One fine day
John Kerry says America is losing Afghanistan. Bill Roggio has been warning about Afghanistan for some time now, or rather about Afghanistan and Pakistan where the deal in Waziristan was apparently backed by such luminaries as Mullah Omar. John Kerry's main claim, predictably has been that Afghanistan's woes stem from a lack of American strength there as it is "starved" by Iraq. Interestingly enough one of the main criticisms of Iraq has been that it too had been "starved" of troops. If only 400,000 troops had been deployed instead of the measely 150K -- or so goes the argument -- things would have been different. But even the Democrats appreciate that numbers are not the complete story. Trudy Rubin of the Philadelpha Inquirer, opined and not without justification that:
We must decide as a nation, and soon, whether we think it is worth trying to bring stability to Iraq, a nation whose previous system we took down. We must search harder to find the troops we need, and the right kind of troops, to stabilize Iraq over the next year — and to give its government a chance. We must also try harder to enhance a program that is showing success, that embeds U.S. units within Iraqi units and helps them fight. These special U.S. units need more men, and soon.
Of course this is a different argument -- though not necessarily an incorrect argument -- from the early positions which characterized the conduct of the War on Terror in 2003. At that time there was very little appreciation of what was really required to defeat the enemy. The Democrats were arguing for police action through multilateral alliances. Or for large half-million man troop deployments in Iraq. And the Conservatives thought that major combat operations were over in Iraq. But in truth, no one was asking the right questions. As one Marine Colonel (the reference to which I can't find at the moment) argued, more men of the wrong kind would have converted Iraq into a mud-trodden disaster. John Kerry understands this, and calls for more Special Forces to be used. But where to get them? The Los Angeles Times describes the budget disputes within the DOD. Basically the Army wants more money and the question is where to get it.
The Army, with an active-duty force of 504,000, has been stretched by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. About 400,000 have done at least one tour of combat duty, and more than a third of those have been deployed twice. Commanders have increasingly complained of the strain, saying last week that sustaining current levels will require more help from the National Guard and Reserve or an increase in the active-duty force.
Schoomaker first raised alarms with Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in June after he received new Army budget outlines from Rumsfeld's office. Those outlines called for an Army budget of about $114 billion, a $2-billion cut from previous guidelines. The cuts would grow to $7 billion a year after six years, the senior Army official said.
After Schoomaker confronted Rumsfeld with the Army's own estimates for maintaining the current size and commitments — and the steps that would have to be taken to meet the lower figure, which included cutting four combat brigades and an entire division headquarters unit — Rumsfeld agreed to set up a task force to investigate Army funding.
Of course debates over military posture are less about the present than they are about the future. The LA Times article continues:
However, a good portion of the new money the Army seeks is not directly tied to the war, Kosiak cautioned, but rather to new weapons it wants — particularly the $200-billion Future Combat System, a family of armored vehicles that is eventually to replace nearly every tank and transporter the Army has. "This isn't a problem one can totally pass off on current military operations," Kosiak said. "The FCS program is very ambitious — some would say overly ambitious."
The enemy and the military situation is a moving target and both men and capability take a long time to acquire. Through the debate over Iraq and Afghanistan runs a whole gamut of questions, which include strategy (what to do about the opium crop, reliance on certain tribes to support Karzai, the question of sanctuary in Pakistan, the role of Iran in Iraq, the idea of a central government for Iraq) and the posture of US forces. And there are no simple solutions. Not even the Democrats are united over whether Special Forces are a good idea, John Kerry's call to send more into Afghanistan notwithstanding. Newsweek for example, warned that sending Special Forces against terrorists would reprise the evil, kidnapping and murder strategy made infamous in El Salvador. One man's solution is another man's problem.
Westhawk summarized much of the thinking that is now going on in his review of Col. Mark Cancian's article in Proceedings entitled "A Civil War in the Military" which categorizes the debate into three camps. And he asks, which camp should seize the building?
1) The Angry Generals School. Col Cancian refers here to the seven retired U.S. Army and Marine Corps generals who earlier this year called on U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign. Looking beyond their contempt for Mr. Rumsfeld’s alleged (in their view) meddling with tactical military matters, the author classifies these officers by their allegiance to “traditional” ground warfare tactics, the large-scale attrition warfare model successfully used in American military history.
Descended from the teachings of Generals Powell and Shinseki, The Angry Generals school is highly skeptical of transformation theories, and believes the Iraq war required a far larger U.S. ground force whose heavy hand they believed would have pacified Iraq’s street corners. Perhaps oversimplifying, The Angry Generals have little confidence in the labor-saving benefits of technology or the effectiveness of local proxies.
2) The Transformation School. Secretary Rumsfeld is a member of this school but not a charter member. In the 1990s Admiral William Owens, USN, then Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, popularized “transformation.” Admiral Owens described a vision of persistent, all-seeing sensors, connected to a seamless and global command and control system. Long-range precision weapons, guided by real-time and comprehensive intelligence, and coordinated by a “networked” commander, would accomplish what previously required mass armies, navies, and air fleets. General Tommy Franks, commander and planner-in-chief of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, remains a proud Transformationist.
The Transformationists will take every opportunity to remind their listeners that transformation is about changing the U.S. military’s culture and thinking as much as high-tech sensors, satellite communications, and precision strikes. But when they are honest, Transformationists must admit that their school is all about substituting technology for American riflemen. Critics of this school point to this thinking to show why Iraq was not pacified years ago.
3) The Introspective School. These officers blame the U.S. military itself for the current problem in Iraq, and the resurgent problem in Afghanistan. The Introspectionists believe the U.S. military remained focused on conventional combat operations for far too long after the end of the Cold War. During the 1990s, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Charles Krulak described the “three-block war” and U.S. Army doctrine manuals proclaimed the necessity of preparing for “full spectrum operations,” which presumably would include stability and counterinsurgency operations.
But the Introspectionists see this as so much lip service. Habits and bureaucratic momentum are hard to break. Up until today, procurement programs, investments in training facilities, and the evaluation of officers’ careers were tied back to the “major combat operations” template. Meanwhile, very few in the U.S. military were paying any attention to cultural, language, and field training required for stability and counterinsurgency operations, even though the U.S. had been involved in similar such operations in the Balkans and Latin American during the 1990s. Generals Abizaid and Casey, the current U.S. commanders in Iraq, are now paid-up members of this school.
The debate over the War on Terror is not all about simple metrics like "numbers" or Iraq versus Afghanistan. Or simple nostrums like whether to send more Special Forces to Anbar or Afghanistan. Politicians make it all sound simple, because they have to sound wise at all times. But I think the truth is that we don't really know what works and anyone who pretends to certitude is probably mistaken. Lawrence Wright in a recent interview with Hugh Hewitt makes the case that we got nearly everything wrong in the run-up to September 11 and that, to a great extent, the military, intelligence and diplomatic establishments continue in their perverse obtuseness even today. The difference is in the rate in which they are learning.
HH: Second category. Does the American military elite understand this enemy?
LW: I think of all the branches of government, that the military is moving faster in terms of evolving its response to this threat than in any other branch of government. It’s not to say that the military can solve the problem alone. I don’t think it can. But you know, the military is really down in the weeds with the enemy, and they’ve learned a lot about the culture and how to adapt to it. So I feel better about the military’s ability to understand the enemy, if not defeat him.
In the end, the single best thing response to the attack on September 11 was simply to do something, a policy which seems to me infinitely better than doing nothing, if only because action led to learning and that was superior to sitting back and imagining that we had the answers. One day a bipartisan policy on the War on Terror may be possible. One day.