Will Fewer Soldiers and Marines Come with Fewer Wars?
My latest for The National Interest, "Hagel's Defense Cuts: The Least Bad Choice," is out.
My latest for The National Interest, ”Hagel’s Defense Cuts: The Least Bad Choice,” is out. It focuses mostly on the landpower impact.
Defense secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday force cuts that would leave the United States with the smallest Army it has had since 1940. While the Pentagon concedes that this comes with strategic “risks,” the biggest risk is that a future president will nonetheless commit our country to wars that require a massive ground presence.
Several times in his speech, Hagel acknowledged that these cuts—along with those to weapons and other acquisitions programs also announced—come with additional “risks.” That’s DoD parlance for being unable to secure the objectives set by the president as quickly as would otherwise be possible and/or getting more troops killed than would otherwise have been the case. Nonetheless, he pronounced that the Pentagon’s leaders had found these risks acceptable given the projected strategic environment.
More importantly, given the realities of the fiscal environment, risk is unavoidable. Hagel and the Joint Chiefs have repeatedly emphasized—correctly, in my judgment—that it’s far preferable to take the risks associated with a small but highly trained and well equipped force than those associated with a larger but “hollow” force that is unprepared for the fight. Accordingly, they “chose further reductions in troop strength and force structure in every military service—active and reserve—in order to sustain our readiness and technological superiority, and to protect critical capabilities like special operations forces and cyber resources.” That’s a difficult but necessary trade-off.
Alas, infantry duty is still performed by infantrymen. While our current grunts are much better equipped than their Vietnam, much less World War II, counterparts, occupying territory still requires a lot of not-so-proverbial boots on the ground. So, displacing men with high-tech systems only works so long as we’re not planning to stick around doing counterinsurgency, stabilization operations, peacekeeping, disaster relief, and other manpower-intensive missions on a sustained basis.
There’s real danger, that despite declarations from the Obama administration that we’re through with “long and sustained stability operations,” a subsequent administration will decide otherwise, either intentionally or through mission creep. After all, Rumsfeld’s boss, who led us into both Afghanistan and Iraq, ran for office on a platform of “a more humble foreign policy” that eschewed “nation-building.” I have no doubt that he meant it at the time.
More at the link.
“Defense secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday force cuts that would leave the United States with the smallest Army it has had since 1940.”
No, it wouldn’t. You’re repeating a viral meme that’s false. You, and the rest of the media, have been played.
Yeah, good perspective.
@Enon: @john personna: I didn’t say that the force of 440-450,000 was smaller than or even the same size as the one of 1940; I said that it’s smaller than the Army has been since 1940. That’s simply fact.
Nor was I alarmist about that fact:
I’m not sure in what since I or anyone else have been “played.”
Leaving aside the spin (reminds me of Romney’s “fewer ships than before WWI!” bullshit), what about the question? Does “starve the Beast” work? Conservatives have tried this approach with the Federal government in general, with decidedly mixed results. For a long time they were able to check liberal attempts to expand/improve the welfare state. They were largely unsuccessful at rolling it back, though.
I don’t see reason to think a similar approach will work wrt wars. I’m all for a leaner military (though I mean less $, which is not what Hagel is doing), but I don’t actually expect a reduction in troop numbers to have a significant impact on whether some future president goes to war (contra Dick Cheney’s latest risible commentary).
[at some point, if we reduced the budget enough, the military really would not be as lethal as it is now, or at least it might lose “power projection” ability, and that would likely affect policy. But that’s not what Hagel is doing, as far as I can tell. He’s asking for more money/fewer soldiers]
@Rob in CT: But that’s the whole point of the piece! I think the cuts make absolute sense given how much manpower costs and the strategic environment we face. But we’ll have too small of a force if a future president decides on groundpower-intensive operations.
Yes James, it is a fact, a highly misleading fact. One which if you are going to use, it would be very useful to give that fact a little context. Without context I would suggest you state that fact in a different way, like stating the #s of the military in total.
Skimming does get me trouble sometimes.
This made me think of Rummy’s (or was it Cheney’s) “you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you wish you had.” Having a force that wasn’t quite what it needed to be (in his estimation) sure didn’t stop them from launching their lovely little war.
Doesn’t the link show that the army was 269,023 in 1940?
To say that 440,000 is a return to 269,023 is very misleading, yes.
Re. preparation for future land wars, these numbers are active forces, right?
So ... “As of December 31, 2013, the U.S. Armed Forces was 1,369,532 men and women strong.”
Is that not counting reserves?
@OzarkHillbilly @john personna: The lede isn’t the whole article. I give the exact numbers in the piece! And I state in the piece that the direct number-to-number comparison is midleading and explain why.
