Fighting the Next War

Regardless of which of the two major party presidential candidates is elected on Tuesday, he will be an interventionist. Sen. Obama has on more than a single occasion expressed interventionist views, generally from a liberal interventionist perspective while Sen. McCain’s interventionist views of a “national greatness” sort are well known. James has posted on this subject on more than a single occasion and I’m sure will be happy to supply links to those posts.

From any perspective the war in Iraq is slowly winding down. Our casualties there are at the lowest point since the invasion; both Iraqi civilian and military casualties are slowing, too. Sen. Obama has promised to end the war in Iraq; Sen. McCain has promised victory in Iraq. Regardless of which senator is elected, there is no reason whatever to believe that we’ll have withdrawn our forces from Iraq completely in the foreseeable future.

By nearly any standard as the war in Iraq has slowed the one in Afghanistan has gotten hotter. Both candidates have spoken about increasing our forces there (a position with which I disagree); where President McCain would get the additional forces to deploy to Afghanistan is not entirely clear.

Whomever is elected president will also inherit a gargantuan budget deficit from his predecessor not to mention structural deficits that are, to say the least, daunting.

When you combine ongoing commitments with an interventionist predisposition, an economic slowdown, and substantial budget deficits, it’s an all but foregone conclusion that our military is going to be asked to do more than ever before while the domestic mood and the budget realities press for decreases in our military spending.

From Chet Richards of Defense and the National Interest via Mark Safranski I received a link to the introduction, table of contents, and executive summary of a fascinating nonpartisan report, America’s Defense Meltdown (PDF), on how our military is doing now, the challenges it will face in the near future, and some proposals for reform.

Military reform is a subject about which James has written extensively and I’m hoping he will weigh in here.

I strongly suggest you read the summary linked above and the complete document when it becomes available. The little we’ve got makes fascinating reading.

I can’t comment on military necessities but I feel pretty qualified to comment on the politics of it all and, by “politics” I don’t mean party politics but how persuasion, personalities, and human motives influence what actually happens in life so I’ll make a few recommendations from that viewpoint.

Reducing the number of officers above the unit level should be a high priority. The mere existence of such officers creates inside salesmen for hundreds or even thousands of projects, some of which have little to do with the military needs of today. From a simple human standpoint you can’t expect someone to abandon a project he’s been working on his entire career simply because it isn’t needed any more.

We also need to incorporate adaptivization into our military planning. I strongly suspect that our future is one in which strategic objectives change faster than our current ability to achieve them does.

Among the desperate needs is greater oversight from a Congress that’s aware of those strategic objectives and views our military as something other than a stumbling block or potential source for funding for favorite domestic programs. That’s a reform of which I despair.

We also need a major reform away from planning for large adversary war but that’s a topic for a different discussion.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Quit it Dave. Obama is anti War when it involves the U.S. His base is anti war. All American action is based upon greed, etc, etc. His campaign lies amount to nothing. Frank wants to cut defense spending by 25%. How will that effect our war fighting ability. It will leave America unable to defend herself. A militia will have to be formed to remove Obama from office.

  2. rodney dill says:

    I thought we were just gonna vote “present” for the next war, and mail it in.

  3. G.A.Phillips says:

    I thought we were just gonna vote “present” for the next war, and mail it in.


  4. mannning says:

    We will meet with the leaders of the other side with no limitations or conditions…white flag in pocket.

  5. mannning says:

    One must discount most of what Obama said during the election run-up that sounded militaristic as mere posturing of a born pacifist.

  6. rodney dill says:

    One must discount most of what Obama said during the election run-up…

    Amen… and ’nuff said.

  7. Triumph says:

    Remember that Obama is not–to quote Joe the Plumber –“loyal to America.”

    Hussein’s plan is pretty clear: 1) Get elected by having his illegal relatives and ACORN steal the election.

    2) Give all the states in the Northwest to Kim Jong Il, give all of the states in the southwest (CA, AZ, NM, OK, TX) to Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas, give the entire southeast to Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez, give the midwest to Putin, give the northeast to the Taliban, and the mid-atlantic will go the dictator of Kenya, Adewale Ogunleye.

    3) No war will happen because Obama will basically let his invited council of evildoers run the show. Part of the deal will be for Ogunleye to give Obama a palace back in Kenya where he will retire for life. We won’t even know it–we will only be aware that something is up when all of the Christians and patriots are rounded up and sent on trains to work camps. At that point it will be too late.

