Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lots of Bad News

"Welcome Home" banners at Camp Lejeune, NC Marine base.

Maybe you've seen the items cited here, but they could easily be overlooked among all the hullabaloo of the campaign.

All of them relate to the military situation that the new president will confront as of January 20.

And all of them, in my view, are gloomy clouds on the new administration's horizon. They point to an American future likely to be marked by more war and a bigger military.

How so? Let's take a look:

First, from Congressional Quarterly comes news that

Pentagon officials have prepared a new estimate for defense spending that is $450 billion more over the next five years than previously announced figures.

The new estimate, which the Pentagon plans to release shortly before President Bush leaves office, would serve as a marker for the new president and is meant to place pressure on him to either drastically increase the size of the defense budget or defend any reluctance to do so, according to several former senior budget officials who are close to the discussions.

Experts note that releasing such documents in the twilight of an administration is a well-worn tactic, and that incoming presidents often disregard such guidance in order to pursue their own priorities.

"Pursue their own priorities." Sure he will. But these priorities will be pressed from several directions, all pointing toward more war and a bigger military.

One example came last spring, when a retiring army general told Congress about the size and condition of our army. Here's part of what he testified, as reported in the New Yorker:

General Richard A. Cody graduated from West Point in 1972, flew helicopters, ascended to command the storied 101st Airborne Division, and then, toward the end of his career, settled into management; now, at fifty-seven, he wears four stars as the Army Vice-Chief of Staff. This summer, he will retire from military service.

[In April], the General appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and testified that this method of engineering has failed. "Today's Army is out of balance," Cody said. He continued:
The current demand for our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the sustainable supply, and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies. . . . Soldiers, families, support systems and equipment are stretched and stressed. . . . Overall, our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. If unaddressed, this lack of balance poses a significant risk to the all-volunteer force and degrades the Army's ability to make a timely response to other contingencies.

Cody spoke last spring. Last week [0ctober 14], his estimate was echoed by a batch of strategic consultants. The Christian Science Monitor's Gordon Lubold had that story:

Is US fighting force big enough?

Washington - American's armed forces are growing bigger to reduce the strains from seven years of war, but if the US is confronting an era of "persistent conflict," as some experts believe, it will need an even bigger military.

A larger military could more easily conduct military and nation-building operations around the world. But whether the American public has the appetite to pursue and pay for such a foreign-policy agenda, especially after more than five years of an unpopular war in Iraq, is far from clear.

The Army currently has about 540,000 active-duty soldiers and is expected to attain its goal of 547,000 by 2011. The Marine Corps, also tapped to expand, should top 202,000 within the next couple of years. The total American force – including active-duty, reserve, and guard – is about 2.2 million.

John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert and a retired Army officer, says in coming years the Army should grow to 750,000 and the Marine Corps to 250,000. Demand for troops is already high, and it won't abate anytime soon even if substantial numbers of troops return from Iraq, he recently said at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington.

Meanwhile, the top US commander in Afghanistan has asked for more American troops that the US simply can't produce until more leave Iraq.

"We don't have enough brigades to fight – that is an inconvertible fact," says Mr. Nagl.
If the US is to remain a superpower in a world in which weak nations, not strong ones, are the big threats, then it must expand its forces so it won't again enter a conflict using too few troops, as it did in Iraq, say other experts. America must stay engaged in nations with weak or nonexistent governments to prevent extremism from taking root and threatening the US.

"This is not a prediction of conflicts to come, but a recognition that the potential for stabilization and reconstruction missions remains high," writes Fred Kagan, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a think tank here, in a book he cowrote called "Ground Truth." Mr. Kagan and Thomas Donnelly argue for a total force of about 2.8 million, which includes an active Army of about 800,000 and a Marine Corps of about 200,000.

"We may not want these missions, but they might be thrust upon us; and they certainly might appear to a future president as the least-bad outcome," Kagan writes.

Where are all these additional troops supposed to come from? Recruiters haven't been having an easy time in recent years, despite huge budgets for ads and signup bonuses

But not to worry. Now they've gained a crucial ally, as a Pentagon bigwig explained to Robert Burns, military writer for the Associated Press:

For military, bad economy aids recruiting

WASHINGTON—The tough economy could make it easier to sign up soldiers.

