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October 09, 2006

Pillars of Government Week, Part I :The Military

Last week Grim produced something of a tour de force that, unfortunately, I was too busy to get over and read. I have rectified that error now. It is so good - and so thought provoking - that I propose to spend most of this week addressing it in detail, with one addition he did not specifically contemplate: a review of the armed forces as an institution.

Grim began with a statement that would surprise few people:

I was talking to my dear friend Sovay tonight, and as always, talking with her helped to shake things loose that I haven't been able to put into words before. We were talking about the Foley situation, and I heard myself saying something I realize I believe: I have lost all confidence in the Federal institutions governing our country, with the sole exception of the military. The institutions, which have served us well for so long, are breaking or are broken along key fault lines.

What followed was an analysis, by branch, of our government with prescriptions for fixing the problems. I propose to take on Grim's excellent analysis piece by piece this week, because I think it's too big a job to be tackled whole. I would, however, first like to address his contention that the military is the only institution that is still functioning as it should, for I believe this is an assertion which could stand challenging. While the military is undoubtedly in better shape than the three branches of government, I'm not sure it's in as good shape, nor is it as wholly blameless, as Grim would have it. Nor do I believe the nation as a whole would not benefit greatly from restructuring of the military as an institution. I'm not sure the current force structure continues to meet our current needs, as I hope today's discussion will show.

TigerHawk, in a small aside from the NY Times, mentions the following interesting statistic:

In 1967, at the height of the battle for Vietnam in the middle of World War III,1 we had 1.7% of our population under arms, or approximately 3.4 million people. Today, while waging two wars in Asia at what many of us fear is not the height of World War IV, we have less than 0.5% of our population under arms. Point is, the present conflict may be pushing the limits of our existing military, but it has barely burdened us a society. With our modern willingness to open virtually all missions to women and recognize the value of soldiers in their "late youth," we obviously could build a much larger military if we wanted to.

Grim goes on to echo this point:

Iraq is a problem: we're deploying the same Marines for the fourth time. The strain on the families of these blessed volunteers is unacceptable, given that less than one percent of Americans are serving in the military at all.

But why are military families strained, though? I become a bit aggravated at the “Marines are deploying for the nth time” meme as a barometer of executive branch failure.

Let's examine the reason some Marines are deploying for the 4th time. No one mandated this from on high - the Marine Corps chose seven month floats versus the Army’s one year or longer rotations. Frankly this stratagem caused some serious friction between the services. The root cause of this “unbearable strain” was an intentional decision – and this from the last institution most Americans trust and one Grim maintains is still operating optimally. This, according to most polls, is an opinion shared by a majority of Americans. But do the facts really support this opinion? While the length of the war undoubtedly contributes to the problem, the number of deployments is not attributable to Darth Rumsfeld, Congress, or the Executive branch. It was internally driven by decisions made by the services.

Is it worse to deploy for four short hitches, or for two long ones? Certainly four *sounds* worse, but it would seem the Marines deliberately chose a strategy that caused wear and tear on their own units. It may also have been wise from another point of view - that remains to be seen.

But regardless, the truth remains that though some folks are going over for the third or even the fourth time, there are some - many, in fact - in the same MOS who have never gone at all, despite repeated requests to go. So it is hardly a question of being at capacity. It is a question of allocating resources wisely and fairly, and that is an internal matter which the Marines alone control. Intraservice allocation of manpower and equipment does not rest with Don Rumsfeld, George Bush, or any of the other usual suspects, and when there are some people going over for the fourth time and others still have not been for their first, the facts fly directly in the face of his assertion that the military is the last bastion of perfect competence in a badly run war. Logic suggests a few problems with his thesis.

A second issue, aside from family and unit strain, is whether seven month deployments are optimal from a standpoint of getting up to speed on the local situation - whether one can drop a commander in a totally foreign country and expect him to adapt and adjust within such a short time period. It would seem that once he is just beginning to get everything in place and hit his stride, the unit is pulled out and rotated back home. One has to wonder, from an operational standpoint, whether one year tours would not be more effective; whether they would not allow commanders to form closer relationships with Iraqi and Afghan leaders, whether they would not have a better grasp of the lay of the land, both culturally and geographically and be able to provide more continuity to the incoming unit? We don't turn over stateside commands that quickly because we know how long it takes just to get your bearings. These are all questions. I obviously do not have experience in this arena, but if we are sending the same people back in we are not truly minimizing their exposure.

Bruce McQuain raises another issue: the lack of coordination between what is being done in the field and high level Pentagon planning:

I've spoken a number of times about the apparent cognative dissonance within the Pentagon concerning force structure with an eye to who we would most likely to be facing in future wars.
The military generally turned its back on counterinsurgency operations after the Vietnam War. The Army concentrated on defending Europe against a Soviet attack. The Marines were focused on expeditionary operations in the third world.

“Basically, after Vietnam, the general attitude of the American military was that we don’t want to fight that kind of war again,” said Conrad C. Crane, the director of the military history institute at the Army War College, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and one of the principal drafters of the new doctrine. “The Army’s idea was to fight the big war against the Russians and ignore these other things.”

A common assumption was that if the military trained for major combat operations, it would be able to easily handle less violent operations like peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. But that assumption proved to be wrong in Iraq; in effect, the military without an up-to-date doctrine. Different units improvised different approaches. The failure by civilian policy makers to prepare for the reconstruction of Iraq compounded the problem.

I touched on this issue in this post, as part of my ongoing futile attempt to combat the ubiquitous "If only we'd listened to St. Colin of the Fields and his sainted Powell Doctrine everything would be coming up roses" meme, which people who know nothing about the military seem to think is the be-all and end all to everything. The half vast editorial staff have heard more than a few folks in the combat arms wryly refer to the "CYA Doctrine" as an excuse never to fight a war anywhere, under any circumstances, because we'll never have enough troops in today's military. It's a joke, but it's also not too far from the truth.

