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 Regardless of which senator is elected, there is no reason whatever to believe that we’ll have withdrawn our forces from Iraq completely in the foreseeable future.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.