@Rob in CT: Yes, I use the Rummy quote in the piece. And Rummy was right, by the way.
@john personna: Where’s the quote from? But, no, that’s the Active force.
Perhaps you are misunderstanding us. We are saying it is even worse than you describe.
The “since 1940” reportage, without numbers from 1940, leaves the lay reader to think that in 1940 we must have had something like this proposed 440,000.
It is 269,000 which is not reported, leaving the lay reader with a less than complete understanding.
When I was in VietNam the total US (and I suppose Australian and RoKorea) force level was something like 500,000. Possibly that included crews of ships on ‘Dixie’ and ‘Yankee’ station too, I don’t think it matters that much. Because what I see when I look at the proposed military budget is a determination to never, ever do another VietNam.
And that makes me feel infinitely safer than a huge standing army that would offer political leaders the opiate of military occupation as a solution to our foreign policy problems.
And for what it’s worth, I think the A-10 should be kept. In my era the equivalent was the A1 ‘Sandy’ and I loved to hear that big piston engine overhead. Wonderful aircraft.
That’s from Enon’s article.
@john personna: Conor Friedersdorf is reacting to an actually misleading headline from the NYT, “Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level.” That’s flatly wrong. My formulation, “leave United States with the smallest Army it has had since 1940,” is accurate. And then, as already noted in the thread, I go on to give precise numbers and argue against alarmism over the cuts for two paragraphs.
Friedersdoft is arguing against those “Opponents of Pentagon-Budget Cuts” who are spinning the numbers to mislead. But I’m not an opponent of the budget cuts, or even the cuts to ground forces. I’m cautioning that cutting to this perfectly reasonable number will be a problem when and if another president commits us to a major ground war.
Put differently, total active forces 1940: 458,355, total active forces 2014: 1,369,532
So we are close to a million ahead, while it is reported as “a return to 1940.”
@john personna: Sure. But I’m specifically talking about ground forces.
You did better than the NYT, but why is it hard to say you should have just laid off the whole 1940 thing?
As we’ve seen, the 1940 comparison is crazy, useless.
Are you counting all the ground forces then? It was more than Army deployed in Iraq right? I know Navy medics were in Fallujah. And Navy Seals famously do helicopter raids.
As a matter of history, the US engaged in quite a few wars/police actions/military interventions between 1898 and 1940, even leaving out WW1. They intervened in Cuba 4 times, occupied the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and fought a guerilla war in Nicaragua, for example.
A smaller US army does not necessarily mean no wars, as our Latin American neighbors know quite well.
Let’s back up to the big picture. I think you (James) were completely correct in this level of detail:
I can think that while thinking that Conor Friedersdorf is really onto something.
I think someone did shape a meme here. They made a statement that while, as you say, technically true (Army smallest since 1940) creates an entirely skewed image in the mind of the lay reader.
The lay reader, after hearing “smallest since 1940” is not going to think armed forces are a million men larger.
It’s not the size of the military that will discourage military adventurism. It’s the AVF that’s been the major enabler. Bring back conscription and you’ll see less stomach for military adventurism.
If they’re actually serious about shrinking the military, it’s time to consider reorganizing the service arms, including (i) folding the Air Force back into the Army, and (ii) scrapping the Marine Corps entirely as there’s nothing they do that isn’t already done or can be done by either the Army or Navy.
They were corpsmen, members of the FMF. They wear Marine uniforms with Navy ranking insignia. To Marines, they are Marines.
You don’t know what you’re talking about.
What does the Marine Corps do that already isn’t being done or can’t be done by the Army or the Navy?
Perhaps that is all normal, but a blast from past reportage:
10,000 Sailors Being Trained for Service on the Ground in Iraq
Also claimed … “The Air Force has had thousands of people driving trucks in Iraq for a couple years.”
My understanding is that force integration has worked pretty well, and that forces are used more equivalently. (see above)
If that’s true, there isn’t much need to eliminate “branding.”
Or it makes sense to eliminate branding if we’re going to integrate functions anyway. Having these separate service arms still creates a lot of friction and administrative costs that we’re imposing on ourselves for no good reason other than sentiment and history.
The lay readerIdiots who only read headlines, after hearing “smallest since 1940″ is not going to think armed forces are a million men larger.
Writers, always assume your audience is disengaged, stupid, and unable to read more than one line.
That’s not really right, because none of the top line stories make that full manpower comparison, even buried.
If we got rid of the Corps, we’d just have to recreate it. Things are a tad more complex now than they were in WWII. See, Marine Expeditionary Unit. A MEU isn’t something you can just whip up over the weekend.
