The Iraq Study Group is not alone in calling for changes in U.S. policy. In its last days under Republican control, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) released its Committee Defense Review (CDR), the product of more than a year of research and hearings. It was envisioned as a "complement" to the Pentagon's 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) which HASC feared (correctly) would be another "resource constrained model" focused more on budget targets than on what it will take to meet growing security threats around the world.
A huge gap has existed between declared strategy and deployed forces. The U.S. military has been tasked with fighting two major theater wars (2MTW) and engaging in "multiple" small-scale contingencies even as it was being cut in size. At the end of the Cold War, then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said 14 active Army divisions were the "irreducible minimum" required to meet American global commitments. This would be a reduction from the 18 divisions fielded by President Reagan.
But the Army was reduced to only 10 divisions during the Clinton administration, the lowest since before the Korean War. It was an open secret that the 2MTW standard was not being maintained. The 2001 QDR admitted "U.S. forces will be capable of decisively defeating an adversary in one of the two theaters" but not in both.
As former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, the country goes to war with the army it has, not the army it would like to have. The problem was that Mr. Rumsfeld did not want a larger army. He opposed HASC initiatives to increase the Army and Marines by 40,000 soldiers. This is reflected in the 2006 QDR which sees a decline in Army strength once the "spike" in Iraq operations subsides. It sets the Army at 482,000 soldiers, about 300,000 less than in 1990, and 30,000 less than current authorized strength.
Last Thursday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker called for adding to the 512,000, warning that the active-duty Army "will break" under the strain of today's war-zone rotations without further expansion in troops and equipment. Under Gen. Schoomaker, the Army is reorganizing into 48 brigades to wring the most combat power out of its available manpower, but it is not enough.
While the CDR calls for more air wings, warships, missile defenses and industrial capacity, expanding "boots on the ground" is its main focus. Outgoing HASC Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, well knows wars are won on the ground. He served two combat tours as a Ranger in Vietnam and his Marine Corps son has fought in Iraq.
The CDR calls for expanding the Army by 8 Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) and the Marines by 10 battalions. Six of the new BCTs would be heavy armored-mechanized units. This preference for high-capability forces is at odds with the "transformation" plans of Mr. Rumsfeld who wanted not only a small but a "light" army capable of faster deployments. But there is an ancient tradeoff between speed, protection and firepower -- paid in blood.
Iraq has done a great deal to discredit this "transformation" concept. A fierce debate has generated a rough consensus that more troops should have been deployed initially to fill the vacuum created by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In his final memo on Iraq options, Mr. Rumsfeld suggested "Position substantial U.S. forces near the Iranian and Syrian borders to reduce infiltration and, importantly, reduce Iranian influence on the Iraqi government." But why were not enough troops deployed to Iraq in 2003 to do this, and where would the troops come from to do this today?
Mr. Rumsfeld also used the term "go minimalist," which sums up his approach to both Iraq and general war planning. One of the great lessons of military history, to which Iraq will add, is that nothing is more expensive, long term, than to try to fight a war on the cheap.
Combat has shown the value of heavy units in combat. This was apparent in the drive to Baghdad in 2003. And when the Marines stormed into Fallujah in 2004, they were happy to have the support of Army tanks. There has been a push to up-armor vehicles, with much criticism of the slow pace. Hundreds of Humvees, trucks, and other light vehicles have been lost, but only 20 M1 Abrams tanks and 50 M2 Bradley fighting vehicles have been destroyed in more than three years of battle.
Yet, if a Republican administration, with a Republican Congress, in a time of war, could not muster the political will to rebuild the military from the irresponsible cuts of the Clinton years, the prospects for doing so with Democratic majorities in both houses is grim. It will be difficult to expand the nation's ability to wage future wars when the mood in Congress favors withdrawal and isolationism.
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