    If Obama gets elected enjoy your 2008 Christmas–it is likely to be the last time we can celebrate it in public.

  8. just me says:

    Obama and Biden have both said/made hints that they will likely put some kind of troops in Sudan. Biden mentioned a “no fly zone” although I don’t see how a “no fly zone” really works with the kind of problems in Sudan. I am pretty certain with a president Obama at least some of our troops will be in Sudan, likely wearing blue berets, and with ridiculous ROE that will be more likely to get them killed than that they protect anyone else from getting killed.

    I figure Obama and McCain both will likely pull out of Iraq pretty fast-although things right now are going fairly well or at least quiet there right now, and I was reading an article today that indicated the US was turning over a lot of jobs to Iraq-both military and civilian type jobs, so while it isn’t perfect and could always go to hell again, Iraq actually looks like a pull out of some amount could be fairly reasonable. Obama though may have more pressure to do it quicker while McCain will likely get a bit more patience on that front.

    I think Obama will likely give up on Afghanistan where McCain won’t and i think that is the difference. I say this mostly because the majority of “get us out of Iraq” people I know seem to conflate Iraq and Afghanistan together. I suspect as soon as the troops are mostly drawn down out of Iraq, the anti war left will start sighting their guns on getting troops out of Afghanistan. I doubt they will make much of a peep over Sudan though.

  9. We also need to incorporate adaptivization into our military planning.

    The US military is one of the most adaptive organizations in the world. What exactly are you thinking of?

    Like anything large it is tough to turn around, but it does happen. Witness, for instance, the surge and the transformation of US tactics in Iraq.

  10. anjin-san says:

    I say this mostly because the majority of “get us out of Iraq” people I know seem to conflate Iraq and Afghanistan together.

    All that means is that you don’t get out much. I work with some very conservative Republicans. (my boss is one) and they all say we have to get out of Iraq, because Bin Laden is successfully bleeding us economically there.

    WTF do you think Bin Laden is always saying Iraq is the central front? He wants us there. And him wanting us there is a good reason to leave. We have given Iraq years of blood, sweat, tears and hundreds of billions of dollars. Time for them to step up.

  11. Brett says:

    Ignoring the bizarre conspiracy-theory-esque crap about an Obama Presidency –

    I read the report summary, and it was interesting. The authors certainly make some good points – the procurement system in Defense is messed up, and Future Combat Systems, in particular, is becoming grotesque; although elements of it should be included in future modernization plans, the program itself is just becoming a massive boondoggle.

    That said, they need to be careful with some of their assumptions, and particularly the assumption that “well, massive-level operational warfare seems non-existent now, so we ought to plan away from it and re-build war around fighting small-scale fires and ‘dispersed’ combat”. Take Iraq, for example. While no one can doubt that Iraq showed that counter-insurgency tactics are vital, they only became vital after the US utterly dominated the initial Iraqi opposition in a conventional warfare mission.

    Moreover, if we want to keep a world where wars are primarily “brush-fire” conflicts, then we need to maintain the factors that create that – nuclear deterrent and American conventional military dominance. What with the way ABM technology is advancing and getting better, missiles will probably be near worthless in the next 20 years – which means that we’ll have to focus on enhancing other ways of nuclear deterrent, such as more and better strategic bombers and a good submarine program, as well as our own strong ABM system.

    American conventional military superiority depends on all of those unpopular military modernization programs. The F-22, for example, must be purchased, and purchased en masse; costs per unit have skyrocketed because Congress keeps cutting the quantity supplied. The navy needs a new destroyer, but not the idiotic design that got canceled a while back (the “tumble home” design). The army needs a new modernization program to replace the disastrous Future Combat Systems plan, and the Marines need a clearer mission. All of them need a better procurement system.

  12. Brett says:

    EDIT: “. . . nuclear missiles will probably be worthless in the next 20 years”.

  13. just me says:

    All that means is that you don’t get out much. I work with some very conservative Republicans. (my boss is one) and they all say we have to get out of Iraq, because Bin Laden is successfully bleeding us economically there.

    No, I work in a school setting where 9 out of 10 people I work with are liberal. We recently lost a soldier in Afghanistan from our town, and I heard repeatedly Iraq and Afghanistan conflated-and believe me before it happened and after it happened there were a lot of conversations on the war. Those who are liberal and want us out of Iraq seem just as opposed to Afghanistan-and I constantly hear “We need to get out of there” again and again and when asked for clarification they almost always say they mean both Iraq and Afghanistan.