From your link: “A Marine Expeditionary Unit is normally built around the building blocks of a MAGTF: a reinforced Marine infantry battalion is the ground combat element, the aviation combat element is a composite helicopter squadron, a battalion-sized logistics combat element, and a command element. Troop strength is about 2,200 and usually commanded by a colonel, and is deployed from an amphibious assault ship.”
So it’s an infantry battalion with attached helicopter support deployed from a ship. Doesn’t seem like anything that can’t be done or isn’t already being done by the Army and Navy, then. The Army is more than capable of organizing quick reaction infantry units with close air support and the Navy is more than capable of ferrying them around.
Look at the current debate over the Air Force’s plans to retire the A-10. The USMC brings its own organic support to everything it does and doesn’t rely on the other services to support them in operations. Marine aircraft provide CAS support to Marines on the ground, and there’s no issue with relying on the USAF to show up.
In other words, we’ll just recreate the Marine Corps. Brilliant.
You’re comparing apples and oranges, as what you’ve written implies. “Additionally, many of the service-support duties once performed by American soldiers are now performed by civil servants and U.S. or host-nation contractors.”
Although the DOD (and before it the DOW) has always used contractors, the role of contractors has greatly expanded since the establishment of the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program in 1985. That makes a lot of sense, especially with our current AVF. Highly trained combat personnel should not be doing KP.
But that means that the Army of 1940 (or the Army we deployed in WWII, Korea and Vietnam) cannot be directly compared to the Army we deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Army Hagel is proposing. In 1940, the Army was roughly equivalent to personnel in uniform. But now, there are any number of jobs that are no longer done by enlisted men and women. They don’t cook, drive trucks or build bases.
According to the Congressional Research Service, Over the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, and before that, in the Balkans, contractors accounted for 50% or more of the total military force.
I can’t find any figures for how many contractors the Army will need for logistics and support during peacetime, but at a minimum what we might call the ‘actual Army’ (uniformed personnel plus civilian contractors doing the jobs uniformed men and women used to do) will be many tens of thousands greater than the 440,000 to 450,000 active uniformed personnel that Hagel is proposing.
Comparing today’s Army to that of 1940 is not a “simple fact”.
Thank you for your comment about this comparison creating a “skewed image” in the mind of the lay reader.
No, the Marine Corps is just duplicating functions that the Army and Navy already perform. No need to recreate the Marine Corp because the Marine Corps doesn’t offer anything unique, there’s no value added:
Ground combat infantry, including light infantry? Already done by the Army.
Close air support? Already done by the Army, Air Force and Navy.
Logistics and transport support? Already done by the Navy.
Sure, we’ve currently organized the Marines into a combined-arms force, but there’s nothing unique about that task that it needs to be done by Marines as a separate service arm. All of those tasks could be reassigned within the Army in conjunction with Navy.
@DC Loser: Yeah, except we fought Korea and Vietnam, much larger and bloodier exercises than Iraq and Afghanistan, with a conscript force. Granted, they were fought under the Cold War rubric rather than that of the GWOT. But I see no evidence that AVF is either encouraging or discouraging wars.
So, obviously, if we elect another puppet leader…and a maniacal puppet-master like Cheney…or even a full-on war-monger like McCain…then there is going to be a manpower issue. But it’s absolutely ridiculous to carry an inflated manpower number in the meantime…just in case.
Most importantly…if one of these chicken-hawks do manage to get into office…then they should have to face up to the need for a draft to staff their wars. The way that Iraq and Afghanistan were manned was just stupid…with National Guard and reservists serving years of active duty…and stop-loss orders preventing volunteers from leaving the service when their obligations were up. And almost none of the kids of those choosing to go to war having to serve.
For me the bottom line is that we need to reduce the Defense Budget. I’m open to discussion about the how….but Hagel’s proposals don’t strike me as all that unreasonable.
Of course I support Obamacare over the status quo…so obviously I’m OK with the end of civilization.
There is a missing counter-factual. We don’t know what would have happened if Bush and Cheney had activated the draft …
We only have their own outright panic that anyone might think they would.
They tried, very, very, hard to make everyone understand that it would be AVF only.
I’m all for troop reductions and hardware reductions.
Sure how many wars a future president might get involved in would be a concern-I’m just not convinced it should be enough of a concern to keep troops at their current levels.
I would also like to see the US lower it’s presence in foreign nations-it’s pretty easy for Europe to spend very little on their military when the US is spending tons to put men and hardware in their region.
