Hollowing out the military

Bush and Rummy are wrecking the Army. Why don’t the warhawks seem to mind?

George W. Bush and Don Rumsfeld are wrecking the U.S. military machine that was so carefully and painstakingly rebuilt after Vietnam.

Not only has quality control for the officer corps slipped; now the same is happening in the enlisted ranks. Even as recruiters scrape the bottom of the barrel, basic training is no longer doing its weeding job; the proportion of recruits who flunk out has been cut in half. The equipment in the field is deteriorating, and some of the deficit is being made up for by drawing down forward-placed stocks and robbing the units not deployed in Iraq of the stuff they need to train effectively.

A precipitous departure from Iraq could indeed make a horrible situation worse. But absent a draft and a big increase in the procurement budget to replace the missing stuff, it’s not clear how much longer the country can maintain an effective fighting force in Iraq while retaining any capacity to respond militarily anywhere else in the world. As long as we’re there, our other enemies abroad can afford to ignore our sabre-rattling, because we don’t have the muscle to back up our mouth.

I recall a schoolyard taunt in response to a threat: “Yeah? You and what army?” George W. Bush, and whatever poor bastard succeeds him on January 20, 2009, are going to hear that taunt more and more.

We’ve been told this is a dangerous world. Such a world is a bad place to be with a crippled military.

Footnote “Amateurs talk tactics; professionals talk logistics.” Have you noticed how indifferent most of the loudest-mouthed warhawks seem to be to what’s happening to our actual capacity to project our power?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

16 thoughts on “Hollowing out the military”

  1. Not just logistics, but also the size of the army. There were a couple of calls recently for more troops in Iraq. You can't just say that nowadays without specifying where they'll come from.

  2. In all totalitarian countries there is a conflict between the traditional, professional officer corps and the movement types. The USSR and Communist China had political cadres inside the Armed Forces looking over the shoulders of line officers. In Nazi Germany, the Army was too powerful and too intact for such a manuever, so the policing of the officers had to happen at other levels and in other ways. (German soldiers and officers were not allowed to join any political party, including the NSDAP.)
    The conflict occurs precisely because traditional officers are loyal to the institution of the Army and Navy, rather than to the movement. For this reason, they are distrusted by the party faithful, who have no loyalties to any institutions but party, leader, and ideology. Our neocon market fundamentalist imperialists are no different in this respect from the Nazis and the Soviet communists, whom they admire and emulate.

  3. Not to offend the host, but given the uses to which US military power has been put for the last half-century, why should this bother anyone?
    Fifty years is long enough to declare a trend.

  4. On Naval Air Stations Pensacola and Whiting Field, I saw countless Bush/Cheney bumper stickers, and not so many Kerry/Edwards stickers. This is not to say that the military is largely in favor of Iraq. Most of my peers (newly commissioned officers) were not very happy about it, and many privately told me that my decision to leave the Navy was something that they would have done in the absence of [fill in the blank]. Similarly, the public statements of many current and retired senior officers speak to their division about the war.
    The officers whom I found to be the most enthusiastic were at about the O-3 or O-4 level. As a cohort, they seemed relatively unconcerned with such trivialities as logistics and the opportunity cost of using the military in Iraq (see Iran, N. Korea), and were instead content to parrot the same platitudes that the public has been served since March 20, 2003.

  5. Well–I think on this one, the blame is fairly widely distributed.
    The US Armed Forces are under tremendous strain: true
    This strain is damaging the Armed Forces ability to project force: true
    The responses of the Bush administration are not helping: true
    BUT–the fundamental reason the Armed Forces are so strained is that they are very much smaller than they used to be. That size cut was a bi-partisan decision, supported by both parties since the early 90's, and looked great as long as there wasn't a war; it isn't looking so good now, but it was and remains a bi-partisan issue.
    A secondary reason the Armed Forces are so strained is that the specialties needed have changed, and for structural and cultural reasons, the specialties we have aren't the ones we need. (We need more MPs, more counter-insurgency troops, and less heavy armor). Again, this is a long-term issue–it's not one Bush caused (it is actually one on which Rumsfeld is on the right side to some extent), and it's not one that any politician has a serious proposal to correct.