The Democrats have floated the notion that the White House and the Pentagon haven't "listened" to the military, as though the military are infallible and speak with one clear, consistent, clarion voice. But is that really true? Looking back in hindsight, were the armed forces as a whole prepared, structurally and strategically, to fight this war the way it needed to be fought?

I don't think that case can be made.

Today, despite all the hyperbolic blather about "unbearable strain", if you walk around the Pentagon you will see only two services wearing camouflage utilities: the Army and the Marines. That is because despite the very valuable and indispensible contributions made by the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, only two of our two services are full-on at war right now: the Army and the Marines. We are at war with only one boot on the ground.

And this begs the question, are our armed forces structured in the right way to fight the kind of wars we need in the 21st Century? The truth is, we may not know, because though we are fighting an insurgency now, who is to say we may not fight a broader war at some future time? But is the redundancy in our services really serving this nation well?

And the point that Grim makes regarding our services "not getting what they need" is a damning one. But not in the way he means it to be:

...when the Democrats invited former Generals to the Hill to talk about how much more the military needs in resources -- well, they thanked them, shook hands, and said 'See, that proves Bush is screwing up.' Where is the Democrat who proposed a bill to do what the Generals said was needed?

You don't have to control the Congress to introduce a bill. You could introduce the bill tomorrow, saying whatever you thought it needed to say, and dare the Republicans to shoot it down. Nothing was done. It was all for show.

Why are former Generals coming before Congress to ask for anything?

No one knows, better than they, the process for asking Congress for troops and equipment. They know how much work is required to prepare. How long it takes to gather the required information - which, by the way, they no longer have access to. Don't they trust the active duty forces to do their jobs? Would they have appreciated it, during their tenure, if they had been treated in such a manner?

Has the process for requisitioning troops and equipment changed? If the military is, as you say, the only institution still functioning as it should be, why do they no longer trust the services to honestly report on what they need? Apparently the Democrats no longer trust the military. They have bypassed the Army and the Marine Corps and are now talking to RETIRED Generals, men who are not conversant with the current operational needs of our troops. Congress has been briefed – recently – on what our forces have asked for. But the Democrats do not trust the Army and the Marine Corps. To all appearances they (and you) seem to feel a group of retired Generals – so-called experts - are more worthy of trust than men like my husband, who to the best of my knowledge are still faithfully showing up for work each day and doing their jobs. For the life of me, I’m not sure why they bother to work 12 hour days, because to all appearances, no one is listening. Instead they are insulted and dismissed as men without honor, essentially the same as those men now testifying before Congress, who valued their careers more highly than the welfare of the troops whose welfare they swore to protect.

Something, my friend, is not quite hanging together here, because the real purpose of this dog and pony show became quite plain when, as you point out, the Party in Opposition never quite got around to asking for any of the things these so-called experts asked for:

Who will stand up to the challenges of the day? Who will give the military what they need? Not the Congress, mired in corruption and partisanship, tied to coalitions that prevent the Democrats from forming answers, and prevent the Republicans from changing their minds even when they should. They bring in the generals, but it's just for show. It is not that they have no heart for more than show. It is that they have lost the strength. The legislature has failed.

I agree with Grim on one thing. This was just for show.

And I have far more faith in the military as an institution. I do not, for instance, expect it to be perfect. Institutions make mistakes, grapple with problems, and learn from them. They become hidebound and top heavy and perodically they must be shaken up. This is what Don Rumsfeld is trying to do, but arguably he is using the right idea, wrong model.

The military needs a certain amount of redundancy because in war things get broken and a just in time model doesn't work, especially when we're moving to labor intensive conflicts with a short initial combat phase but a protracted reconstruction period. In Foreign Affairs a few months ago, Frederick Kagan outlined the military's growing manpower crisis:

The current manpower crisis in the U.S. military predates both the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Iraq war. The problem started in the early 1990s, when George H. W. Bush began recklessly cutting military spending without paying enough attention to the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) uses to which the military would be put. Bill Clinton accelerated these cuts, even as the number of U.S. forces deployed abroad steadily grew. By the end of the decade, the U.S. military was overstretched and inadequately staffed for the missions it faced.

Calls for Washington to reverse some of the cuts began to proliferate. Just what critics were asking for, however, varied dramatically. Some recommended an increase in traditional military spending. But others demanded that more money go to research and development (R & D) in order to spur a "revolution in military affairs." These RMA enthusiasts viewed the 1990s as a "strategic pause": the United States faced no imminent threat, they argued, and so should use the time to gird itself for future challenges by developing new technology.

In the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush promised to repair the damage done to the military during the previous decade. Even before winning the election, however, he made it clear that he planned to address the problem in a narrowly focused way. Bush was (and remains) a firm believer in the idea of an RMA; he had proclaimed it a priority as early as 1999, long before anyone imagined that Donald Rumsfeld would again become secretary of defense. After winning office, Bush began rapidly to translate his promise into Pentagon reality. In February 2001, Bush announced that he would increase military R & D funds over the next five years by $20 billion and that he would devote 20 percent of total R & D spending "to especially promising programs that propel America's Armed Forces generations

He's right - this is a problem that has been brewing for a long time, and it isn't solely a function of executive branch meddling; the services themselves actively aid and abet in their own destruction. High-tech bombers and equipment are more sexy at the bargaining table than asking for more troops, and when the services go begging for dollars to Congress, no one wants to be the red-headed step child.

So here are the questions I'd like to throw out for examination:

1. Is the military really the last institution that is functioning as it should in an otherwise dysfunctional government, or is there evidence that our current force structure no longer serves our defense needs?

2. If the military is really functioning as it should and we have confidence in their ability and integrity, why do the Democrats keep bringing in retired Generals to speak "for" the active forces (and then not act on their recommendations?) Who is Congress to believe? The reports of the active forces, who spend literally weeks and months gathering data to brief Congress, or the off the cuff remarks of retired officers who are no longer conversant with the current operational needs of the troops in theater?

What does this say about the respect these retired officers have for the active duty counterparts?