@C. Clavin: Failing that, they should certainly be forced one way or another to raise taxes for their wars. I don’t think anyone’s done that going back to LBJ and Vietnam.
no silly…it’s much better to put it on the credit card…because then you can blame the next Presidential Administration for the deficit it creates.
If a magic fairy could wave a wand and waive the restriction on the Army’s use of fixed wing armed flythings would the Army even want the thing for CAS in that it’s already fixed on the Apache and future LAS for the mission?
/would donate my right monkeypaw for a ride in the hog, C or A
We’ve been in AFG for 12 years now, and it’s out of sight and out of mind for 98% of Americans with no skin in the game. The reaction at home got pretty ugly 3 years into our major involvement in Vietnam. I’d say the AVF certainly matters.
@DC Loser: But we were bringing more people home in body bags a week from Vietnam than we have the entirety of the Afghan conflict.
One of the elements in this realignment/retrenchment of our Armed Forces that is not discussed is the impact of expenditure of $2T in the last decade on our ability to maintain worldwide forces to say nothing of the accumulated wear and tear on our equipment. After all, the British Empire basically collapsed because it spent its accumulated national wealth on two world wars. We are experiencing the same phenomenon.
It is slightly hypocritical (ironic?) that discussions on our defense posture really doesn’t take into account the financial costs and how to pay for them. Financial matters dominate all other discussion of national policies but are deemphasized when it comes to defense.
Yes…and Iraq…because medical treatment is so advanced. Not to be crass…but the reality is that those saved lives cost much more $$$…in disability payments, benefits, etc. What percentage of those coming home from Iraq have PTSD?
While I can’t point to any evidence-gotta feel that there would be fewer stupid wars if rich people’s and congresspeople’s sons were in the first wave. Right now the people doing the fighting aren’t drawn from the same class as the people sending the troops off the war. That has to count for something,somewhere.
@Scott: This whole process is being driven by the budget.
@C. Clavin: I’m guessing no higher than in any previous war—probably lower. We’re just aware of the phenomenon now and shame it much less than we used to.
@stonetools: Ah, but that’s a whole different conversation. When was the last time we were drafting the sons and daughters of the elite of the elite? Even back in the Civil War, the rich could literally buy their way out of service.
WWII was something of an exception, but mostly because the public sentiment was such that men who didn’t fight–we had more than 8 million men in the Army alone–were seen as something less than men. President Roosevelt’s sons served. But even there, I don’t think we were drafting them into the infantry.
I don’t know how we get past the fact that the huge post 9.11 DOD budget increases bought us two lost wars.
Yes, we need a powerful military, but I see our own internal dysfunction and lack of investment in our own country as a greater threat to freedom in America than any external enemy.
That too is a good framing. If there was ever an example of decreasing returns …
I think we both agree that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan ever posed a threat to our freedom.
Bush and Cheney, on the other hand, robbed us of trillions of dollars and killed 4000 troops.
When I was google-checking that there were Navy
medicscorpsmen in Iraq, I came across a story of one such, who volunteered “for 9/11.”
That’s what we did for those young men.
We let them think Iraq was about 9/11.
There should not be any use of combat forces unless there is a plan to win, and an exit strategy that does not involve just “bugging out”. If it is important enough to put American lives on the line, then there must be an all out effort, not some “limited war” thinking.
“You can go home pig or pork. Make your choice” (Dillon, “Gunsmoke”)
“No terms except unconditional surrender” (General Grant)
Do you remember the Army Ranger who was the guest honor of Obama at the State of the Union speech? He was on his tenth deployment when he got those injuries! When I think of those d@mned chickenhawks who fomented the Iraq War and then cheered on the troops from keyboards 3,000 miles away….
If those chickenhawks had to serve and and had to be in danger of injuries like that, there would be fewer Iraq Wars. That’s my theory, and I’m sticking with it.
I don’t really buy the argument that personnel costs are the problem and therefore we need to reduce personnel. Consider this graph from Wonkblog (there are similar ones around, they are all about the same)
What Dylan Matthews got wrong in that chart is that “Operations” is actually O&M and counts for a lot more than “war conduct.” (which I know you know, but most people don’t) The DoD in recent statements is talking up rising personnel costs which will create a hollow force, but compared to procurement and O&M, costs have risen much less. And that is taking into account exploding healthcare costs for military members, retirees and their families which are, I think about $40 billion now.
In my mind, this budget doesn’t fix what are the real problems – O&M and procurement. The DoD (and the federal government generally – see the Obamacare rollout) isn’t able to manage large contracts with a basic level of competence. We are making personnel cuts to avoid a “hollow force” but the problem is that new hardware is so expensive due to mismanaged and unrealistic contracts that we have to cut personnel costs to fund it. What is really need is procurement reform and a much tighter leash on O&M spending. The sad reality is that reforms to the procurement process aren’t even on the radar and O&M is only about a reductio in contingency spending (ie. the Wars). This is back-asswards.
