More Troops? – Faster, Please

It appears from the L.A. Times that the Pentagon is in agreement with Robin regarding troop levels and the direction of future spending:

…while some new lessons will be incorporated into the Pentagon review, the spending blueprint for the next four years will largely stick to the script Pentagon officials wrote before the Iraq war, according to those familiar with the nearly final document that will be presented to Congress in early February.

Iraq “is clearly a one-off,” said a Pentagon official who is working on the top-to-bottom study, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review. “There is certainly no intention to do it again.”

Instead

…in the Pentagon blueprint, officials are once again talking about a futuristic force of robots, networked computers and drone aircraft. And they are planning no significant shift in resources to bulk up ground forces strained by the lengthy occupation of Iraq.

Which neatly amplifies Robin’s point that

So what advantage can we gain and maintain? It will not be numbers of bodies, no matter how well trained they might be. “Boots on the ground” are necessary for many purposes – are in fact irreplaceable – but ultimately it’s not in the simple count of troops that our national competitive advantage lies.

Instead, our strength is in inventing, deploying and using technology as a force multiplier.

Now I’m as big a fan of using technology and training to improve our troop’s lethality as anyone on the planet. As my military friends point out to me, “The military exists, on a fundamental level, to kill people and blow their shit up.”

We’re really good at that.

But the history of counterinsurgency warfare – and while we need to maintain the ability to defeat other standing armies, the likely role our military will play in this 4GW world is in something closely akin to counterinsurgency – shows that it is best defeated in a people to people war.

Our people have to be good a death-dealing, but they also have to be good at building water systems, drinking tea, and helping create schools. Those kinds of roles can’t be outsourced to technology, and the reality is that ‘outsourcing’ them at all degrades the effectiveness of the military – because it is the relationships they build while doing those things that changes the local perception of them and begins to build a virtuous cycle of trust with the population.

There is no substitute for bodies in doing this. They need to be incredibly well-trained, lethal when called on to be, and as good as we can make them – in every sense of the word.

So yeah, I think Bush is binning it by not stepping up and increasing the size of our forces, even at this late date.

And yes, Robin, I know about the effectiveness cost – but the reality is that the war we’re in is unlikely to end in the next three years, and if we haven’t scaled up, we’ll be in more trouble three years ago than we are today.

Finally, I’ll suggest a simple point from poker playing that has some relevance now.

When your ‘bottom’ (willingness to stay in) is in question, your opponents get more aggressive in playing against you. The answer, I have found, is to buy more chips.

It’s a clear and unambiguous signal about your intentions.

Today, as we’re playing ‘blink’ with Iran, the idea that we wouldn’t send a signal by starting the budget process with funds for – say – 150,000 more troops makes no sense whatsoever to me. I’d love to hear other folks explain it in comments.

28 thoughts on “More Troops? – Faster, Please”

  1. A.L., obviously the Pentagon has never liked counter-insurgency missions. And while I’d prefer it if someone in the Bush administration kicked a little butt in the Pentagon to show that they have to support the reality of policy; since the Democrats have demonstrated that they will work to undermine counter-insurgency missions I can understand how the political will to force conformance to mission at the Pentagon fails.

  2. I think the current setup is the Pentagon leadership trying to triangulate between counterinsurgency and old-fashioned warfare — because, while the former can sap our strength, cause political embarassment, and create great frustration, the latter can destroy our international position in the space of a few days if things go badly.

  3. “A.L., obviously the Pentagon has never liked counter-insurgency missions. And while I’d prefer it if someone in the Bush administration kicked a little butt in the Pentagon to show that they have to support the reality of policy; since the Democrats have demonstrated that they will work to undermine counter-insurgency missions I can understand how the political will to force conformance to mission at the Pentagon fails.”

    Counter insurgency? Wouldnt the better term be Sys admin (since nation building is also charged) the idea is if you do it right you dont get as much of an insurgency. Notice we had a long presense in Kosovo but no “counter insurgency op” We had a large enough footprint nobody wanted to challenge it seriously.