3. Can the military as a whole really be said to be "unbearably strained" when over half of the armed forces aren't currently at war? What do we do about this and why aren't we addressing this problem? Why are our leaders even talking about a draft when we have so much unused capacity currently on tap?

4. What do we as a society want the role of the US military to be in the modern age? Some argue we should never go to war unless we "have to", whatever that means. Others, like Susan Rice, are arguing for a more "principled" approach to warfare in which US forces would become the enforcement arm of the UN. This would require complete restructuring of our current armed forces, not to mention serious reconsideration of the ethical ramifications of sending an all volunteer force off to die where there is no strategic national security interest, at least until such time as the entire force signed up with the clear understanding that this is what they were agreeing to (a condition that would clearly be decades away).

Posted by Cassandra at October 9, 2006 08:53 AM


Ah Cassandra, a thoughtful non-emotional, non-ideiological post. Just what people need--and what no one is listening to. It's a sad day.

Posted by: Mike Myers at October 9, 2006 11:22 AM

It is a shame that the current war has so poisoned the debate on force structuring. There are Democrats who have traditionally been good friends to, and strong supporters of, the armed services just as there are Republicans who I wouldn't trust within a mile of the Defense budget.

What bothers me right now is that this war has become something of an excuse for indirectly harming the military - we are doing a lot of shortsighted feel-good things that are popular at the poll booths but will not be good in the long term for the services.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 9, 2006 11:35 AM

Just as an anecdotal aside, a friend of a friend who is a career Army non-com, transferred from 3rd ID (based in Georgia) to Special Forces (Hunter AAFB, Georgia) because the SF units only deploy for ~ 6 months at a stretch (to Iraq, and elsewhere), not a year (or more, when deployments get extended). He's married and a family guy, as it were.

It is also my contention (and probably mine alone) that there is a problem brewing with Goldwater-Nichols "jointness". The Cincs of each command are starting to operate, in my humble view, as extra-military "pro-consuls", something your buddy Anthony Zinni half-joked about in the '90's when he was CINC of Central Command (I think that was in Dana Priest's book).

This is primarily due to the weakness and ineptitude of the State Dept., but it is worrisome, and frankly not Darth Rumsfeld's fault, although many would like to blame him.

This, I think, augurs for the military to become more politicized in the future, much to its detriment. It has been on this path for years now, since the more ambitious and clever General officers have now figured out how Goldwater-Nichols actually works, to their career advantage. Wesley Clark is example number one.

PS. I do think that a lot of the parts of the Federal gubmint work okay, and this is just Grimmy's pessimism shining through. :)
The problem is that the Federal Gov. is just SO BIG and has to try and satisfy so many "stakeholders" (that's a term that shows up in the CFR a lot), that it seems to move in a very ponderous way, and seems to take forever to reach a conclusion.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at October 9, 2006 11:52 AM

Ahem. The Navy and the Air Force are contributing in Iraq. We are at war "with only one boot on the ground" because the types of weapons systems available to these other branches (rockets, missiles, bombs, etc.) mete out such devastation that they are useless in the type of war we are fighting...unless that is, it's going to be all-out. In which case, please move our brother Marines and Troopers out of harm's way and let fly.

But that wasn't really your point, I know. I'm just sticking up for the Fleet.

Posted by: spd rdr at October 9, 2006 08:36 PM

(fwiw, since I'm reconstructing this comment after the fact, I hadn't seen mr rdr's comment when I made this, which only makes it funnier)

Well, as we all know, wives are not allowed to have opinions and mine is more problematic than most so I will just keep my big mouth shut and try to think of kittens.

/batting eyelashes sweetly

Posted by: Cassandra at October 9, 2006 08:38 PM

When I was in, I was told I was expected to respect my superior officers. Only problem with that was, I never met any...nay, not one.

In fairness though, there was at least one that I can recall who was on a par with myself...

Posted by: camojack at October 9, 2006 09:58 PM


Long day. And I was aware when I wrote this that it was going to be something of a third rail, and moreover that I probably should not have taken it on this week - or perhaps ever - since I really did not have time.

The point here, which I admittedly did not make clearly, was that the Army and the Marines have made many decisions internally which are drawing political heat, yet they are not top-down decisions but bottom-up ones, which belies the "they're overriding my decisions" meme. There is a perception that DoD has not listened to the active forces, yet here we see Congress inviting retired Generals in to do end runs around those same commanders and active forces, which rather puts the lie to the "military is always right" meme. Which military do we believe? The ones who are fighting now and say "x"? Or the ones who have retired and say, "Don't believe them, believe me - it's "y"?"

It's interesting: we have politicos pitting the military against the executive branch with the military as the victims, yet there is quite a bit of evidence that Congress is no more willing to "listen" to the military than Darth Rummy (the draft being one notable example - who in the armed forces wants a draft? No one - yet the Dems keep yakking about bringing it back. Some "listening").

And for all the talk of how there is supposedly one "right" way to do things that the military is espousing and DoD is not listening to, look at the Army and Marines - what do they agree on? Not much. Even within the services there are debates on how to do things that still rage. That's not an indication that something is wrong necessarily. It's an indication that they're a human institution.

And did they come into this prepared to fight insurgency? No. They did not. But that was their job. But we seem always to be fighting the last war. That makes the military about the same as every human institution around - we're slow learners. I think the military happens to do a better job than most. But let's not glorify them into a position they can't possibly live up to. They are *still* arguing about what's going on and the best way to fight - and win - this war. And I can guaran-damn-tee you that in 25 years books will still be written on this subject and there will still be controversy.

So let's not pretend there is one Golden Idea that the White House should have "listened to" so we can shake our finger and say, "YOU KNEW!!!!"

Yeah, things should have been done better, but they should have been done better all round. There were a million fingers in this particular pie.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 9, 2006 10:11 PM

What I actually said was that I had lost confidence in the other branches of government, but not the military. I didn't say, or mean to imply, that the military was hitting on all cylinders.

