RE: Limited Resources: Iran and US Military Options
Earlier today, Warren made an observation that I feel compelled to take issue with. In Limited Resources: Iran and US Military Options, Warren wrote:
Meanwhile, despite the irrefutable fact that the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq has succeeded brilliantly, the strain of that theater coupled with the concurrent burden of waging war in Afghanistan continues to levy a heavy toll on the U.S. military. The wisdom of fighting two wars on two different fronts with a military that was so manifestly ill-equipped for the added exertion ranks as one of the great blunders of the present administration.
I understand that Warren's greater point is that our military is entirely too small to most effectively engage and sustain the conflict at hand, in all its theaters - present, looming and potential. And on that we certainly agree.
Debate over what America's next step should have been post-Taliban-al-Qaeda rout in Afghanistan is a healthy exercise.
However, calling the opening of a second front "one of the great blunders of the present administration" is well off the mark.
Let's keep in mind that the United States armed forces, while injuriously depleted during both the Carter and Clinton administrations, is one that has been built for the express capability of fighting two wars simultaneously. Its flag commanders had regularly certified it as capable of such, up to and including 2003.
Sure, this - in light of the massive reductions cited and the current persistent combat deployment rotation schedule - can be questioned. But in reading Warren's piece, one is left with the impression that the "blunder" was that of President Bush for employing a certified force rather than previous administrations and Congresses - from George H. W. Bush post-Gulf War to Bill Clinton - slashing unites, systems and bases in search of the elusive 'Peace Dividend.'
One thing that can be effectively extracted from Warren's words today is that the 'Peace' is the 'Dividend,' and one which can only be maintained through strength, not reduction. Our conventional threats may have subsided, but they have not disappeared. China grows while just this week Russia verbally made military threats against us. Further, the emergence of an asymmetrical terrorist threat currently engaged means that much of our military resources must thus evolve to meet it without ceding weakness on the conventional front.
This means growing our military and not shrinking it or merely maintaining it. This is what I interpret Warren's point to be.
But to call any additional engagement beyond Afghanistan a "blunder" is to presume that wisdom would have us wait until we spend decades growing and transforming our military forces to best meet the threat. The enemy will not wait for the opposing cavalry to field the ideal horses.
After the rout in Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda had poured over the border into Pakistan. We had three choices.
1. Hold and maintain a massive defensive line on the Afghanistan border.
2. Pursue the enemy into his chosen lair, invading Pakistan and turning an already reluctant ally into a battlefield foe with al-Qaeda able to join forces with a conventional army.
3. Hold the line in Afghanistan while taking the offensive against a state sponsor of terrorism with an eye toward the greater conflict at hand.
It has been and still is argued whether Iraq was the wisest choice as part of Option #3. That's beyond the scope of what Warren is addressing and largely academic at any rate. But choosing Option #3 can hardly be called a "greatest blunder."
While his words were repeated within an emotional context not present or intended when he spoke them, Donald Rumsfeld was flatly correct when he said after the Iraq invasion, "You go to war with the army you have, not the one you want."
President Bush and the Pentagon have taken measures to increase the size of the military - the Marine Corps has been slated to grow by 27,000, for instance. But that growth will not be actualized until 2011. The Army's slated growth by 74,000 is not expected until 2013. The men must be recruited and trained, the units equipped and formed.
Furthermore, Iraq did not go so badly for several years because the military was undermanned and under-equipped for a second front. Rather, as the strategy employed in 'The Surge' and its resultant and undeniable success shows, it was because of a failure of command military leadership - primarily though not exclusively from Generals Casey, Sanchez and Abizaid - who directed several years of a garrison-mode posture rather than forward-deployed population protection in counter-insurgency.
The buck must ultimately stop with the president. And I believe President Bush has ensured it does. But it is far more appropriate to ascribe "blunder" to the ambitious shrinking of our military after the Gulf War, or perhaps even to employing a garrison-mode counterinsurgency in Iraq rather than a population-centric strategy in place now since 2007.
But opening a second front was taking the initiative from the enemy, an invaluable aspect of both tactical and strategic warfare. What did falling into a garrison mode once there do? Cede initiative to the enemy. The Petraeus effect in counter-insurgency in Iraq was to take the initiative and deny it to the terrorist enemy.
The 'Army we had' in garrison mode then is the same 'Army we have' now, with dramatically different results. Had we begun doing in 2004 what we are doing now, where would Iraq be today? (There are many contributing factors - such as the development of the Iraqi Army and police forces - that prevent a direct extrapolation of time factor, but the point remains. As well, rather than simply lament the past, it is more constructive for tomorrow's engagements to learn from it rather than simply excoriate over mistakes. I say this purely in reference to my own observations above, not in criticism of Warren in any way.)
Yes, the Army and Marine Corps growth announced in January 2007 should have been implemented far sooner as well as in greater numbers. It is, after all, far quicker and easier to disband entire units than to stand them up. But to criticize opening a second front offensive as a "blunder" because we did not have 'the Army we want' is to cede the initiative to an enemy that had taken the initiative long before 9/11, and an enemy that extended far beyond mud huts and caves in Afghanistan, however inconvenient that unfortunate fact was and remains.