More Troops Versus the Right Troops

Glenn Reynolds‘ observation that,

We like to treat this [i.e., the broad war on terror] as a military problem because (1) we’re good at those; and (2) that seems to produce simple questions, like “more troops, or not?” Trouble is, those probably aren’t the right questions.

Our Army size was entirely adequate for crushing Saddam’s forces in short order. It’s probably adequate to doing the same to Iran’s forces. It’s not up to fully policing a big country once we’ve done that. Do we want a military that is?

Has won him a rare concurrence from Kevin Drum, who leans toward “creat[ing] a branch of the military dedicated to occupation and peacekeeping.”

I’ve long resisted that idea, since operations have a nasty tendency to shift gears from warfighting to stabilization operations and back again in the blink of an eye. I’ve been arguing since the early 1990s that what we needed was more of the right kinds of troops for these missions: MPs, civil affairs, engineers, linguists, and Green Berets.

It may well be, though, that sustained stability ops have such a negative impact on our ability to wage conventional war, that we at least need some hybrid between these concepts. In Imperial Grunts, Robert Kaplan is amazed at how well our unified command for Latin America, SOUTHCOM, has managed to build a deep competency by essentially maintaining an old British colonial style force where soldiers spend most of their careers rotating in and out of SOUTHCOM assignments, rather than just doing three or four years, going back stateside, and then rotating to Europe or wherever. Something along that line may be a preferred model for this puzzle, developing soldiers with cultural and linguistic skills in the Middle East, East Asia, and other hot spots where sustained operations may be needed.

Regardless, Reynolds and Drum are right: Simply throwing more of the same at the problem is unlikely to work.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Middle East, 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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    A branch of the military devoted to occupation and peacekeeping sounds suspiciously like Tom Barnett’s “SysAdmin Force”. Or is it in addition to Barnett’s Force? I wonder what will be cut to finance such a force. Or will it be added to the already existing deficit?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Dave: Yep, Barnett has been advocating that for years, as did the late Admiral Arthur Cebrowski of NetCentric Warfare fame. I’ve long been a skeptic and still think a bifurcated force the wrong approach. More people with the skill sets necessary for stability ops, though, augmented with soldiers who have spent their career serving in given part of the world, makes increasing sense.

  3. LJD says:

    I thought it was called ‘The U.N.’ Problem is the corruption, that they lack any teeth, and they don’t really seem to give a damn.

  4. vnjagvet says:

    Since the aftermath of WWII, the military has had considerable experience in the “assistance in governing” (aka occupation) business, and has been quite successful at it in a number of places; most notably, Germany and Japan.

    Even in Vietnam, MACV was reasonably successful during its entire 15 year stay there, with the assistance of Fifth Special Forces and the CIA air wing.

    Since roughly 1965, however, the problem with our endeavors at this kind of military operation has been, what I have called “duelling objectives”.

    In the jargon of governmental assistance work, the objective of is to “win the hearts and minds” of the assisted (occupied) nation’s populace, encouraging larger and larger groups of people there to govern themselves, and become responsible citizens.

    On the other hand, the objective of making war is always to close with and destroy the enemy. That objective is almost always antithetical to winning hearts and minds.

    Keeping those with the latter objective out of the way of those with the former is the hard part. It was never properly harmonized in Vietnam.

    It remains to be seen whether it will be successfully harmonized in Iraq or the rest of the Middle East.

  5. “More people with the skill sets necessary for stability ops, though, augmented with soldiers who have spent their career serving in given part of the world, makes increasing sense.”

    That may be the best way for the Pentagon to buy into a nation-building force. I don’t think Barnett would complain too much. He’s compared his SysAdmin force to that of the Navy.