My own sense of what needs to be done with the US military is this:

1) Task the USMC with expeditionary actions, making the MEU(SOC) its primary unit. If possible, recreate the I MEF as a (SOC) unit -- so that an entire Marine Expeditionary Force is available for that sort of rapid deployment and extraordinary capability.

2) Task the USAF with worldwide punitive actions, so that they take control of the non-submarine nuclear forces; and otherwise retask for CONUS-based punishment of enemy states.

3) Make the US Navy the fundamental unit of national defense. Focus should be on the submarine fleet, and the ability to protect offshore power-deployment forces such as carriers, ships capable of naval gunnery, and gator-freighters.

4) Reshape the Army into a force that works mostly on a Special Forces model, with far fewer garrison units and far more units deployable in support of Special Forces operations. The idea should be to find local allies in any event, and back them, rather than trying to wage war in various places with our own units. Places in which that is not viable, as it often will not be, should be referred to USAF bombardment.

All that said, the US military seems to be -- speaking broadly -- devoted to its oath and performing its function. Indeed, given that it's not optimal for the function demanded of it, it seems to be adapting well to the demands made of it. Just as you'd expect.

You ask three questions at the end.

1) Yes, the military is better than the other parts of the Federal Government. I think this is because it is unique in the Federal Government in having a culture that understand what an oath means. It is the last part of our culture that has a real sense of the West, for that matter -- the last part in which at least a smattering of Latin is expected, for example.

2) The Democrats are not alone in bringing back retired Generals. Rumsfeld himself brought back Gen. Schoomaker to be Chief of Staff for the Army.

Shopping for your preferred views in the retired officers' corps is, in other words, regular.

What is not regular is drawing these men -- officers and gentlemen, all -- to the fore for comments, and then dismissing their suggestions. If you call them back, you're responsible for them. Rumsfeld, since he shopped for Schoomaker, owes the man some deference. The Democrats, since they brought up several folks to testify to the problems they saw, owe those suggestions something. They ought to be backing those proposed reforms.

What's wrong is to have a dog and pony show with old Generals. Either they're to be dismissed, in which case they should be allowed to retire; or they are experts, in which case you should back them if you call them forward. I find it unacceptable that these jackasses call them up, use their recommendations to bash their political opponents, and then make no attempt at all to enact their proposals.

3) I saw a commander of one of the undeployed Army units talking about his upcoming deployment not long ago. In fact, it turns out he has been to Iraq, as an officer in one of the units who initially captured Baghdad. His new unit is undeployed because it has been restructured -- but how many of the soldiers in it have been deployed previously, as he has?

That's not a complaint -- he seemed enthusiastic, and good for him. All I'm pointing out is that, with all the "transformation" going on, it's hard to keep tabs on who really hasn't been deployed.

Too, we have worldwide responsibilities at this point. So you've never been to Iraq -- but your unit watches South Korea. Is that a problem? Not that I can see.

4) This is not a question for me. I only want the US armed forces to do what they have heretofore done -- serve as the enforcement arm of US policy worldwide.

Others may wish to play with the conception of what the standing military is for. Not I.

Posted by: Grim at October 9, 2006 10:16 PM

I am sorry if I exaggerated that part of your post, Grim. I didn't mean to.

I didn't think you thought the military were perfect, but I will say that I thought you gave both the military and the judiciary too much of a pass :) In general, however, I agree with most everything you said. I just sound snarkier than I really feel, but if you could see my face, I was smiling.

Regarding Schoomaker, I think that's a different situation. Any retired officer may be recalled to duty. But I see that as a whole 'nother proposition than being brought back to unofficially critique active forces or second guess them. The difference is that Schoomaker was brought back in an official status.

My father in law, just before he became ill with cancer, was recalled to the Fleet. He had retired. But the Navy needed him. Any officer knows that his commission means he may, at any time, be recalled to duty. That is an honor and a privilege. But that's not the same thing as what happened here - working in an official capacity versus doing what Presidents Carter and Clinton have begun to do - openly meddle in affairs of state from the sidelines.

That used to be unthinkable. And I do not think that Democrats are the only ones who would stoop to such a tactic. But they are doing it now and so I am criticizing them. I am not aware of as egregious an example on the Republican side Grim, but it may very well have occurred. That would not surprise me at all.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 9, 2006 10:35 PM

“Cousin Tertullus in Rome:
We had been told, on leaving our native soil, that we were going to defend the sacred rights conferred on us by our ancestors' toil and sacrifice and to bring benefits to populations in need of our assistance and our civilization.
We were able to verify that all this was true, and, because it was true, we did not hesitate to shed our quota of blood, to sacrifice our youth and our hopes. We regretted nothing, but whereas we over here are inspired by this frame of mind, I am told that in Rome factions and conspiracies are rife, that treachery flourishes, and that many people in their uncertainty and confusion lend a ready ear to the dire temptations of relinquishment and vilify our action.
I cannot believe that all this is true, and yet recent wars have shown how pernicious such a state of mind could be and to where it could lead.
Make haste to reassure me, I beg you, and tell me that our fellow-citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we ourselves are protecting the glory of Rome.
If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached bones on these desert sands in vain, then beware of the anger of the Legions!”

Marcus Flavinius, Centurion of the 2nd Cohort of the Augusta Legion. 2d century A. D.

Posted by: spd rdr at October 9, 2006 11:06 PM

Well now that is just about perfect.

Good night, gentlemen :)
And thank you.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 9, 2006 11:22 PM

Fair enough. I just wanted to be clear -- the fact that I don't think the military is broken doesn't mean it's perfect. It's just the last man standing, in terms of the institutions in which I have personal confidence.

Posted by: Grim at October 9, 2006 11:39 PM

I enjoyed your piece very much. Thanks Cass for pointing it out.

Posted by: Dr. Harden Stuhl at October 10, 2006 12:37 AM

The military is *already* too political-- from the inside.

