Modern Wars Have No Front Lines

Phil Carter has an excellent op-ed column in yesterday’s NYT entitled, “How the Front Lines Came to the Rear.” No fan of the Administration’s handling of the war, he nonetheless notes that most observers are missing a crucial point when they criticize Rumsfeld’s answer to a soldier last week about the lack of armor:

Many are taking the exchange, along with alarming new statistics on military preparedness from the House Armed Services Committee, as proof that the Bush administration has failed to give soldiers in Iraq the equipment they need to face combat. Actually, the problem runs much deeper than the current administration: it stems from the Pentagon’s uneven effort over the last decade to turn a cold-war military into a force able to meet today’s challenges.


Simply put, there are no more front lines. In slow recognition, the Army purchased light armored vehicles in the late 1990’s for its military police to conduct peacekeeping, and more recently spent billions of dollars to outfit several brigades with Stryker medium-weight armored vehicles, which are impervious to most small arms and rocket-propelled grenades and can be deployed anywhere in the world by airplane.

But the fact that there is no longer a front line also means there aren’t any more “rear” areas where support units can operate safely. Support units must now be prepared to face the same enemy as the infantry, but are having to do so in trucks with canvas doors and fiberglass hoods because Pentagon procurement planners never expected they’d have to fight. Remember that Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the Iraq invasion’s most celebrated prisoner of war, was a supply clerk with a maintenance company.

Indeed. Rumsfeld and company deserve criticism for having acted too slowly in rectifying the problem once it was obvious but the problem long predates them.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    It’s funny how many who object to our being there at all, fail to comprehend that single point.

    Or, perhaps they DO understand it, but ignore it, lest their arguments get defeated in the acknowledgement of it.