establishment large enough to do all the things we are being called on to do. Not only will we need allies, we will need allies who are prepared to pay a price in blood to stop bloodshed. We know who was so prepared with respect to Iraq; it's time to find out who is prepared with respect to Sudan. The only way to deal with free riders is to demand that they pay the fare.

posted by: Zathras on 06.24.04 at 10:56 AM [permalink]

"Tomorrow's major military deployment might not be for combat at all—it might require the deployment of an expeditionary nation-building force to stave off a humanitarian crisis."

Oh the irony! Was it really just yesterday that the adults were chastising us adolescent liberals for nation building ? Were they really wagging their fingers at us, promising us that they were going to do everything they could to get us out of this business?

If it weren't so tragic, I'd be laughing my frickin' ass off right now.

posted by: Hal on 06.24.04 at 10:56 AM [permalink]

As someone who has consistently opposed the mendacity of the Bush Administration and actively worked in a strong reversal for grassroots Democratic campaigning, I still have to say that articles like this make me extremely skeptical of the seriousness of liberals and their capacity to govern the nation.

It's a very simple principle: When the house is burning down, then is not the time to revise the fire and saftey building codes.

This was the very same mistake that Rumsfeld made, thinking he could make long term change happen in the army fast enough to meet short term needs. It's completely insane.

I don't like the bloat, inefficiency, and outdatedness of the military in general. However to do a study like Phil Carter suggests and implement it would easily take a decade.

In the short term we have no such option. Confusing the issue by bringing the topic of longterm reform into the discussion of short term troop deployments is yet another reason to undermine my already shaky confidence in liberal governing competence.

If I wasn't pretty sure that Bush and co. were madmen, I'd still be unsure of handing liberals the keys to the nation.

posted by: Oldman on 06.24.04 at 10:56 AM [permalink]

I'm not sure how fair or accurate it is to identify Phil Carter with liberals. I don't actually disagree with the idea that we need to assess how best to match military capabilities to the missions we are asking the military to undertake, especially when the missions have changed as radically as they have since early 2001. Where I most question his prescription is in its assumption that all the things we might like to do with the American military the American public will be willing to pay for.

No one wants to see suffering in places like Darfur, and under different circumstances I would have no problem with America acting alone to stop it. But we are heavily committed in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, and to be effective in Sudan we would need a lot of help from countries that heretofore have been willing to address civil wars and failed states mostly with lip service and by writing the occasional check. Maybe we can get that help and maybe not, but we won't get it if we don't ask, and ask forcefully.

Also, if I may be forgiven for making a semantic point, I am as a rule inclined to give short shrift to arguments that ascribe insanity to public officials or even Internet commentators. I understand that "insane" is understood by some people as a synonym for "unwise" or "impractical," or even "driven by improper motivations," but none of these things are in fact what the word means. I do not mean to single out anyone in particular for what has become a common practice, and apologize if in these times of heightened passions my raising this matter seems quaint.

posted by: Zathras on 06.24.04 at 10:56 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?