Posted by: Sailorette at October 10, 2006 04:58 AM

Grim writes a mean post, doesn't he Harden? :p

I have been bored for quite some time with writing - I don't see many things which interest me and when I do I rarely have time to research them adequately, which frustrates me enormously because I don't feel I'm doing a terribly good job of covering them; probably an indication I ought not to be blogging, but doing some other form of writing at this point (you'd think I'd get enough of that in my day job!).

I wish I had time to read more.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 10, 2006 05:46 AM


I was too sleepy last night to respond to your comment, but here goes:

I can't even begin to evaluate your divvy-ing up of the branches, as I don't have the background knowledge. My layman's sense is just that the services are, to some extent, duplicating functionality that doesn't need to be duplicated, especially where air power is concerned, in an attempt to compete with the Air Force come budget time. I don't know what the answer is here.

I also see some duplication between the Army and Marines, some perhaps needed, as the Marines tend to be more of an amphibious strike force that we use to go in and take ground, then the Army occupies it and holds it. Only that's not what is going on, quite, in Iraq now at least as I understand it.

The reason I brought up the issue of humanitarian wars is that if the role of the military is to enforce US policy, we have to consider whether in the future this is going to become part of our mission (egad...I hope not). There is a legitimate role for the military to provide some humanitarian relief - eg the Navy after that tsunami - and no one does it better. But I am seeing more and more calls to tie up the military in humanitarian relief and even domestic disaster relief, and I think that's a dangerous path we don't want to go down.

But it may be the only way we can justify, in this
day and age, carrying a larger permanent force on the taxpayer's shoulders. And so that's a very important question for both ethical and practical reasons.

Finally, I am for anything that keeps the Navy from being diminished. We are in real danger of forgetting that our ground forces and heavy equipment still need rides all over the world, for one thing, and sea power still matters. In Afghanistan it was the Navy who dropped our guys where they needed to be time and time again - the Marine Corps could not have done their job without the vital support they provided.

spd knows this, but my comment about 'one boot on' had more to do with excess *manpower* capacity - what I was pointing out was the absurdity of claiming the military was "broken" and "strained to the point of collapse" when literally every service has MPs, drivers, and generic personnel who *could* be pulled and/or cross-trained if needed (i.e., if the need is truly as bad as some of these people say it is).

Yes, we do not want to cripple the other services, and there is some critical mass who need to remain behind. But let's not forget that we are at war. Surely some shifting around could be done, as spd's article suggested.

One of two things is true: things are on the point of total collapse.... OR.... things are not quite so bad as the politicians are painting them.

If they're really so God-awful, why isn't the MILITARY reallocating resources in a more productive fashion to alleviate the strain? If intraservice politics are getting in the way, well, that is just plain unacceptable in wartime.

And if things aren't that bad, let's stop hyperventilating and carry on. That was my point.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 10, 2006 06:07 AM

Cass - One of the reasons I decided to remain in the silly venue. Sometimes you just have to provide a place to let go. Folks like Grim and your self provide the writing ability of which I am a long time fan. With those moments of brillance you also prove to both have generous moments of hilarity. That is also a nice sweater you are wearing Mr's Cleaver. OMG - I am sounding like Eddie Haskill again.... You also both have valid points...[ducks and runs for Wally's room].

Posted by: Dr. Harden Haskill at October 10, 2006 12:22 PM

/smack! :)

The biggest risk in writing this is that I sound as though I'm slamming the military, which is not my intent at all. I just get aggravated at the posturing on Capitol Hill, which is insincere and fundamentally unserious. What I'm trying to do is point up the contradiction between some of the overheated rhetoric and people's actions. On the one hand they say, "Government must listen to the military - they are the experts" but then they display a complete disregard and distrust of what the active forces are telling them. Either the military are always right and must be deferred to at all times (in which case let's stop talking about the draft and stop bringing in retired guys to rehash decisions made by, or "supplement" briefs given by commanders and the active forces), or maybe - just maybe - we live in a country where we have civilian control of the military for good reason, in which case "he didn't listen to the military" isn't really the banner we all want to gather round, now is it?

I've listened for over 25 years to shop talk and I've also read a fair amount of material my husband brings home, and if there's one thing I've seen it's that there are just as many schools of thought within the military as in any other profession. The services wrangle amongst themselves and even the combat arms within the services don't agree on the "right" way to fight. So all this "he didn't listen to the military stuff" needs to be taken with a grain of salt, just as the opinions of various disgruntled generals do because there is ALWAYS going to be some dude who thinks someone harshed his mellow and didn't take his particular opinions seriously enough....in retrospect, now that he is out and has a job.

The question is, was he upset about it enough at the time to take a stand? That seems to be the question no one wants to answer, but as important as some of these issues were (and are), if things were really as bad as one or two of these 'gentlemen' have said, they should have said something.

I'm sorry, but I believe they owed it to the men they served, because when you get to that rank, you do serve. You are honored (and rightly so), but you also serve and you have a tremendous obligation.

Thomas Jefferson was right: the tree of liberty must be watered from time to time, and this doesn't occur only on the battlefield. Sometimes it happens in a conference room, and there are many kinds of courage - not just the physical kind.

I know I'm pontificating again, but you know how very strongly I feel about this.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 10, 2006 12:41 PM

"One of two things is true: things are on the point of total collapse.... OR.... things are not quite so bad as the politicians are painting them."

Therein lies the rub. And I think the latter is more true than the former.

Politicians will always paint either a dire or sunny picture. Everything in between is just too boring and won't bring in votes.

Posted by: Dan Irving at October 10, 2006 12:59 PM

Aside: Sorry about the really large breaks above - for some reason preview and html tags didn't work as designed :)

"The question is, was he upset about it enough at the time to take a stand? That seems to be the question no one wants to answer, but as important as some of these issues were (and are), if things were really as bad as one or two of these 'gentlemen' have said, they should have said I something."

The strange thing is - and if you look at our military's history you can see it - that change occurs slowly in times of peace; quickly in times of war.

Generals are reluctant to make changes in peacetime. It sort of makes sense. If you deviate too much from lessons learned in the last war you may end up with many unecessary deaths.

