Conservative Critiques of the War, Part I: Introduction
[This post started out as an update on the feud between Rumsfeld and his generals in the Army, but I've decided to turn it into Part I of what we envision to be a four part series on conservative critiques of the war.] In a recent intelligence report from Strategic Forecasting, the premier private intelligence agency, George Friedman draws attention to a memo by Lt Gen James R. Helmly, the head of the US Army Reserve.
Addressed to the chief of staff of the Army, the memo stated that the Army Reserve was in danger of becoming a "broken force," due to personnel policies adopted by the Army and the Department of Defense. Helmly wrote, "The purpose of this memorandum is to inform you of the Army Reserve's inability . . . to meet mission requirements associated with Iraq and Afghanistan and to reset and regenerate its forces for follow-on and future missions." When a three-star general writes a memo containing these words to the chief of staff, and then leaks the memo to the press (it did not arrive at the Sun through telepathy), what you have is a major revolt by senior Army commanders. Helmly may have been more incautious than others, but he is far from alone in his view that the force in general is broken. More directly, if the Army Reserve is unable to carry out its mission, the same can likely be said for National Guard units. This means that the Army in general, which is heavily dependent on both to carry out its mission, won't be able to do so. What the generals are saying is that the Army itself is unable to carry out its mission.A little background is necessary here to understand why Friedman concludes that if the Reserves are broken, the Army on a whole is as well. After Viet Nam, the nation's military leadership decided that in the future they did not want to fight another unpopular war. They therefore restructured the US Army such that nearly all of its combat support and combat service support units were transferred to the Reserves. We've heard various figures but for some specialties, close to 90% of the personnel needed for some key support missions are reservists. The thinking on the part of the Army leadership, specifically Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams, was that since any large scale deployment of Army combat forces would require combat service support personnel to be activated, that politicians would be hesitant to commit the Army to a large-scale conflict unless they were sure that it would be supported be an electorate totally fine with watching its citizen soldiers deploy and possibly die. This situation continues today. One reason why such a large number of the Army personnel deployed in iraq are reservists is because there simply are no active-duty troops who do their jobs. These are the unglamorous jobs that do not make headlines, but without which an Army grinds to a halt: bulk fuel operations, motor transport, military police, civil affairs specialists, supply specialists, etc. (Certainly our Army vet readers will correct our mistakes here, but we're pretty sure this is the case.) The second constraint that the military runs up against is that reservists by law can only be activated for two years at a time, after which there is some minimum period when they must return to civilian life. It is these two constraints of force structure to which Lt Gen Helmly refers. Thus, when he speaks of an inability to regenerate his forces, this is what he means. There could be other concerns as well, such as unexpected, unplanned for, and unfixable wear and tear on equipment and such. But the central part is force structure. Friedman continues:
Rumsfeld believes that there is a revolution in warfare under way. As the author of The Future of War , I completely agree with him. However, as I stated in that book, the revolution is just getting under way and will not be mature for generations. It is not ready to carry the warfighting burden of the United States, although it can certainly support it. Until that revolution matures, traditional forces, particularly the Army, will need to be maintained and, in time of war, expanded. Rumsfeld's view is that the revolution is more mature than that and that warfare can now be carried out with minimal Army forces. In some ways, Rumsfeld was right when he focused on the conventional invasion of Iraq. A relatively small force was able to defeat the main Iraqi force. Where he made his mistake, in my opinion, was in not recognizing that the occupation of Iraq required substantial manpower and that much of that manpower was in the reserves. He compounded that mistake enormously when he failed to recognize that an organized insurgency was under way in Iraq. Counterinsurgency operations is one area in which the revolution in warfare has made little progress, and Rumsfeld should have hit the panic button on Army force structure when the insurgency picked up steam. In Iraq, Rumsfeld was going to fight a guerrilla war, and he was going to need a lot of infantry and armor to do it. If, in addition to fighting the guerrilla war, Rumsfeld planned to carry out other operations in the region and maintain a strategic reserve, he needed to expand the Army dramatically. Rumsfeld made three mistakes. First, he overestimated the breadth and depth of the revolution in warfare. Second, he underestimated the challenges posed by counterinsurgency operations, particularly in urban areas. Mistakes are inevitable, but his third mistake was amazing: he could not recognize that he had made the first two mistakes. That meant that he never corrected any of the mistakes. There is another way to look at this. The United States is in a global war. Personnel policies have not been radically restructured to take into account either that the U.S. needs a wartime force structure or that that force structure must be congruent with the type and tempo of operations that will be undertaken. Not only doesn't the force stretch, but the force is not built to stretch. Hence, Helmly's memo.Friedman's thesis is thus: 1. Rumsfeld is correct about the changing nature of war, but wrong about the tempo of the change. 