Fewer civilian jobs mean less competition for military recruiters.

"We do benefit when things look less positive in civil society," David Chu, the Pentagon's personnel chief, told a news conference Friday. "I don't have the Dow Jones banner running up behind me here this morning, but that is a situation where more people are willing to give us a chance."

For several years, as the Army in particular struggled to meet its recruiting needs, military officials have cited a strong economy as one obstacle to attracting young people looking at their employment options. It is one reason that over the past year the Army and Marine Corps felt compelled to pay more than $600 million, combined, in bonuses and other financial incentives to entice recruits.

Another negative factor: Parents and others who influence the decisions of enlistment-age men and women have, since the outset of the Iraq war, become less inclined to recommend military service.

In announcing that the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force all met their recruiting goals for the budget year ended Sept. 30, Chu said the economic downturn offers new possibilities for recruiters.

"What more difficult economic times give us, I think, is an opening to make our case to people (potential enlistees) that we might not otherwise have," Chu said. "And if we make our case, I think we can be successful."

The military needs any break it can get on recruiting, particularly since it is in the midst of a push to substantially increase the size of the nation's ground forces—a decision driven by an urgent need to reduce the strain on troops and their families from repeated deployments to Iraq.
And one more item. Here are snippets from some reports that will be delivered to the new occupant of the Oval Office about rising military challenges, as leaked to McClatchy Newspapers:

A new National Intelligence Estimate concludes that Pakistan is "on the edge."

Washington - A growing al Qaida-backed insurgency, combined with the Pakistani army's reluctance to launch an all-out crackdown, political infighting and energy and food shortages are plunging America's key ally in the war on terror deeper into turmoil and violence, says a soon-to-be completed U.S. intelligence assessment.

A U.S. official who participated in drafting the top secret National Intelligence Estimate said it portrays the situation in Pakistan as "very bad." Another official called the draft "very bleak," and said it describes Pakistan as being "on the edge."

The first official summarized the estimate's conclusions about the state of Pakistan as: "no money, no energy, no government."

Six U.S. officials who helped draft or are aware of the document's findings confirmed them to McClatchy on the condition of anonymity because NIEs are top secret and are restricted to the president, senior officials and members of Congress. An NIE's conclusions reflect the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

The NIE on Pakistan, along with others being prepared on Afghanistan and Iraq, will underpin a "strategic assessment" of the situation that Army Gen. David Petraeus, who's about to take command of all U.S. forces in the region, has requested. The aim of the assessment - seven years after the U.S. sent troops into Afghanistan - is to determine whether a U.S. presence in the region can be effective and if so what U.S. strategy should be.

The findings also are intended to support the Bush administration's effort to recommend the resources the next president will need for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at a time the economic crisis is straining the Treasury and inflating the federal budget deficit.

The Afghanistan estimate warns that additional American troops are urgently needed there and that Islamic extremists who enjoy safe haven in Pakistan pose a growing threat to the U.S.-backed government of Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.

The Iraq NIE is more cautious about the prospects for stability there than the Bush administration and either John McCain or Barack Obama have been, and it raises serious questions about whether the U.S. will be able to redeploy a significant number of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan anytime soon.

Together, the three NIEs suggest that without significant and swift progress on all three fronts - which they suggest is uncertain at best - the U.S. could find itself facing a growing threat from al Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups, said one of the officials.

So where does this leave the US as we look ahead to a new year and a new administration?

Facing a need for more troops – and not just a few more, but hundreds of thousands. Recruiters are counting on the coming depression to fill the ranks. Will it be enough?

And what will all these additional troops face? How about:

Trouble in Iraq. Big trouble in Afghanistan. And the threat of even bigger trouble in Pakistan. (And Iran? Russia? Don’t ask.)

I don’t know about you, but here at Quaker House, this data indicates that we’ll continue to be busy.

But beyond all this, there is yet another important aspect of this situation to consider, namely the impact of the current US financial decline on its international military-strategic standing.

We’ll look at that in another post.

(A reminder: Quaker House depends on your contributions. There is a "Donate Now" link on our home page.)
Photos copyright by Chuck fager.

1 comment:

Sun Tzu said...

Are there viable strategic options for the West in Afghanistan? One strategist thinks so: Strategic Options: The West and Afghanistan