That said, I think we should make the active ground and air forces small and move those to the reserve and guard, which are cheaper. We don’t need large ground and air forces to defend the US, but we need a sizable reserve for contingencies as well as meet our various and extensive treaty obligations. Instead we are cutting the reserve and guard too. That’s just dumb, dumb, dumb – and unnecessary.
@stonetools: While the notion of sending the sons and daughters of the elite in the first waves of any war (or even drafting them to begin with) is a nice sentiment, the historical record shows that it is also a complete fantasy. It’s never happened in the US, nor pretty much anywhere else.
@DC Loser: Actually you have it completely backwards. There’s no historical evidence that conscription diminishes the appetite for military adventurism -quite the opposite. Conscription enables military adventurism because it provides policymakers with the ability to order up manpower. For example, Vietnam would not have been possible without the draft. A draft was the only way the government could get enough troops to both defend Europe from the Soviets as well as fight in Vietnam. There were not enough volunteers to do both. The benefit of the AVF is that manpower is limited. That forces policymakers to prioritize. With a draft you can face off the Soviets at the Fulda Gap and still have the manpower to fight a major war on the other side of the planet. Opposition to Vietnam only ended the draft after the war was over.
Similarly, in WWI Wilson tried to raise an army using only volunteers. He did not get enough, so the government instituted a draft. The draft was what made our participation in WWI possible.
Also you probably remember the problems with the Army and Marines lowering standards during the height of the Iraq war. That is hard evidence the AVF was stretched to it’s limit. With a draft you don’t worry about Cat IV accessions or making a quota because the available pool is so large.
But some of our elites did serve in past wars – witness the Kennedy clan. And Bush senior. For all their failings (and there were many) they served their countries. I’ve long suspected that one of the reasons Bush was so willing to call up the National Guard for his Iraq fiasco was that he wanted to change what people thought of serving in the Guard, post hoc. He knew that to people of his and even my generation “served in the Guard” meant “got out of the draft”. “Served in the Guard as a fighter jet pilot” meant “Elite/Rich parents got me out of the draft and gave me toys to play with while others died.”
If these are dueling just-so stories, and I think they are, which really makes the most sense?
That voters happily become draftees, without later consequence? Or that they burn draft carts, hold great protests, and change national elections?
Hmmm. Maybe we have evidence there after all.
Well, IIRC the British elite took an absolute beating in WWI (many dying as junior officers leading from the front tend to do). They weren’t immune in WWII either. US elites served as well, though I don’t know if it was quite the same.
To me, the obvious conclusion is that exposing the sons (and now daughters) of the elite to war doesn’t stop wars. Maybe it provides a slight deterrant? I’m not sure. The trade off is exposing everybody else (who would not otherwise volunteer) to the draft. I’m not fond of that trade off, given History as I read it. If I thought the theory held (draft = fewer wars), I’d be interested. I just don’t see good evidence for it.
Look at Vietnam. Sure, there was draft-card burning, protesting, etc. How long did that war go on again? It depends on when you start the clock, I guess, but a decade at least. The protesting was going on under LBJ, but the war dragged on for… what, 6 years after he left office? For all the protesting, the war got fought at great cost in blood and treasure.
Military spending – US vs. the world
@Rob in CT:
We can never just look at net outcomes. That reduces the model to a single factor.
f(draft) = war
Obviously that’s not the way it works. Political response to draft service will vary widely with conditions. Those same conditions will change the rate of enlistment.
By “conditions” I basically mean the public judgement on the justness and necessity of a war.
I think the unarguable bottom line is that in an unpopular war, one with grudging support, a draft will make public resistance even greater, turning it into even public anger.
Now, going back to GW Bush:
When did he say that? At a presidential debate, St Louis. Oct 8 2004.
Look what we need to do is shrink the armed forces down to about 25K and use the second amendment for what it was intended to do, to bring up the militia to defend the country like the founders intended.. God knows there are enough rednecks with a small arsenal who are just itching to use them in a real live firefight.
(To say that a draft doesn’t matter, while a President explicitly allays fear of a draft as part of his re-election campaign is ridiculous. He said it there at the debate because to do otherwise would be to cost himself support.)
@Rob in CT:
if it”s a large existential war, a war for survival, as WWI and WWII were for Britain, or WWII was for the US, then the elite will serve. if it’s a smaller, optional war, as Korea or Vietnam or Iraq, then the elite will find better things to do.
