Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Military of Tomorrow

General Wesley Clark writes,
After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. military embarked upon another wave of high-tech modernization - and paid for it by cutting ground forces, which were being repeatedly deployed to peacekeeping operations in places such as Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Instead of preparing for more likely, low-intensity conflicts, we were still spoiling for the "big fight," focusing on such large conventional targets as Kim Jong Il's North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq - and now we lack adequate ground forces. Bulking up these forces, perhaps by as many as 100,000 more active troops, and refitting and recovering from Iraq could cost $70 billion to $100 billion.
Clark's assertion begs the question of whether we want to be involved in numerous long-term, low-intensity conflicts. Further, if we expect to do so, should we really be preparing for another Gulf War II scenario where we have minimal international support (despite G.W.'s claims to the contrary), or should we instead only contemplate getting involved where there is broad international support and commitment. If the latter, an easy response is that we don't need an extra 100,000 active troops - we would get troop commitments from our allies, in a manner similar to Gulf War I (or to the World Wars).

If the former, Clark is implicitly calling for a military capable of carrying out a unilateral, interventionist foreign policy, we run into a lot of serious policy concerns. G.W.'s vision of the U.S. is that of a nation which will eschew world opinion or press our allies into nominal troop commitments in order to claim broad international support for overseas adventurism. A larger military not only facilitates that type of foreign policy, if you look at the history of the Bush Administration's Middle East policy it provides no assurance that there will not be similar military overreach. We had plenty of troops to invade and occupy Afghanistan. We still had plenty of troops to invade Iraq, although not enough to occupy the nation. But even at that level, Bush was willing to deprive Afghanistan of troops in order to advance operations in Iraq. With 100,000 more troops, does Clark truly believe that Bush would have been satisfied and would have bolstered occupation forces in both nations to prevent the backsliding in Afghanistan and chaos in Iraq? Or would we presently be occupying another country - Syria, Iran, maybe both?

Perhaps Clark imagines that no G.W. will ever again control the White House, and instead his favored candidate, Hillary Clinton, will be our next President. What does Clark envision that she would do with an expanded military? If she intends to draw down forces in Iraq, functionally ending the occupation, what need does he envision? If he favors an interventionist policy toward the world's low-level conflicts, with long-term U.S. troop commitments at occupation levels, I wish he would say so directly - particularly if he believes that Hillary Clinton would share that approach. And if not, why the call for more troops?


  1. It's a variation on the old game of always getting ready to fight "the last war" instead of the next one.

    Have any of the canidates offered an opinion on "nation building"? Of course the current administration would be proof positive that such opinions don't count for much . . .


  2. Whether it's Bush's unilateral, interventionist approach or some other, the U.S. has been an aggressor state for 60 years now. We're always involved in some war, either covertly or overtly. It's part of an insanely paranoid mentality that matured at the outset of the Cold War, and we haven't grown out of it. If anything, it's intensified. We (or at least our elected and appointed leaders) perceive severe, continuous threats from all sides. Our actions have therefore become preemptive rather than reactionary.

    So until something changes, we're going to be involved in multiple conflicts of varying intensities and durations, and we will need substantial, ongoing military support. It's the very military-industrial complex warned of by Eisenhower. Welcome to Amerika.

  3. Brutus said: ". . . the U.S. has been an aggressor state for 60 years now."

    I think that's a little one-sided. All major states utilize military power as a tool of diplomacy; and not all uses of force are equal.

    We weren't an aggressor state in Korea. We certainly weren't an aggressor state when we intervened durring the Suez Crisis to support the Egyptians and the rule of law against a joint Israeli, French, and English invasion.

    It may have been bad policy, but we weren't an aggressor state when we got involved in Vietnam.

    You may have disagreed with it, but we were hardly the aggressor when we deployed military forces to the Arabian Peninsula to defend Saudi Arabia or to liberate Kuwait.

    We made it through most of the post Vietnam era without major military operations of any sort, much less without having to get bogged down in nation building/occupation.

    Many of the most recent uses of force (especially those involving forces of occupation and nation building) haven't been a response to paranoia (cold war induced or not). No rational person thinks we sent troops into Somalia or Yugoslavia out of fear or even rational self-interest. Those were both very much humanitarian or liberal uses of military force. (liberal in this context referring to a school of thought related to foreign policy, not necessarily connected with the definition used in domestic politics.)

    The problems with the military industrial complex are a completely different (albeit potentially a valid) issue.



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