  6. SamChevre: you're wrong. The decline in size of the military was precisely matched by the withdrawal of troops from Europe after the end of the Cold War. The active duty army and Marines went from 929,000 in 1990 to 655,000 in 2000. Over the same period, troop strength in Europe went from over 260,000 to 60,000. In East Asia, it went from 135,000 to 96,000. So the drop of about 254,000 is matched by the withdrawal of troops who were stationed overseas in opposition to the Soviet Union and China — 239,000. Since we no longer have to keep tank units on the East German border, the available land forces for all other tasks when Bush II became president was about the same as it was when Clinton became president.

  7. "it's not clear how much longer the country can maintain an effective fighting force in Iraq while retaining any capacity to respond militarily anywhere else in the world."
    Simple: make sure our only enemies are those that can be engaged with the Navy and Air Force. A genius like Don Rumsfeld has probably already thought at least this far ahead.

  8. So standards are slipping in both the officers' corps and enlisted ranks, but God forbid we should allow gays in the military. Felons, but not gays. And the administration isn't budging on that one, despite having lost 11,000 troops to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Article in NY Times today about this.

  9. JR, that's an interesting analysis, the other thing to remember is that even if there were, say, four more divisions, there wouldn't be enough recruits to fill them.

  10. JR, SamChevre, Grumpy: There is truth in what you all say, but put it together, and what we need to win is more counter-insurgency forces. Grumpy is right, we need to chose a better enemy, one that fits our capabilities; unfortunately jihadist guerillas don't fit the Rumsfeld model. So, we soldier on in Viet Nam II, or we bring on the AF and Navy and level the place (remember "bombing the little bastards back to the stone age"; "paving over VN"). Personally, I think the military is being wasted in the wrong place, over extended, and thus not available for meaningful projection. I think a much better case for building a democracy in the middle east could have been made by landing a division sized mix of conventional and counter-insurgency forces into Lebanon as peacekeepers to implement 1559 prior to the fifth Israeli war, rather than in Iraq. Cheaper, for sure. I have not thought out all the political implications, but militarily its what we need to be capable of doing. We cannot do that now….out of time

  11. The only way to win the war is to have a draft. It will either end the war immediately when upper crust folks realize their kids could come home in body bags or, worst case sceneario, it will actually make things safer for the people already over there. Of course, there is no politician alive with the balls to do it.

  12. Mohame,
    Any draft that would ever be passed by a Republican Congress would include college exemptions to ensure that children of the upper and upper middle classes wouldn't have to fight.
    But don't worry, there won't be a draft. Much more likely is that we'll get something like the foreign legion: Spanish-speaking units with bilingual officers who serve in exchange for citizenship.

  13. Since day one this administration has tried to fight this war on the cheap and we are seeing the results.
    Because if they were honest about the cost of the war they would have to give up their tax cuts for the wealthy.
    Remember, the first casulty of the war was the Bush economic advisor Larry Linsey was fired for making an honest estimate of the costs.
    We are losing the war because the tax cuts are more important to this President then winning the war.

  14. JR,
    I completely disagree that the decrease in size was offset by the drawdown of forces deployed in Europe. A rotation in Western Europe is not a hardship rotation, and not a combat rotation. If we hade an army 30% larger than we have, even if we still had 1990 levels of deployment in Germany, we would have 50% more combat-deployable troops. Yes, we couldn't deploy them all at once–but we could draw down Germany, and rotate troops out of combat to Germany.
    And liberal–my understanding is that the "bomb them until the rubble bounces" and "the bigger the artillery, the better" are views Rumsfeld opposes; remember, his opponents in the Pentagon are the heavy artillery guys, like Shinseki–not the special forces.

  15. I would like to quote and credit the late Alison Brooks, based among other things on her husband's experience (Royal Marine Commando, senior noncom IIRC):
    Amateurs study tactics, pseudo-intellectuals study logistics, professionals study promotion.
    It's not the complete story by any means but it's a good part of the story – don't underestimate the significance of bureaucratic positioning/infighting – I've not served, but I've lived on base for a couple months and flown peacetime missions as a [Navy] Civilian Project Specialist, plus spent a modest amount of time in the Pentagon – based on that experience I would say that by about O-5 (Lt Colonel/Cmdr) or E-8, marketing yourself to the promotion boards with respect to interservice (army v. navy) or interbranch (surface v. submarine) is a first order consideration. Any other readers who have served within the last 20+ years, I'd love to hear your views. Since I was involved with advanced development programs with potentially big bucks/Pentagon visibility involved, I may have sample bias toward more politicization than is there in the mainline units.

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