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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.

2 Comments

RE: Both Limited resources articles . Hindsight is wonderful, but we have no means to gauge any outcome with a real alternative (this would imply having two worlds running side by side). So we are involved in a learning experience on all fronts, with various time,logistical and not least human constraints. There is one relative field which remains unknown, that being intent, and it is rightly or not ,a guarded secret by all sides, no matter the posturing. Do we have the means to adjust Irans intent , without knowing its true nature we cannot answer that. Do we have the means to limit the effectiveness of any bad intent , clearly yes, but at the risk of at the same time 'creating' that bad intent. Are there unexplored diplomatic solutions, clearly yes, but they are largely unworkable due to various regional stances, and time is unfortunately now of the essence. We have only reality to work with , there are powers that will not risk allowing that reality to take certain directions, for very clear reasons, no matter the result . It is very very clear, and has been made so. We are not in a game of brinkmanship, we are not fighting a propaganda war, as we have no need to. Iran knows its oponents, it knows what its stance will lead to. It has moulded its reality, rightly or wrongly, on certain stances internationaly, and is no longer in a position to back down, to do so would be the quivalent of the US pulling out of Iraq overnight whilst signing a security pact with Iran, or Israel allowing the return of all Palestinian refugees and renouncing Jerusalem. If it were not for the blatant ideology that drives the regime, we might rightly pause to consider exactly what Irans stance signifies, yet Iran does not offer us such luxury, so we can only wonder at Irans ends, as do many of its neighbours, with an unease that will not be tolerated indefinately.For Iran to be nuclear armed would only be a final and effective visible manifestation of its present deterent capability. All would loose in a conflict even now. In the future, would we all loose even more ? Are we willing to wait to find out the correct answer , or are we to impatiently decide not to select the wrong one ? The public would like the correct answer, those involved in defence would not wish to get it wrong. Though there is little movement in that direction, we need a correct answer from all involved nations now.

Characteristically, you make a number of outstanding points. First and foremost, the state of the U.S. military was inherited by the Bush administration, as you correctly detailed. If I left the impression that I held the younger Bush culpable, I alone share that responsibility. Moreover, your reference to startegy—ie the flawed garrison strategy pre- Gen Pat.— is well founded as a contributing factor in our military’s present exhaustion.
Certainly, one must “got to war” with the Army one has. Fair enough. However, if we are truly in war of momentous proportions, why did we wait so long to expand the military commensurate with the challenge? If we are in such a war, act like it. Put the nation and the military on a war footing; don’t advise the public to visit Disney Land.
Steve asks, “Had we begun doing in 2004 what we are doing now, where would Iraq be today?”
I readily acknowledge or concede the point. I might add a further inquiry, however: Where would the military be in President Bush had set forward expansion of the military on September 12th, 2001?
Again, one fights wars with the military one has. Fair enough, but why does one have to squander so much time in rectifying force inadequacies, PARTICULARLY if one has a strategic inkling that a second front may be on the horizon?? Are we to presume that state abettors of terrorism ala Saddam’s regime were never discussed as potential targets in the intervening years?? If holding the initiative necessitated strikes—and the concomitant task of remaking and rebuilding the government/society succeeding the decapitated terrorism facilitating regime—against state actors, why the delay in augmenting our forces to accept the greater exertion??
Additionally, I disagree with Steve’s assertion that our conventional threats “may have subsided.” Every year, China’s force projection capabilities grow, and one cannot no longer ignore the reality that they are gradually becoming a peer military rival. Surely I am not the only individual to express concern over the relationship between the size of our armed forces, its present deployments, and our capacity to deter and remain qualitatively superior to the Chinese.
Lastly, commitments of our military must be seen in a global context, multi-layered context, not merely through the prism of the war on terror. And a global context entails global responsibility and asking the question— can we presently safeguard ALL of our security interests ( Taiwan ect) if pushed to do so by exigent circumstances???

At any rate, I applaud Steve for raising points which my piece may have omitted and creating a forum for an interesting dialogue.