2. The US needs drastically more troops in Iraq. Friedman even mentions that the US' personnel policies "have not been radically restructured to take into account either that the U.S. needs a wartime force structure or that that force structure must be congruent with the type and tempo of operations that will be undertaken." But he doesn't quite go the whole nine yards and say what is left unsaid: The US cannot commit more troops to Iraq because it has no more troops to commit. Troops must be cycled and rotated on a manageable schedule. We have maxed that out. Any further increase in troop rotations would leave us strategically vulnerable in other theaters. 150,000 or so at a time is the best we can do. That should give one pause. Is that enough to defeat China? We've said this before, here. But Chester's theories on force structure is not quite the purpose of this post and we digress. The questions that all of this raises are numerous. Who is right, Rummy, or his generals? Or could both of them be right? Four documents help us untangle this mystery to get to the heart of what Rumsfeld's thinking is. The first is the book, "Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait," by Midge Decter, who is married to the eminent conservative Norman Podhoretz, and is a personal friend of the Rumsfeld. While she has been charged as being an apologist for Rummy, that certainly means that she knows her stuff as well as anyone else about what he thinks. We read this book last week and found it to be similar to "Rumsfeld's War" which we've previously recommended, but with differing details [links to both in the sidebar]. In Chapter 6 of her book, Decter offers us this view of the Pentagon as it was when Rummy came to rule:
. . . on the other hand, while the military was no longer sunk in the post-Vietnam atmosphere of failure and depression of the 1970s and had long since come to be at ease about presiding over an all-volunteer force, they were still very far from being in as vibrant and feisty a condition as their twenty-first secretary. One of the reasons for this was that little by little over the years, and to a truly marked degree during the Clinton administration, Congress had in effect replaced the executive branch in the job of looking after the Pentagon. There were now hundreds of people working in the building whose only role was to serve members of Congress" answering their inquiries, tending to their interests, and doing them favors. And the favors done for congressmen were only too duly reciprocated: it seemed that virtually every special budgetary request, along with every new weapons system, not to speak of many a no-longer-needed military base, had its advocates in the House and Senate. An inevitable – and for Rumsfeld a most trying – corollary was that there were now many members of Congress who expected that he, too, along with his new appointees, would be offering them his full attention. The way of life of the Pentagon had also been very much influenced by the fact that, again, most particularly during the Clinton administration, a number of appointees in the Department of Defense had themselves once been members of Congress. Legislators being people who are – and who are in the nature of things required to be – dependent for their effectiveness on the building of consensus, they tend to be more forgiving of one another's weaknesses than would, say, most business executives. The result was a notable falling off of something essential to both the makers of war and the keepers of peace: a willingness to give an accounting of onself. Aside from the sheer organizational differences created in such an atmosphere, the serious abdication of authority over the military by Bill Clinton (and inevitably, therefore, also of the secretaries of defense who had served under him) led to certain other problems. I had for one thing, become virtually impossible to keep any military secrets: Legislators who had the run of the Pentagon also often had friendly – and information-hungry – contacts in the press. Then, too, without civilian control the military, especially the staff of the joint chiefs, inevitably became the managers of their own affairs. This came more and more to mean that military promotions were determined on the basis not of ability but of congeniality with one's fellows. And this in turn meant that some of the most capable people, discouraged, in such an atmosphere about what a future with the armed forces might hold for them, were leaving the military for greener pastures. This was the situation into which Rumsfeld now entered . . . Under these circumstances, Bush and Rumsfeld agreed – to what would be the dismay of the Pentagon brass – not to request any increase in the military budget, at least no until the