World War II was a bit of a one-off. It can be a mistake to draw lessons about how we behave from it, as you have to consider the context of the time.
Both are true, depending on whether voters believe that the safety of the nation, of their homes and families, is actually at stake.
Right. One might reasonably say that a draft has no downside in a popular war, but that it becomes an extra political burden in an unpopular one.
Actually, I think we can go further than that and say that “at the margin” a war with weak approval will fare less well with a draft.
The. British also had a volunteer army until WWI. They instituted a draft for that one and there was a large campaign in the UK to shame the men who didn’t serve.
WWI and WWII were different.
That said-I think an AVF is the best way to run a military and this is a bit of a different debate anyway since the DOD wants to reduce personnel and the AVF for the reduced size will meet the desired numbers.
One reason the world-especially Europe can spend similarly in defense is because the US spends so much. If you’re Germany and the US is in your yard with tons of troops and tons of equipment to fight wars and they are your ally and agree to help you out when attacked why spend much money on defense? It’s like why put a pool in your own yard if the neighbors have one and have invited you to use it any time you want.
In the end the question you ask right now is how big a military do we need right now and don’t worry too much about what some president or other country might do in the future.
I do think the US should be wary of closing bases in such a way that all the eggs are in one basket but the US has a lot of bases and could probably close a lot of bases and not have to worry about this.
The slaughter of England’s elite in World War 1 really did echo down the decades, and virtually nobody in the UK believes the Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori hokum that sells so easily in the USA.
I think the believers in an all volunteer force believe in that idea so much and oppose the idea of a draft so vehemently that they resist the fact that something is lost-the notion that we are all in it together, and that even the elite potentially have skin the game. With no draft, the elite are gauranteed a pass. In particular, the AVF believers discount what I think is obvious-that many people are serving not out of patriotism, or out of love of military, but really out of economic need-that they are going back over and over to the battlefields of Iraq because its the way out of the ghetto, or a dead end town, etc.
The AVF begins to look a lot more like sort of poor man’s army serving for mercenary reasons at that point, which is a less attractive picture that the “band of brothers (and sisters) serving out of pure patriotism ideal” image that we all hold up as the ideal.
The Brits never had a draft until 1916.
Also Indont think a draft create a situation where the pain is equally shares.
The hardest hit will be the poor guy who doesn’t want to serve but has no wealth to avoid it. The elite can use their money and influence to either allow their sons to avoid the draft or serve in less dangerous areas.
Joe Biden’s son was a JAG officer-hardly a position with the same risk as some poor enlisted serving in the infantry.
Even with a draft you will end up with the poor being shafted-so might as well make it all volunteer and use a draft only if necessary.
And honestly I think the nature of current warfare is such that it will likely continue to be small wars involving one or two countries vs the all out war seen in WWI and more so WWII. With modern weapons as they are an all out war would probably result in massive destruction so the larger powers that be seem content to engage in smaller proxy battles.
Let’s go back to the concrete example. Iraq. Bush had his professional estimates of manpower and material needed for true occupation and reconstruction. Those required a draft. November, 2001:
Now, surely you see how these things tie together. We did a war on the cheap because we couldn’t draft. Therefore even the threat of draft weighed against the conflict. Just not enough.
Bush was enough of an idiot that he did a war that needed a draft, without a draft.
He knew, and we should all acknowledge that asking for the draft would have killed the war.
Well, also, defense against whom? The Red Army? Another reason the world, especially Europe, spends so little on “defense” as the US is that most places don’t actually have that much to defend against; there are no real threats on the horizon. Who threatens Germany, really? Who threatens France or Britain or Canada or New Zealand or Brazil or Chile or South Africa?
Let’s face it, most of the money that the US spends isn’t on defense — it’s on offense. We’re not securing our borders, we’re going abroad in search of enemies to fight. We’re not building up a large military to help our allies, we’re doing it to project power for our own sake, so that we can be a global hegemon.
In the past I’ve called this Bush’s “catch-22.”
He needed a draft for his war, but could not have a war with a draft.
That should have meant no war, Not on those terms. But sadly, horribly, he did try that very same war, the same game plan, but without the manpower for it.
150,000 troops was enough for “knock down the sand-castle, go home.” It was not enough for nation building.
I think, there is a lot of that. I also think there is a lot of just fighting the last war. For a half a century, the USA prepared for a climatic battle with a massive Red Army tank force on the plains of northern Europe. This is kind of army the US built and the gwenerals war gamed with, and they don’t want to build any other kind of military force. So the USAF wants the ultimate air superiority fighter, even though they don’t need anything more advanced than the F-15/16 and even though such a plane is ridiculous expensive. They abandon the A10 , because tactical ground support isn’t all that sexy. The USN wants the ultimate carrier force, because they want to win the next Battle of Midway. And so on.