War, on the other hand, allows for changes to happen rapidly since there is instant feedback. A solution for a particular problem is quickly passed around.

Most of the retired Generals are Vietnam vets. Vietnam changed everything. I don't think it wasn't so much that they didn't fight to do the right thing but rather that no one listened. The field grade officers from that war went on to form the core of what TRADOC taught. They didn't want to see another generation of citizens lost because our leaders were too short sighted and drew down when the war was over, as was the case after every major war up to Vietnam. They managed to turn the military from a conscript force to an all volunteer force. They managed to win every campaign in which our forces fought. They had to contend with an increasing number of governmental officials with little or no contact with the military.

Should they have stood their ground and risked getting fired for taking a hard stance? Possibly. It's easy to look back and say yes. Could they have forseen Iraq? Would they have been able to make the necessary changes in any event?

What matters most to me is that necessary changes are happening now. It's much easier to get congressional approval when lives hang in the balance. Procurement of off-the-shelf items is at an all time high. The miltary is able to bring to bear so much technology becase testing happening real time. Stuff that doesn't work is thrown out. stuff that works is quickly dissiminated.

Regardless - this will all happen again in the next big war.

Posted by: Dan Irving at October 10, 2006 01:27 PM

"I've listened for over 25 years to shop talk and I've also read a fair amount of material my husband brings home, and if there's one thing I've seen it's that there are just as many schools of thought within the military as in any other profession. The services wrangle amongst themselves and even the combat arms within the services don't agree on the "right" way to fight..."

I think that's exactly right, and it's one reason the disagreements about the military's force structure don't impact my confidence in the organization. One of its signs of health is that it contains such disagreements, rather than forcing compliance to a single school.

Posted by: Grim at October 10, 2006 03:26 PM

I can't speak for the other services, but my experience in the Corps from '68-'96, active and reserve, along with my son's 10 years in the Corps, leads me to the following conclusions.

(1) We don't have enough active duty troops. I am seeing wartime promotions (and have been since the mid 1990's) that I last saw during Vietnam. Within a year of the ground war in DESERT STORM, the Marines were operationally deployed over 40 times! Peace dividend? Hah! Those of us in the Marines knew that we were going to be busier than ever with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the resultant brushfires starting out all over the place. Yet we were called on to reduce our end strength.

(2) The "peacetime" committments don't go away just because you are at war. When I was at 2nd Marine Division, we had to train and deploy battalions. Our TEEP (Training, Exercise, and Employment Plan) was battalion based. We had to provide one Air Alert Bn, one Standby Air Alert Bn, one Garden Plot Bn (military defense of Washington, DC), and one deployed Bn with a MEU usually as Landing Force Sixth Fleet (aka Med Cruise). We doubled up on the Standby Air Alert Bn and Garden Plot Bn, using on bn for both. We also had some sort of exercise going on, usually for Al Gray and the 4th MEB, which used up two bns as part of a Regimental Landing Team. There was also a bn gearing up to be the next MEU. Add the bn which just came back from the Med which had its personnel scattered to the four winds and was basically unusable for awhile. Okay, that's seven (7) out of nine infantry bns taken care of. The other two get to do "normal" training. And you think you can schedule a regimental or above exercise with troops in the field? That's why we did CPX's (Command Post Exercise) and TEWT's (Tactical Exercise Without Troops) instead. Battalion, regiment, and division staffs have to be in the field to learn proper staff functioning during an operation. Grease pencil attacks are not the way to go if you want meaningful training.

So now we are at war. Guess what? We still have to have an Air Alert Bn, a Standby Air Alert Bn/Garden Plot Bn, a Bn deployed as a MEU, one getting ready to go, etc. AND provide units and troops to Iraq. Artillery has been raped (figuratively) to allow the division to do this, but Division still wants the arty bns to retain their arty capability AND supply troops as augments to units in Iraq.

Sorry, folks, there just aren't enough troops to go around.

(3) The military never gets to ask Congress for what it wants. What happens is that someone in DOD/OSD tells the military what the ballpark budget figure is going to be, and THEN the military tries to figure out what the internal military priorities are given the initial contraints. And even once the military comes up with their requests, the requests are subject to being overidden by a Congresscritter who wants something specific done in his/her Congressional District. Or you get a SecDef who imposes his own priorities on things. The need of the Corps to replace its aging fleet of transport helos was apparent in the '80's, and all the studies and research pointed to the Osprey as the solution that would provide us with true OTH (Over The Horizon) capability attacking from a relatively safe spot offshore. Navy and Marine Corps both liked the idea, and the technology was there. We STILL don't have our helos replaced by the Osprey, thanks in large part to Dick Cheney's efforts to kill the program when he was SecDef.

And don't forget for a minute that personnel costs are the largest costs for the Marines and the Army (over 60% if memory serves me correctly), but only about 6% of the Air Force budget. I don't know what the figure is for the Navy. The point is that people don't get built in Congresscritters' districts, but machines do. And the fancier and higher priced, the better for the home town. It's a fact of life, and I don't think it will ever change. But that's one of the driving forces militating against increasing the size of the forces by doing away with some of the more expensive programs.

(4) Jointness is here to stay, even though it's a crock. We have more full generals in the Corps now because of joint billets than we ever had before. The total number of flag billets increased a lot because of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, but the total number of troops has decreased. Can you say Parkinson's Law?

And jointness has caused more problems than it has solved, at least at the small unit level. At the large unit level, we already HAD jointness, but Congress and OSD weren't getting the yes, boss answers they wanted, so they changed the rules.

Remember when we went into the small Cambodian island to rescue the crew of the Mayaguez? We used Air Force helos and pilots because the Air Force wanted in on the mission, adn to be honest, they could get their helos there quicker than any of the other services. But the AF pilots weren't trained in flying into hostile LZ's and came in high, dumb, and happy, just like the choppers in "Under Seige", and several got shot right out of the sky.

