Donald Rumsfeld is interviewed in the new Time about troop strength and other issues. The article, at least the online version, is presented as a series of quote excerpts. Among the more notable:

It takes time to hire people and recruit them and train them and get value out of them. The personnel experts say it would be probably a couple of years. There’s no quick fix. We feel an obligation before recommending an increase in end strength to be respectful of the taxpayers and make darn sure that when we do it and commit to that long-term cost, we’re right.

This is obvious to anyone who knows anything about the military; which apparently excludes virtually the entire press corps.

Some decades back, they made a conscious decision to put into the reserves–and almost only the reserves–certain skill sets so that if the country was ever tempted to do something militarily, they’d have to call the reserves, which means that it would have to be supported broadly. The problem with that is, it turns out that those skill sets are the ones we keep calling up, and they happen to be the ones that are badly needed in the world we’re living in–civil affairs and the like, military police. All the services are currently coming up with proposals as to what skills they think ought to be on active duty so that we don’t have to be so disrespectful of the circumstances of the reservists that we call them up every year.

This is exactly right, albeit belated. I was writing about this problem as a lowly grad student over a decade ago and certainly wasn’t the only one noticing it. That we haven’t made any progress in fixing it is just shameful.

FILED UNDER: 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. Richard P. says:

    Some decades back, they made a conscious decision to put into the reserves—and almost only the reserves—certain skill sets so that if the country was ever tempted to do something militarily, they’d have to call the reserves, which means that it would have to be supported broadly.

    Is there an implication in this that there’s something wrong with the idea that there should have to be broad support for military action in order for the country to undertake military action?

    While I assert that invading Iraq was a misguided idea that will ultimately accomplish little in the way of addressing terrorism, if indeed it does not make the terrorism problem worse and that there are some very serious ethical, moral and international relations issues with the administration’s concept of pre-emptive, unilateral or near-unilateral war, my strongest criticism of the administration is with the way that they sold the war to the American people and hyped up the threat. Why not just level with the people that invading Iraq is an optional war, that even though Iraq is not an imminent threat at this time and had nothing to do with the 9/11/2001 attacks, it’s nevertheless their theory that this is still something that they feel is worth doing in spite of the costs, etc.? Why hype the threat? Why grasp at straws in presenting such a muddled rationale for invasion as they did, as opposed to making a case based on a singular overarching factor? Could it have been because they realized that the American people would never have bought into a large-scale commitment of troops for a war that was in fact purely optional?

  2. Kevin Drum says:

    “Shameful” is too harsh, I think. There simply wasn’t a widespread consensus that we would ever be fighting a continuous, large scale war like this, so the reserve theory seemed fine. And it *was* fine throughout the 90s, when the reserves were called up for a few months at a time for specific conflicts.

    It’s only now, when we’re contemplating a big occupation that could last years that the theory is breaking down.

    In any case, deliberately setting things up so that war causes considerable civilian pain, and therefore can only happen when there’s considerable civilian support, is really not a bad idea.

  3. James Joyner says:

    I agree that the decision to make Reserve callups part of a major war made sense after Vietnam, which was why Abrams et. al. set it up that way in 1973. But the opstempo/troops spread too thin situation wasn’t created by Iraq–although it’s certainly exacerbated it. This was a problem throughout the 1990s because, even though the relative commitment of forces for Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc. wasn’t massive, the *type* of troops needed in large numbers for those missions was precisely the type was had almost exclusively stationed in the Reserves, especially Civil Affairs.