Military historians also have a concept, less succinctly expressed, that nations tend to fight the wars they plan for, regardless of whether those particular wars still make sense. Shorter: tail wags dog.
In that vein, it is disturbing to discover that the change of presidential administration has actually given the Pentagon, if anything, an expanded sense of its own importance in future foreign policy planning:
WASHINGTON -The Pentagon is prepared to leave fighting forces in Iraq for as long as a decade despite an agreement between the United States and Iraq that would bring all American troops home by 2012, the top U.S. Army officer said Tuesday.
Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, said the world remains dangerous and unpredictable, and the Pentagon must plan for extended U.S. combat and stability operations in two wars. "Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction," Casey said. "They fundamentally will change how the Army works."
He spoke at an invitation-only briefing to a dozen journalists and policy analysts from Washington-based think-tanks. He said his planning envisions combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a sustained U.S. commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East....
Casey said several times that he wasn't the person making policy, but the military was preparing to have a fighting force deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come. Casey said his planning envisions 10 combat brigades plus command and support forces committed to the two wars.
When asked whether the Army had any measurement for knowing how big it should be, Casey responded, "How about the reality scenario?"
This scenario, he said, must take into account that "we're going to have 10 Army and Marine units deployed for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Casey stressed that the United States must be ready to take on sustained fights in the Middle East while meeting other commitments.
In other words: the policy parameters have already been set, and it really doesn't matter who is in the White House, because the tool is now specifying its own use.
[Technical note: it is an essential element of military planning and training to prepare for the wars you may be called upon to fight. That's why, during the 1980s we kept training on Fulda Gap scenarios, and in the 1990s we repeatedly looked at Balkan engagements. But at a certain point carts and horses come into play: think about German military planning prior to 1914. When the crisis blew up in July 1914, Germany's only recourse in declaring war on Russia (in response to Russia's declaring war on Austria-Hungary, which had declared war on Serbia, a Russian ally) was to invade France. Why? Because the only workable military plan the German General Staff had for a general European war (thank you Graf von Schlieffen!) envisioned an all-out attempt to defeat France before the Russians could complete their mobilization. I read General Casey's remarks, and I start to think we are in Schlieffen/von Moltke the Younger territory, not rational planning for future wars.]