And remember the DESERT ONE fiasco, the base in the desert where a helo hit a transport plane because the pilots were from different services and no one was really running air ops at the base? The difference in procedures ended up killing people and aborting the mission. Another joint op. There is no doubt in my mind that if a Marine Battalion had been tasked with that mission and given the support they asked for, that the mission would have been a success and the embassy hostages rescued.


There are other things I haven't addressed, such as the need to keep airplanes flying (which means you can't take airdales and make them grunts) and the need to keep ships sailing (which means you can't take sailors and make them grunts), which is why the Army and the USMC are the main ones in Iraq. Boots on the ground means that you have to use one or both of these services.

I also haven't addressed how Navy Air is not redundant with Marine Air which is not redundant with the Air Force. They all have different missions and different capabilities, and they should have different aircraft, too. To be a jack of all trades is to be a master of none.

Keep fighting the good fight, Cassandra. Thanks for all you do and the questions you raise.

Posted by: Rex at October 10, 2006 04:03 PM


Some of that pulling and cross training is happening. Air Force units are running base defense and that includes local area patrols. The Navy is standing up an expeditionary force of troops (mostly to relieve SEALs of tasks like ship boarding & search), and also standing up coastal squadrons (think Swift Boat riverine & harbors).

The USAF will be 40,000 people smaller over the next 4-6 years, something the Army & Marines won't be. The Defense Procurement Death Spiral, in which each new generation of planes costs more and more in real dollars, and so we buy fewer and fewer The Navy is also shrinking in terms of manpower, partly because new ships are more automated and require smaller crews. So small that I am beginning to worry about their ability to take a hit and throw manpower at saving the ship while replacing those who were killed. The military can certainly learn a lot from cruise ship design, and is... but in very fundamental ways, a destroyer is not a cruise liner and that must not be forgotten.

The USA has a number of military dilemmas, and one is that strategically, it depends on naval dominance. Tactically, it depends on air dominance. Then the Army & Marines can fight. So you shortchange the USAF or USN at long term peril.

Posted by: Joe Katzman at October 10, 2006 04:13 PM

Thanks Joe:

I'm glad to hear it. One of the perils of my particular writing style is that I probably sound a great deal snarkier than I'm feeling at the moment :) I'm mostly throwing questions out because I don't know the answers, not so much as criticism, but to try and get people to think about some of the things being said on Capitol Hill, the real needs of the services (which do get demagogued but are also pretty pressing), and some of the claims being made by people on both sides of the political fence.

One thing spd knows is that both my Dad and father in law were destroyer men (and my brother in law is also Navy). One thing we saw a few years back was that the Marines were cherry-picking Reserve units that weren't deploying, so I know what that does to readiness. I can easily imagine the dangers of depleting the manpower pool too far.

Rex, that was exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for. The Marines have always had trouble prying money out of Congress, and your point #3 is an excellent one. But please don't let my husband hear you say the Corps doesn't have enough people... that man will NEVER retire now. Though I suppose he knows it and I will have to stop giving him pitiful looks :p


And Dan (can you tell I'm working backwards - sorry, I got caught in a con call earlier) you make several points I hadn't thought of, which is great. I try to put myself in someone else's shoes, but obviously there are experiences I haven't had, which limits my perspective. So all of your comments are very helpful.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 10, 2006 04:36 PM

Grim is right. As he said, The strain on the families of these blessed volunteers is unacceptable. I would add that the strain on the volunteers themselves is also unacceptable. It is callous.

The Marine's tour length is not the problem. That is ridiculous. In fact, it's probably slightly better to deploy for seven months, rest and then redeploy. The 1st Armored Division of the Army is now on its second fifteen month tour in Iraq within 3 1/2 years. A fifteen month tour length in Iraq is outrageous. Doing two seven month tours in 21 months, or four tours in 48 months is pretty outrageous, too.

All the major combat formations of the Army and Marines have been to Iraq or Afghanistan multiple times. 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne have completed two tours. 3rd Infantry is getting ready for its 3rd tour in Iraq within 4 years.

The Army plays a shell game with personnel, moving them around, stocking up deploying units with new recruits, and transferring them to other deploying units upon completion of their unit tour/DEROS.

There is one simple explanation for this: Rumsfeld has fought expanding the size of the Army. In reponse to bipartisan initiatives in
Congress, he has testified and lobbied against the idea of adding 20,000 to troop fiscal year "end strength." Why? Less money for weapons and it's not consistent with his less-is-more idea of "transformation."

But it's very simple: more Soldiers and Marines = shorter and less frequent tours = better retention = less PTSD. Let those who want to stay in Iraq or Afghanistan volunteer for repeated or continuous tours. Let others have a more moderate tempo.

Rumsfeld is, of course, "transforming" the Army into an overburdened, lesser quality force as lower quality troops enlist and NCOs and officers vote with their feet (when not stopped by stop-loss and IRR recalls).

Please spare me the "let's use the Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force in the war."

We will not, and should not, be putting Air Force Minuteman maintenance officers, Navy Gas Turbine technicians, or Coast Guard rescue swimmers (I saw The Guardian this weekend) on convoy or patrol duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Posted by: observer 5 at October 10, 2006 10:43 PM

So what is your solution, short-term, to the manpower problem then, observer 5?

We can't manufacture people out of thin air. It takes time to recruit, train, school, and get new people into theater. And you can't simply pretend that you're going to have an entire new command of E-1's fresh out of boot camp. So if we don't rotate at least some out of the other services where that is practical and won't absolutely break them, what is the short term solution?

Posted by: Cassandra at October 11, 2006 04:49 AM

Is it worse to deploy for four short hitches, or for two long ones? Certainly four *sounds* worse, but it would seem the Marines deliberately chose a strategy that caused wear and tear on their own units. It may also have been wise from another point of view - that remains to be seen.

I cannot comment on the bulk of either yours, or Grim's posts. However, from a family member standpoint, my thought is this: I would much rather endure more frequent, yet shorter, deployments. Any day of the week. And twice on Sundays. It is mentally easier for me to wrap my brain (and my heart) around 3 6-month deployments rather than 1 18-month deployment.

