Zero Sum Wars
Kagan Kaplan makes the argument that, as a matter of practicality, the only way for Robert Gates to move 7,000 more troops into Afghanistan is to take 7,000 troops out of Iraq.
Let’s look at the numbers.
After the last of the five “surge” brigades goes home this summer, the U.S. Army will have 13 brigade combat teams in Iraq (the Marines have two more) and two in Afghanistan. One BCT serves as a “global response force,” ready to respond to a small-scale emergency elsewhere in the world. One is in Korea. One is dedicated to homeland defense and security. One, at a base in Fort Riley, Kan., is training soldiers to become advisers to Iraqi and Afghan security forces. That adds up to 19 BCTs. All the other Army brigades are either between deployments or in their 12-month downtime periods, having fulfilled their 12-to-15-month deployment tours.
This last option is the only one that’s at all practical. There is no way to put more boots in Afghanistan without taking boots out of Iraq. As one senior Army officer put it to me, having it both ways is, “in a word, impossible,” and anyone who thinks otherwise, he added, is “dreaming.” Gates, by the way, is not among the daydreamers. His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said in an e-mail today that Gates well knows that, fundamentally, “the only way he can add significant forces to Afghanistan, while keeping the President’s commitment to reduce tour-lengths, is to continue the drawdown of troops in Iraq.”
Interesting, yet disturbing stuff. I freely admit that I don’t have enough knowledge of military logistics to properly evaluate Kagan’s argument, but if he’s right, that certainly doesn’t bode well for our ability to project force throughout the globe. Indeed, Kagan himself comments on this:
These calculations do point up to a larger set of problems. The United States has the world’s most powerful military. This military consumes more money (adjusting for inflation) than it did at the height of the Cold War. Not counting the costs of the two wars, it spends as much on the military as the rest of the world’s countries combined. And yet, despite all this money and global reach, the U.S. Army finds itself unable to sustain more than 150,000 or so troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kind of makes you wonder where all that money is going…