Thursday, December 25, 2008

An early Happy New Year ... parsing the Washington Post on American military intereventionism

Reading between the paragraphs is a fun exercise, but I think that people too often don't have the resources to do it.

So, for fun, when I read this WaPo article by Ann Scott Tyson at, I thought I'd give it a try.

After all, the devil is in the details, and--far too often--people who take the time to read the papers and journals think they are getting the whole story:

The Army needs to add at least 30,000 active-duty soldiers to its ranks to fulfill its responsibilities around the world without becoming stretched dangerously thin, senior Army officials warn.

Its responsibilities around the world? This is code for maintaining our foreign network of over 750 military bases in other nations, which provide the logistical framework to be able to project American troops unilaterally into virtually any region on the planet.

"You can't do what we've been tasked to do with the number of people we have," Undersecretary of the Army Nelson Ford said in an interview last week. "You can see a point where it's going to be very difficult to cope."

Note this what we've been tasked to do is different from our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Already, the Army lacks a strategic reserve of brigades trained and ready for major combat, officials said, and units being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are receiving new soldiers at the last minute, meaning they have insufficient time to train together before crossing into the war zone.

The original US Army doctrine of the Reagan years was to be able to fight and win two regional wars simultaneously. Clinton pared that down to fighting one regional war and deterring another simultaneously (based on the now unfortunately disproven idea that no American president would be stupid enough to fight two regional wars at a time by choice). Now that we're fighting two regional wars (and damn near losing the one in Afghanistan), we've got precious little left beyond nukes and saturation bombing even to deter a third flashpoint.

But the demand for soldiers extends beyond those countries, with the Pentagon creating new missions that require troops trained in cyber-warfare, homeland defense, intelligence-gathering and other areas, Ford said. "We have five to 10 new missions, and we are already stretched now."

New missions? Surprise, surprise: the Pentagon (and the incoming Obama administration--remember his debate comments about the need to stop genocide wherever it occurs) is planning to do more, not less in the way of military operations over the next decade.

The Army is currently on track to grow to 547,000 active-duty soldiers next year, up from 482,000 before the war. But Ford and other Army officials say that, with rising demand for ground troops for Afghanistan and other contingencies, the increase is insufficient.

We've already increased the size of the army by 65,000 troops; we need the other 30,000 to finish out what is known as the Gates' Plan. I'll let you go find it yourself [or check my archives and also note that Barack Obama has endorsed this plan]. What, by the way, are the other contingencies?

The service needs 580,000 soldiers "to meet current demand and get the dwell time," Ford said, referring to the amount of time soldiers have at home between deployments to train, rebuild and spend with families. "You can run a machine without oil for so long, and then the machine ceases," he said. "The people are the oil."

Note that this paragraph contradicts what was said above. Earlier, the Pentagon needed new troops for new missions. Here, the Pentagon needs new troops to meet current demand. It's tough to keep the talking points consistent.

Ford's remarks come two years after Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned as defense secretary, removing from the Pentagon a powerful opponent to expanding the Army. Rumsfeld opposed a permanent increase in the size of the Army and instead devoted much of his tenure toward turning it into a more agile force, an agenda that met with objections and dismay from senior Army officers.

A wonderful case of writing a usable historical narrative, by blaming Rumsfeld for not wanting a larger army. Rumsfeld, for all his other faults, wanted a shift in the structure of the Army, a reduction in the necessary logistical base, and a move toward a brigade-based organization--all of which would have meant a much larger Defense Budget, but about the same manpower.

The Army is also benefiting from the weakened economy, which has improved the service's ability to recruit and retain soldiers. Despite well-publicized recruiting problems faced by the Pentagon in the early years of the Bush administration, the Army has met its recruiting goals for the last three years, and it continues to see benefits from its $1.35 billion, five-year "Army Strong" advertising campaign launched in 2006.

Which is another reason nobody will cut the Defense Budget too much during the first two years of the Obama administration: the military is steady if dangerous work with great benefits.

But President-elect Barack Obama's transition team has signaled that the incoming administration will look to cut the Pentagon budget, of which military personnel costs are a rising share.

This is BS, plain and simple. Obama will make cosmetic cuts that lengthen R&D expenditures, and he'll probably go the neophyte route of cutting back some heavy air and armor weapons production (while granting exemptions to allow McDonnell Douglass et al to sell their overage to our friends), but he won't cut back on personnel, operations budgets, or benefits. He will (see below) use both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy to hide a significant amount of military spending.

