Fixing America’s Military
Ultimately, "fixing America's military" will require fixing America.
Many of the suggestions are familiar: drastically change budget priorities away from major procurement programs designed to fight an enemy that doesn’t exist; do away with parity between the Service budgets, realigning spending to our real-world mission requirements; stabilize career patterns to make them less burdensome on wives and families; and promote the most innovate, visionary leaders rather than the best bureaucrats.
Amusingly, I made many of these suggestions in various graduate school papers I wrote in the early 1990s, when most international relations articles had the phrase “post-Cold War Era” as part of the title. When I started my dissertation, in the fall of 1993, my proposed topic was to outline the realignment of Service roles and missions for that new era. Within a couple of months doing preliminary research, however, I realized that the question wasn’t at all interesting because the experts all had fairly similar ideas in that regard.
What was interesting it that it was very clear that we weren’t actually going to do much about that consensus. My eventual product, Fighting the Last War: Bureaucratic Politics and the Roles and Missions of the United States Armed Forces for the Post-Cold War Era, explored the various reasons why that was. The very short version was that the Services had cultural identities that mitigated against reorganizing for something other than all-out maneuver warfare (then, peacekeeping; now, COIN and stabilization ops) and that Congress and other players had every incentive to resist change as well. We might not — and, indeed, probably don’t — need the F-22 but everyone who matters really, really wants it.
Some of the less fundamental changes Carter and Kaplan propose, notably investing in education bonuses and other quality-of-life issues, have at least some chance of getting enacted into policy, at least in watered down form. But it’s going to be next to impossible to change the Army’s culture so that the John Nagl’s of the world become the norm. And the only way to create an Air Force that doesn’t see the acquisition of faster, shinier toys as essential to its survival is to abolish the Air Force.
The article’s close is almost a throw-away:
If we want to continue the kind of military we’re pursuing, and the kinds of wars we’re fighting, then let’s pass a surtax to pay for it. If we don’t want to pay for it, then let’s drop the whole idea—scale back our missions in the world and figure out some other way to fulfill them.
Politically, a war tax is a non-starter — especially with a less-than-popular war. But we seem to have a bipartisan addiction to military intervention around the world with no end in sight.
George W. Bush famously campaigned on an end to nation-building but wound up launching perhaps the most ambitious nation-building enterprise in American history. The election of a Barack Obama as president might eventually get us out of that endeavor but he’d almost certainly get us in to others just as Bill Clinton did. The main difference between the Democrats and Republicans on this score is which interventions they deem essential to America’s interests.
Ultimately, then, “fixing America’s military” will require fixing America. Unless we somehow create a political system that doesn’t reward spending billions of dollars to “create jobs” in the states and districts of our most powerful Members of Congress, we’ll continue to buy major weapons systems we don’t need. And unless we give up on the notion that every problem that exists somewhere in the world is ours to solve, we’re not going to stop needing our military to do things it’s not particularly equipped to handle.