    No significant Dem opposed going into Afghanistan. If a big muslim state goes down to AQ, and the alternate strategies (butcher and bolt, etc) dont work, the barrier to occupying will the lack of troops, not the Dems.

  4. Oh. My. God.

    The important thing here is not _what was said_, but *where it was said.*

    This is like the old Soviet Union when Pravda just announced that the “Plans for the Army are just fine.”

    It always meant major changes were coming.

    There must be serious policy level considerations by the Bush Administration to invade Iran if you are seeing this kind of “protect my rice bowl” piece in the LA Times.

    Someone is laying a big marker down as to what an Iranian War would cost the Army in terms of force modernization and procurement pork.

  5. I still don’t know where we would get 150,000 troops from. My understanding is that enlistment is down (or at least not increasing with demand) enough so that the army has had to modify age and ‘test scoring’ requirements to bring in new troops.
    The only way to bring in more troops is going to be offering alot more money per individual. Can we finally route that bridge money now?

  6. Alchemist –

    Last 7 mos or so enlistement quotas have been met and even exceeded in some cases. And retention is at an all time high.

    That said, I think it’s a good idea to start thinking about counterinsurgency warfare, etc., but it seems to me that the Pentagon doesn’t see that kind of work as being something we’ll be doing in the long run. Our military is still centered around fighting a large, conventional military – though in a different way than our 1991 military was set up.

    Basically they’re anticipating a China contingency at some point and don’t want to be caught with their pants down 15 yrs down the road.

    I do think we should really consider bolstering our peace-keeping and nation-building capability, just so when we get involved in this stuff, we get it right from the get go.

  7. Last 7 mos or so enlistement quotas have been met and even exceeded in some cases.

    True, but only because the quotas have been lowered.

    “The Army made its quota only because it lowered the goal by almost one-third from that of the previous October. In October 2004, the Army exceeded, slightly, its goal of 6,935 recruits; in October 2005, the Army exceeded, slightly, its goal of 4,700 recruits.

    Yet despite the sharply lower target, the overall recruitment goal for the new fiscal year remains the same as last – 80,000 soliders. So monthly quotas now call for signing up 10,450 recruits in July, 10,500 in Augist and 9,800 in September of 2006.”

    .

    How bad is the situation? A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicates the Pentagon is so desperate for soldiers it has been calling up reserve troops who are ill or medically unfit to serve.

    Reserves

  8. I don’t have any input, but I have to say I’ve enjoyed the “dust-up” between the Winds Crew this last week. Its been very educational.

  9. Davebo “Yet despite the sharply lower target, the overall recruitment goal for the new fiscal year remains the same as last – 80,000 soliders. So monthly quotas now call for signing up 10,450 recruits in July, 10,500 in Augist and 9,800 in September of 2006.”

    These goals are not “adjusted”. The summer goals have always been higher than the other months. This reflects the prime recruitment period as high school graduations are completing.

  10. These goals are not “adjusted”. The summer goals have always been higher than the other months.

    That doesn’t explain the disparity between the 2004 goals and the 2005 goals.

    Seriously, the question of whether or not the army “modified” it’s goals has been pretty thoroughly hashed out and consensus met.

  11. The root cause of a less than adequate number of troops rest upon the fact that Bush/GOP/Pentagon has not convinced the American public that we are in a real war that is going to last a long time. The result is low funding, low enlistment, and a low public support for the war. Until the government, GOP or Dems, makes the public realize the serious long term threat to America, we will never have enough bodys. This holds true weither the opponent is an insurgency, a third rate mid east army, or China. My take is that we will eventually go to some sort of selective draft, not for the poor suffering infantry, but for the geeks that operate all those 4GW toys.

  12. As a general rule the Bush administration hasn’t “mobilized” for war, nor are they willing to ask Americans for very much, which are two positions that might well be correlated. (By “mobilization” I’m talking about making an obvious psychological commitment to the Long War.) That said, the Bushies have been doing more in the last couple of months, so they may be ramping up.

