Zero Sum Wars

Fred 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…

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, National Security, , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Steven Donegal says:

    It’s easy to do, but you have your Fred’s mixed up. This is Kaplan, not Kagan.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Fixed–thanks. I get them mixed up all the time, though. Which is strange because their styles and ideas couldn’t be more different.

  3. James Joyner says:

    That does make more sense. I thought it an odd idea for Kagan to be making, since he thinks the American military can work miracles.

  4. Current ROE lead to lower ROI, at least for a while.

    FWIW, the US spending more on its military than all the other countries in the world combined is probably a good thing, even if it is an apples to oranges comparison. US $1B goes a lot father in say, Paraguay than it does in the US.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Where is the money going? Good question. I have heard repeated, credible claims that billions of dollars in cash sent to Iraq have simply vanished.

    Meanwhile, the surge in America continues. The surge in gas prices, health care costs, food costs, cuts in public services, education… and so on.

  6. […] Well, the troops started coming home last November and as we’ve entered the end of the surge this Spring  April was the deadliest month in Iraq since last August. And, we’re no longer running out of soldiers, we’re out. […]

  7. legion says:

    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.

    That there is the answer to “how can we do it?” If something big happens, or McCain (or possibly Clinton) gets elected, expect to see those downtime periods get stepped into and those deployment tours kicked back up into the 15-18 month range.

    It’s not that we _can’t_ do it, but how long we can do it for before our military collapses.

  8. yetanotherjohn says:

    I’m not sure I follow the math.

    13 brigades in Iraq, 2 in Afghanistan.

    But why can’t the global response force, homeland defense, Ft. Riley trainers not be manned by those in their “rotation period” (I can understand on Korea as it is considered a hard ship post and family can’t be there). Those three brigades count for about 12,000 (16,000 if you included Korea). So allowing for leave, equipment refit, handing over assignments, etc. It would seem that it would not be flat impossible to find another 7,000 troops. Difficult, yes, but not impossible.

    Also, remember that under Clinton, the US military was reduced by about 450,000. If the cuts hadn’t been so deep, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  9. Bob says:

    All those on Left decrying how our Army is being worn down and hollowed out because of Iraq – exactly how will moving 2 brigades into Afghanistan instead of Iraq improve that? 7,000 troops are still seperated from families, equipment is still abused, and they still end up being shot at.

    There are several places where one can find where all the $ in DOD budget goes. Single largest portion goes into pay with R&D for & buying of weapons the next big slice. There is also a large portion for facilities as we are moving over 50,000 troops from Europe and Korea into US (thus Army needs $ for barracks, ranges, etc). The money sent to Iraq is not from DOD budget but from a specific supplemental budget. And that DOD budget represents 3.5% of GDP which is down to pre-WWII levels.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    Yeah, Alex, that’s the argument that lots of folks opposed to our presence in Iraq have been making for, literally, years. It’s usually phrased as “Iraq is distracting us from the the real war on terror in Afghanistan”.

    One additional point (I’m working on a post on this subject): on a per soldier basis it costs about three times for us to keep a soldier in Afghanistan than it does in Iraq. That says nothing whatever of the value of doing either. The key point is that, not only will we not “bring out soldiers home” by moving them to Afghanistan, we’ll spend a lot more money, too.

  11. mike says:

    yetanotherjohn – Clinton had 8 years to shrink the military and Bush has had 8 years to build it back up – and Bush has barely expanded the military – that shot at Clinton is getting old – besides didn’t the Repubs own Congress most of that time?

  12. I’ve quoted you and linked to you here.

  13. Bithead says:

    yetanotherjohn – Clinton had 8 years to shrink the military and Bush has had 8 years to build it back up – and Bush has barely expanded the military – that shot at Clinton is getting old – besides didn’t the Repubs own Congress most of that time?

    Perhaps you’ve not heard; There’s a war on.

  14. mike says:

    Bit – I’ve been in the army for the past 9 years – i’ve heard – it is getting old hearing how Clinton did this or that to the military – it’s been 8 years since he’s been in office – quit living in the past

  15. anjin-san says:

    I am pretty sure that Clinton is also to blame for the sinking of the Reuben James…

  16. Bithead says:

    It took Reagan nearly all of his first term to get a start on getting the military recovered from Jimmy Carter’s nonsense…Reagan was twice the president and dind’t have the level of terorist threat to deal with, and thereby the troop commitments.