new secretary had completed a full-scale assessment of the country's military doctrine. In addition to military doctrine, Rumsfeld would also be required to undertake a top-to-bottom review of the current state of the country's military capabilities.Now Midge Decter could be more or less right or wrong about the state of affairs in the DoD upon Rummy's arrival, but the important thing is that she documents the perception of that state among the new Bush administration. This goes a long way toward background in explaining the ease with which Army generals now "rebel" against Rummy. So Rummy thought he would freeze budget (and therefore troop) increases until he had a chance to take a good sizing-up of the place. And he made success in increasing the number of warfighters available from the same pool of personnel. As noted in the National Review, in an article advising readers not to throw out the transformation bathwater with Rumsfeld if and when he goes,
. . .the pressure of transformation Rumsfeld has exerted on the Army has caused it to reorganize so that it can send more soldiers to the field than before. Theoretically there are even more troops available from the same pool than when the secretary took over the Pentagon.So, while Rummy may be slow in recognizing or asking for increases in the size of the military, he has made the existing force much more effective as a warfighting organization. This still leaves the question unanswered as to who is right bout Iraq, Rummy or the generals? We believe both. In fact, the most cogent part of Friedman's analysis above is that Rumsfeld has misjudged the pace of "transformation." What do we think of transformation? Well . . . that is a big question. Assuming that you mean Rummy's version of it (there are several versions, many contradictory), we agree with him that information technology can make the armed forces dramatically better at killing people and destroying things on the battlefield, and that this will mean a smaller, lighter, faster force can do much the same as the larger forces of yesterday. But at the same time, we can't help but think that we mustn't think that war will become a standoff, sterile activity, conducted by computers, robots, and UAVs. Man makes war and man will alays have an integral role to play not only in its conception, but in its execution as well. A long time ago, in 1994, when maneuver warfare concepts were going mainstream, H.J. Poole, a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant, wrote a book called, "The Last Hundred Yards: The NCO's Contribution to Warfare." In it he notes that the United States has a history of relying upon technology rather than tactical prowess, for its victories. Consider this statement, which Poole quotes, from retired Army General A. Collins:
In my judgment our forces were not as well trained as those of the enemy, especially in the early stages of the fighting. After the buildup of forces, when we went on the offensive, we did not defeat the enemy tactically. We overpowered and overwhelmed our enemies with equipment and firepower.Maneuver warfare is a doctrine that attempts to out-think the enemy. To the extent that "transformation" enables this – defeat by ruse, strategem, or superior thinking – we wholeheartedly support it. To the extent that "transformation" promises cleaner battles through the use of better and more networked lethal technology – well, we'll take our victories anyway we can get them, but show us where it is written that the US will always be technologically dominant over other countries. Perish the thought, but it just ain't so. And this technological dominance carries within it the seed of its own undoing, excellently described in a letter to the editor to the Weekly Standard, published on Monday, and written by Stuart Koehl, a senior fellow in Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. Mr. Koehl notes the following:
I've written at great length, mainly for internal government consumption, on some of what I see as the logical and strategic fallacies of the so-called "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA). From my perspective, the most serious of these can be characterized as follows: First, it is an attempt to reduce war to an engineering problem through the use of information technology to eliminate uncertainty. That one does not know where the enemy is, or what the enemy intends is the source of that uncertainty, and the fact that the enemy is an intelligent and dynamic adversary allows him to exploit that uncertainty to undermine one's plans and objectives. Under RMA theory, now generally called "Network Centric Warfare" (NCW), myriad streams of information are brought together through digital networks to present the commander with a God's eye view of the battlefield: in theory he knows were all of his forces are, and all of the enemy's forces, their status and what they are doing or intending to do. He can then allocate precision strike systems to attack the enemy before he can mass or close to attack friendly forces. However, this reliance on distributed sensor networks creates the seeds of its own undoing, for the enemy can not only attack the networks directly ("cyber-attack"), but can also resort to various deception measures to create a false picture upon which the commander would act. More simple still, he can flood the network with so much spurious data (noise) that the battle command system never manages to catch up; under the