And I have discussed this with MacGyver. His thoughts are that, while appealing for family members and soldiers alike, it is not feasible for many aspects of the Army to rotate like that. For instance, it took a good 2 months to get his unit broken down, packed, loaded, transported to port, reassembled, test-flighted, transported, and up-and-running. They are 2+ months into their rotation and still not firing on all cylinders. While there are command issues playing into that, a lot has to do with the fact that you just don't move an aviation unit that quickly. It is just not logistically feasible, unfortunately.

That's one of the appealing aspects to 160th. more frequent deployments but the duration is shorter. I'd kill for a 7 month deployment right now. I just don't see it happening.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at October 11, 2006 05:56 AM

Outstanding discussion, Cassandra and Grim.


Lots to absorb here.

The Navy and the Air Force are doing quite a bit that they aren't getting much publicity for. Most of the Navy is wearing digital cammies or DCU's and not readily identifiable as sailors unless you get close enough to read the tag. The Air Force C-17's and C-130's are everywhere that has an airstrip. J-STARS is always up above. And ex-Soviet cargo planes are being chartered because the Air Force is wearing out their planes bringing stuff that would otherwise have to come overland.

The Air Force and Navy are letting people go while the Army struggles with recruitment. A lot of airmen and sailors had an opportunity to join the Army rather than be down-sized, but very few took that option.

The Marines could do a lot better at outsourcing. Lots of Fobbit jobs could be done by civilians, but the Marine Corps barely tolerates contractors on the battlefield instead of accepting them and making force multipliers of them.

One Team, One Fight meets oo-RAH!

Most of our problems are self-inflicted.

Posted by: Cannoneer No. 4 at October 11, 2006 08:13 AM

There really is no short-term solution. Which makes Rumsfeld's pigheaded errors in 2002-2006 not to expand the force all the worse. Like the errors made in the initial occupation of Iraq, some things can't be fixed, tragically.

Those Soldiers, Marines (including Reserves and National Guard) already in and their families will have to bear the burden in the short-term, with repeated deployments, stop-loss and IRR call-ups.

You could announce an immediate intention to expand the Army and Marines by several tens of thousands. You might have a problem recruiting the troops needed now, since public perception of the war is negative. "Influencers" such as parents and teachers are not very likely to enthusiastically recommend enlistment for young people in their charge. Bonuses and educational benefit incentives would be required - 4 years ago it would have been a lot easier and cheaper to recruit, of course. The enlistee pool is not 100% transferable between services - most who enlist in the Air Force or Navy would not consider the Marines or Army. Even if you want to transfer Navy Gas Turbine technicians to patrol duty in Baghdad, you have to run them through combat training for and couple of months and then organize them in some way. The results are not likely to be optimal.

You can have troops through basic and combat arms training in 5-6 months.

Even contractors take time - if you are expanding the scope of the existing LOGCAP contract, or letting new contracts, there is a bid process, and you have to fill the positions.

There is no great short-term solution, but one thing that should be done immediately is to fire Rumsfeld and install competent leadership in the DoD.

Posted by: observer 5 at October 11, 2006 11:50 AM

Lots to contemplate. Lots to say. I’ll provide more later - but one thought up front:

There are lots of calls here for "Special Forces-like" and "special operations-like" capabilities in Service organizations.

There is also significant distaste for "jointness".

Folks: you can't have your cake and eat it too.

(1) Fact is, special operations are inherently joint. It must be in order to leverage all aspects of combat power necessary to do what is needed.

(2) The joint fight is where it’s at because the Geographic Combatant Commanders (the Theater Commanders someone snarkily referred to as "pro-consuls") are joint organizations. But in essence, joint forces are just groups of Service units under a single command. The only hard part of jointness is the command and control piece. Logistics and personnel run via Service lines and it's the Services that jam things up.

(3) The Services are adopting more and more SOF-like capabilities every day. Look at the amount of night vision, precision optics, and other special equipment and tactics standard formations are using. That stuff didn't happen even 5-7 yrs ago. ((Don't get me started on that MEU-SOC misnomer))

(4) However, a true "special operations" capability will always be far beyond that which conventional units can do, and will always be in shorter supply than the number of requirements.

Grim/Cassandra. Good stuff. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

Posted by: LongTabSigO at October 11, 2006 03:07 PM

This excellent post will take some time to be digested, however I pick up on one point you made in the comment section, "So what is your solution, short-term, to the manpower problem then, observer 5?

We can't manufacture people out of thin air"

From what I read in the news, all the branches of the military are barely making their recruitment quota and they are relaxing the requirements to include former criminals. And this is just to maintain the forces at current levels. There seems to be a dearth of people wanting to sign up so if the military decided in an unlikely scenario to substantially increase the size of the armed forces it probably cannot be done.

If there are not enough boots on the ground then I suggest we use the draft. Surely there are enough physically qualified young men and women who can be taught how to kill? Its high time the rest of America learns that its a war and everybody has to contribute.

As a civilian with a young relative about to head off with his Marine unit into Iraq I see a hell hole with no end in sight. The insurgents are picking off our young soldiers in small numbers daily and Iraq is now being used as a teaching school from neighboring countries to learn how to fight an insurgency. If it was not so tragic I would say this is an embarassment. I say either send in how many as is necessary to put down the uprising, we are not making friends there anyway, and get the Iraqi army trained. Or get our soldiers back into their bases to just train the Iraqi army and their police force to do their fighting.

Posted by: GaryV at October 11, 2006 06:55 PM

Surely there are enough physically qualified young men and women who can be taught how to kill?

They have to be taught a helluva lot more than just how to kill, GaryV, and there aren't as many qualified as you would think. A whole lot of Americans never got born in the last 33 years.

Posted by: Cannoneer No. 4 at October 12, 2006 01:01 AM

I couldn't see a trackback feature for you here, so here is where I linked you:


wonderful writing, great points!

Posted by: radar at October 13, 2006 01:57 AM

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