Or that after 15 to 20 years they burn draft carts, hold great protests, and change national elections?
I didn’t say “the draft doesn’t matter” (politically). I said I don’t see clear evidence that having one reduces the # (or severity) of wars we fight.
Those are not the same thing.
Yeah, I think that follows. I’m neither for or against this draft means less war idea: I’m just not convinced by your argument. The above bit I quoted is the best I’ve seen.
@Grewgills, @Rob in CT:
It is force vectors, right? A draft provides a vector. The size of the vector would vary, running strongly against in unpopular wars, to neutral in popular ones.
I don’t think anyone can concoct a vector in the other direction though, where a draft actually does make wars more politically palatable.
(Some have suggested that “they can start wars because they can just draft,” but that’s not the way it works in a democracy. This is not the same as conscription in an autocracy.)
“Will Fewer Soldiers and Marines Come with Fewer Wars?”
Simple as that.
So long as Republicans and jingoism exists, we will always rush blindly towards war.
It matters not the size of the standing troops.
Throw in a dash of false patriotism and a underpaid sub-working class, and we will always be able to grind up the necessary volunteers to expand the ranks.
Speak to a fervent conservative today, and you will find an individual ready to engage in a holy war, a new crusades.
I try to stay as far away from these folks as possible.
The cold war broke with Vietnam. After that, for a long time, Americans had a strong bias against wars. Incrementally though, from the Grenada episode to the Desert Storm triumph, American militarism increased. To the point where … well it isn’t a huge surprise that Team America: World Police was released in 2004.
Of course with the ultimate failure of nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are left with a different sort of hangover. We know we can knock things down. Our question now is, to what purpose?
It’s a sea change.
There may be some out of touch, old guard, Republicans who are jingoists in the old sense, but who listens?
I think this aftermath will be possibly as long as Vietnam to Desert Storm. No one wants to go anymore.
(I see some nitwit is saying that it would take 500,000 troops to occupy Syria. He’s not a nitwit in the sense of being wrong. Only in the sense of thinking anyone wants to occupy Syria.
We’ve learned our lesson.
Some actually predicted a slide to boots on the ground in Libya as well. They too misunderstood the limits to political power. Any party that supported boots in Libya would be out in the next election, and they knew it.)
We’ve learned our lesson, FOR NOW. It’s pretty obvious that, as with financial panics and other events caused by human error, we will proceed to unlearn our lesson at some point.
One thing I missed the first time I read this — in the last decade plus of our wars, it’s Europe and our other allies that have been helping us out when we were attacked, not vice versa. Why are German and French and Canadian and New Zealand soldiers dying in Afghanistan? Why did British boys come home from Iraq in body bags?
Draft could be and has been at least once a vector in limiting the duration of a war that is or becomes unpopular. The ability to draft makes possible large force commitments where they would not otherwise be possible. Both of those happened with the Vietnam conflict. We radically increased our footprint with the draft and that in turn helped limit the duration of the conflict by contributing to unrest at home. As with so many things it is much more complicated than a simple dichotomy.
On the upside a draft does more equitably spread the physical and psychological costs of military conflict.
@john personna: None of that prevented Vietnam, nor the various escalations of the conflict. Again, Vietnam could not have happened without the manpower provided by conscription. The effect of burning draft cards and protesting was to end conscription in America, not the Vietnam war.
Well, there’s some truth to that, however wars rarely start out as unpopular. They may grow unpopular and conscription probably exacerbates that to various degrees. However, that is a different argument than conscription as a means to prevent war, or make war less likely. Again, the historical record is pretty clear. I would also make a big distinction between conscription in democratic societies and authoritarian ones because the purpose in each is different (conscription is a means of population control in authoritarian systems).
Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t say that then! President Bush (and pretty much every politician over the last few decades) said that because the draft is unpopular. There was, and remains, a lot of opposition to the draft generally – that should not be confused with support (or lack of support) for any particular war.
There was no “threat of a draft.” It was not a factor. Secondly, the US military had not problems overthrowing Iraq without a build-up of 500k forces. Third, the Bush administration ordered the military not to plan for a long-term post-conflict occupation because the Administration thought planned to let the Iraqi exiles who had their ear run the show afterward. After Saddam was topple the idiocy of this plan became app apparent quickly. The draft was not a factor at all.
@Rob in CT: The elites who served were volunteers – they weren’t drafted and WWII was considered existential for both countries and serving was considered the right thing to do. Edit: What Refer said.