torrent of inaccessible information, the enemy can move at will. More insidious still, it creates a "scope dope" mentality in which "reality" is what appears on the situational display screen, not what is actually happening on the battlefield. Second, the RMA is still rooted in the 20th century paradigm of armored-mechanized warfare between sophisticated nation-states. Its origins can be found in the deadlock of the NATO Central Front in the 1980s, when the US was looking for ways of destroying Soviet second echelon forces, and the USSR was exploring ways of breaking through NATO's front lines. The convergence of several technologies--remote sensors, high speed computers and networks, and long-range, precision-guided weapons--allowed in theory for the creation of what the USSR called "reconnaissance strike complexes" that would have the potential to break up or destroy conventional formations of tanks and armored vehicles from hundreds of miles away. This in turn would force the dispersion of forces into small packets, attempting to dominate spaces by fire rather than by physical occupation. In a situation where one has reconnaissance strike complexes and the other does not, any attempt by the enemy to concentrate his forces results in their destruction, while one can concentrate freely against the enemy's weakest points. We saw something very much like this during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where the US actually deployed primitive reconnaissance-strike complexes. Faced with this situation, the enemy has only two choices (other than surrender): to develop his own reconnaissance-strike capability, or to respond asymmetrically. If both sides have reconnaissance-strike capability, then both sides disperse, and war becomes a matter of trying to find and destroy each other's reconnaissance strike systems, after which one side or the other has an insurmountable advantage. However, in reality no country other than the US has the economic wherewithal to develop such a capability. Thus, the US has become effectively invincible in conventional warfare: regardless of the adversary, the result would have been much the same as Iraq (though a few armies might have given us a run for our money). Anyone wishing to oppose the United States militarily must therefore resort to asymmetrical warfare. And therein lies the third flaw of the RMA: for network centric warfare to be relevant, the enemy must employ conventional forces. Guerrillas, terrorists, economic warfare, cyber-warfare--in all of these cases, the enemy does not present the sensor network with the kinds of readily detectable, high-contrast targets that can be engaged by precision strike weapons. Instead, the enemy blends into the background, and gets within close combat range of US forces, where much of the firepower advantage is negated. Having been perfected by the US, our conventional capabilities have bred their own obsolescence, since adversaries will attempt to circumvent rather than engage them head-on. Does this mean, then, that there is no need for defense transformation, or that all of the RMA has been a dead end? By no means. The Army inherited by the Bush Administration in 2000 was not at all suited for the kind of war we find in Iraq and Afghanistan today. It wasn't even suitable for the operations we undertook in Bosnia, Kosovo or Somalia. It was organized, equipped and trained to fight the Warsaw Pact on the plains of central Europe, and not much more. Radical transformation was necessary, and the issue then should have been, What kind of transformation? The enhancement of high-intensity capabilities as was demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq, while not suited for the predominant form of war in the 21st century, does serve a useful purpose: by so overshadowing the capabilities of potential adversaries, it deters them from competition in the conventional arena, and thus reduces the likelihood of high-intensity conventional war (which being the most destructive of all forms of war short of nuclear, should be avoided when possible). On the other hand, that very success increased the probability of asymmetrical responses such as terrorism and guerrilla warfare, and even the development of WMDs, which are the poor man's response to the overwhelming materiel capability of the US. Thus, a second transformational path was also required, one which focused on this "low end" warfare and its unique operational requirements. In contrast to conventional war, this type of warfare requires more emphasis on human factors--training, tactics, psychological warfare--than on high technology. It is a war fought by relatively small numbers of elite troops whose weapons are lighter, and far more discriminating than even the precision guided bombs on which we have come to rely. The enemy is hunted down in his lair, or out-thought in the realm of ideas. It is war where the main weapon might be a dagger, or a water pump, depending on the situation, since much of this kind of war involves civil-military affairs.[As our series, "Conservative Critiques of the War" continues, readers will please excuse the many and varied topics which are touched upon. We'll make things as clear as possible but this is a tough onion to peel. Here are the future installments, each to come out on Monday of the next three weeks: Part II: Neo-realism Part III: Clash? More Like the Total War of Civilizations Part IV: Whither Fourth-Generation Warfare?]