SILENCING THE RESERVISTS?
Newsweek presents a strange piece contending that SECDEF Don Rumsfeld is trying to undermine a carefully-crafted “strategic check-and-balance” put in place after Vietnam: putting vital troops in reserve to make mobilizing them without public support harder.
What Rumsfeld is actually doing–or trying to do–is something many of us have been calling for since Somalia:
Right now there are U.S. soldiers in Iraq doing nothing to rebuild Iraq because theyÃ¢€™re only trained to fire artillery, or because they drive gas trucks and only drive gas trucks–and the Army isn’t firing artillery anymore and is using just a fraction of the gas it needed during heavy combat. But because troops are deployed in divisions, they come home that way, too. Rumsfeld wants to break down divisions–the Third Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division look to be first up–and deploy brigades that bring to battle only what’s relevant to the task at hand. In other words, he wants to downsize “big Army” into something more akin to nimble Special Operations units. (That’s why he tapped retired general Peter Schoomaker, former head of the Special Forces, as chief of staff of the Army.)
Critics–including Congress and some military officers–are asking whether this downsizing would simply make it easier for the United States to rush to war. RumsfeldÃ¢€™s proposed “rebalancing” would convert the most heavily used reserve jobs (military police, civil affairs, psychological operations) into active-duty Army positions. That would effectively reduce the number or reservistsÃ¢€”and the number of complaints–needed for full-scale military operations.
Rumsfeld says he’s trying to be fair. “You end up calling them [the Reserves] up over and over,” he said during a question-and-answer session on Sept. 25, “and that’s not fair to their families, and itÃ¢€™s not fair to their employers, and weÃ¢€™ve got to fix that.” But his plan will blunt the Abrams Doctrine. It will also, notes the brass in charge of the Reserves, blunt the skills of future civil-affairs soldiers because as reservists, civil-affairs soldiers hone their craft when theyÃ¢€™re demobilized and working their law-and-order and government jobs back in the United States.
RumsfeldÃ¢€™s “rebalancing” is a five-year plan. So it wonÃ¢€™t fix the Bushies’ immediate political problem. But it might grease the skids for AmericaÃ¢€™s next war.
I agree with both of these moves as well as Rummy’s logic. While it’s true that the Vietnam-era policy served a useful purpose, it’s also true that it was based on an entirely different strategic paradigm. During the Cold War, the force was going to be deployed en masse or not at all. Since 1989 (starting with Just Cause in Panama), there have been well over a dozen military deployments. The same forces are being used over and again because the skills required for peace operations are in limited quantity. The “strategic check” hasn’t stopped that. It’s time to face reality.