@stonetools: Wow the “poor man’s army” theory. This isn’t the 1970’s anymore Stonetools. The statistics on who serves pretty much prove your misconceptions wrong.
Secondly, the WWI British Elite argument doesn’t support your position because they volunteered.
Third, it matters a great deal what people believe is the purpose of a draft. Some, such as myself, believe the draft is a necessary tool have ready to implement should the nation face an existential crisis that requires mobilization of the nation. Absent that military necessity, there should not, IMO, be a standing draft for practical reasons.
Others believe the draft is a tool for social or political engineering (See Dana Milbank’s recent, and very ignorant, op-ed on the topic). For proponents, military necessity and effectiveness is a distant second in importance to the theory that conscription will, all by itself, bring about desirable social and/or political changes. The problem with that this theory is that the causality backward – In a democratic society a high level of cohesion must exist in order for that society to accept conscription. In other words, it is cohesion that brings about conscription and not the other way around. Again, if you have historical evidence to the contrary, then by all means, cite some examples.
@Grewgills: Good points, but I think this is wrong:
Without a draft we could not have fought in Vietnam.
Secondly, as a general principle, unpopular wars cannot be sustained with an AVF for very long because people will stop volunteering. Iraq and Afghanistan took this nation to the limit of volunteerism as the services had to reduce quality to meet recruitment goals.
Sorry for the seriously bad grammar – didn’t have time to grammar edit.
I’m kind of tired of this. We need a new top topic.
But FWIW, I think Vietnam came from something few of us here can understand. I think you had to be a WWII vet who understood the power of the Axis to want to fight communism in a small southeast Asian country. Anti-communism was not just based in a fear of the commies. It was steeped in experiences of the Nazis, and the Japanese in Manchuria.
Vietnam was a generational divide (as we all know) but it was WWII generals fearing WWIII on one side, and flower children on the other.
In that framework of course the draft didn’t prevent the beginning, but it sure as heck hastened the end.
And the aftermath was an anathema to war that lasted a generation.
When I was a kid I was cleaning out a garage and came upon some old 60’s magazines. True Something (I forget what). Anyway, flipping through them I saw that a monthly article was “why we can beat the commies” with a soldier posing with some new tech.
I think that the younger generation saw that as purely Dr. Strangelove, but give these guys some credit. They didn’t want Saving Private Ryan, the sequel.
So, speaking of generational turns, while I do think that a draft always weighs against war (a little or a lot, depending), a larger factor will probably be the mindset of the cohort entering politics as Iraq and Afghanistan vets.
I’d like to think that those vets are skeptical now of knocking down countries for little gain … but I”m not sure how unanimous they are, nor how willing they are to get wrapped up in a “fear China” campaign.
Strictly as an aside …
Bush Has No Choice But To Reinstate Draft
Sen. Tom Harkin
Except that we did for about four years (or more depending on how you count em) before instituting the draft lottery. Lyndon Johnson escalated our involvement in 63, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution allowed further escalation in 64, the American ground war in Vietnam began in earnest in 65*, the draft lottery began in late 69, and we were done in 75.
* up to about 200,00 troops by the end of 65
They still managed to drag along for quite a while, over 12 years for Afghanistan and almost 9 for Iraq. These were our longest and third longest wars in US history, second place goes to Vietnam at ~10 years. The only other war with US involvement even half that long was the Revolutionary War.
@Grewgills: There was conscription long before the lottery. I forget the exact figures, but something like 25% of the US military was composed of conscripts in the early 1960’s and the percentage increased over the course of the war. The peak year for conscript accessions was, IIRC, 1966 and those increases in conscription were specifically to support the war in Vietnam. There was, simply put, no way to meet commitments in Europe and elsewhere and fight (and escalate) a major land war in Vietnam without conscription. You can look at the number of military volunteers in the 1960’s and do the math.
True, but we had relatively low casualties. Total us deaths for both Iraq and Afghanistan is, at present, shy of 6800. In 1968, almost 17000 US personnel died. What do you think would happen to volunteerism if we had casualties on the scale of Vietnam?
@john personna: I do agree there was a generational divide and that’s been shown in various social science studies. When compared to the GI and Silent generations, the Boomer generation, as a cohort, feels much less responsibility to society in terms of paying taxes and serving in the military.
@john personna: Heh, Sen. Harkin’s op-ed didn’t age well. Reminds me a bit of Rep. Charlie Rangel’s bill to reinstate the draft that was overwhelmingly voted down in the house, with Rangel himself voting against it.. That seemed to be the end of any “draft talk.” It was never a real threat, but just another act in the daily DC kabuki theater.