Planning is underway at the Pentagon to add at least 20,000 more U.S. troops to the force in Afghanistan, but the Army is facing pressure to supply not only combat brigades but also the thousands of support soldiers required to facilitate operations in Afghanistan's austere terrain.

Ah, I already told you this, two weeks ago [again, go check the archive; I'm not feeling chartiable with links tonight]. There will be no significant Iraq Dividend, because supporting 60-80,000 troops in Afghanistan will cost every bit as much as supporting 130,000 in Iraq.

"Logistics issues in Afghanistan are just stunning," Ford said.

No shit. Who would have thought fighting a major war in a land-locked country surrounded by Iran, Pakisten, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and one other whatever-stan whose name I forget would be ... logistically difficult? Where did you think the supplies were going to come in from?

And in Iraq, even as the total number of U.S. troops declines, more support forces are likely to be required, in part to assist the Iraqi military, Army officials say. "As you draw down in Iraq, you're going to need more sustainment and aviation," said Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which has been deployed to Iraq three times.

Ah, good old Tony Cucolo, always a man too honest for his position. For every five combat soldiers we take out of Iraq over the next 18 months, we're going to have to send in two new technical specialists. Nobody else is mentioning that, huh? Wonder why?

The demand for soldiers extends beyond the war zones, as commanders in other regions request troops, Ford said. "It's a real challenge. It's not just Centcom that thinks they need more soldiers; Northcom wants more soldiers, Africom wants a dedicated headquarters, Pacom wants more for 8th Army in Korea," Ford said, referring to the U.S. Central Command, Northern Command, African Command and Pacific Command.

Centcom is fighting two wars; I'll give it a break. Northcom wants new soldiers available in case YOU start rioting about current economic conditions. Africom needs to be ready for the new Obama Doctrine of consistent intervention in humanitarian crises. PaCom is worried about North Korea, Taiwan, and the Spratley Islands.

The shortage has serious implications for the Army's preparedness for other major contingencies, because constant rotations leave too little time to train for anything but the counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the officials said. The Army last week unveiled a new training doctrine that requires preparation for "full-spectrum" combat, but service officials estimate it will take about three years before combat brigades have enough time at home between tours to carry out that training.

So what are we training full-spectrum combat forces for, if not for Iraq and Afghanistan? No, we're not planning any more interventions. Of course not.

"We need at least 18 to 24 months" at home for training, said Lt. Gen. James D. Thurman, the Army's deputy chief for operations. "If we get beyond 18 months, we can start building the full-spectrum capabilities back," he said. "We can start moving towards that within the next three years."

Note the level of almost hysteria here. What exactly are we worried about during the next 18-24 months? Has the Pentagon in fact learned through SecDef (for life, apparently) Gates that the Obama administration has new visions for (dare I say it?) a New World Order?

Yet the Army is constrained in its ability to increase time at home, because of a constant need to rotate forces overseas and the Pentagon's limit on the length of deployments for active-duty soldiers, as well as the mobilization time for reserve and National Guard soldiers.

Once they get the extra 30,000 active-duty troops, look for a push to add at least 50,000 to the Army National Guard.

The Army's current growth plan involves adding six active-duty combat brigades over the next three years, which will ease the rotational strain somewhat. At Fort Stewart, Ga., the 3rd Infantry Division, which now has 20,000 soldiers, will add 5,000 soldiers, including a fifth brigade by late next year, according to Brig. Gen. Tom Vandal, the division's deputy commander for support.

This is the scariest paragraph in the story. At 25,000, with five brigades, 3rd Infantry Division will be simultaneously (a) the largest division in the US Army; (b) the division with the most experience in no-holds-barred urban fighting; (c) the commander who is reputedly one of the most "take no shit" generals in the Army; and--get ready for it--the division already announced as the US Army's force trained for direct domestic intervention in times of emergency and/or civil unrest, posse comitatus be damned.

One of the primary aspects that separates a real republic from a bannana republic (aside from glossy mailers offering discount clothers) is that in real republics the active-duty military is not used for domestic intervention.

Start peeling.


Anonymous said...

nice post..

Brian Miller said...

One of the things that amazes me about the military is that its budget is considerably larger than the bailout payouts made to banks and the automakers this year.

The GOP and its mouthpieces like the deceptively-named FreedomWorks spent untold amounts of time and energy demanding an end to bailouts for Detroit -- yet the amount that was loaned out is less than what the military-industrial complex that pays THEIR salaries shells out for a single aircraft carrier.

This is ultimately why Republicans (and their Neocontarian brethren) will never deliver their own tagline of "small government, low taxes."