    The notion of using robotics as force multipliers is sound, even in a counterinsurgency setting, and theoretically that could release more “boots” for the kind of person to person duty A.L. is talking about.

    In a larger sense, the whole economic system may be switching over to a capitalistic base, through robotics and outsourcing, which is something most conservative and libertarian thinkers are in denial about. The shift from Liberalism 2.x to Liberalism 3.x must involve a significant shift from labor to capital as the primary income source for most Americans, and making that shift will require substancial changes to the banking and finance system. If not we’ll be in a world of hurt within 15 years.

    But back to the military, is there anyone around who can mediate this question about capital vs labor? Does anyone have the cred to make the call? Haven’t the neocons pretty much lost the “battle of the think tanks?” Or am I wrong?

  13. Trent is dead on about the implications of the LA Times article cited by Armed Liberal. The following statement would not have been made unless there was a viable threat to it:

    “Iraq “is clearly a one-off,” said a Pentagon official who is working on the top-to-bottom study, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review. “There is certainly no intention to do it again.”

  14. Re: the QDR, okay, I’ve been around program management enough to understand Trent’s point about signals.

    It’s important to realize, though, that those signals happen EVERY QDR. This one, coinciding with Iran’s aggressive escalation, and the loosely (if not closely) coordinated escalation of Chavez and friends to our south plus the attacks on Nigerian oil platforms that just happen to shut down a lot of production …. makes the signal a bit more important.

    If we can read it correctly. I personally have stopped reading tea leaves – I’m not connected into program budgeting at the moment in a way that would make my reading anything other than speculation.

    I think you all are misreading what I wrote below, however. I did not address, one way or the other, the issue of a current need or desireability of an increase in troops. What I did say is that a) such an increase has costs that its proponents seldome acknowledge and b) the claim that strengthening the military has not been addressed in the last 3 years is on its face false. You may not like HOW that strengthening is being carried on, but it is false to assert that the issue has not been addressed.

    When your ‘bottom’ (willingness to stay in) is in question, your opponents get more aggressive in playing against you. The answer, I have found, is to buy more chips. It’s a clear and unambiguous signal about your intentions.

    Couldn’t agree more. However: I will note that there was a massive, sustained attack on the current administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq which sent so loud a signal that I doubt anything short of full-scale war footing at home could erase its effects anytime soon.

  15. Trent, Tom,

    Let’s assume you’re right. So why didn’t 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry and 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored “deploy”:http://presszoom.com/story_113552.html to Iraq, and 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain “go to”:http://www.murdoconline.net/archives/003225.html Afghanistan? If the invasion of Iran is come-as-you-are, it would be better to have the most possible manpower in theater. 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored remains in Kuwait but as I understand it, most of the Brigade will return to Germany shortly.

  16. I think the most important issue is political.

    I don’t think that there is support for strengthening our military capacity in a large way, and that the best that can be done is use technology to increase our capabilities when we can. The LAT OP-Ed by Joel Stein “I don’t Support the Troops” is pretty indicative of the thinking of mainstream Democrats, who are about one step away from wanting the military disbanded anyway because they are “imperialist.”

    Can you honestly see any Democratic support for spending lots of money to increase military capacity? I can’t. And Dems have enough votes to block any big spending program. Any serious money and effort is simply not on the table.

    My guess is that Bush is going to propose doing something about Iran (hence Bolton’s speech at the UN) so that Dems will block him on the record. Wait for the inevitable nuclear attack that obliterates Israel and hurts us with a city or two lost, and proceed from there.

    The widespread and deep pacifism in the Democratic Party will hurt us greatly.

  17. Davebo, if you actually read the report you cited, you’ll notice that the GAO blames the deployment of reservists with medical problems on the DoD’s and Marine’s inability to mesh their databases of health information. That’s not “desperation” or a policy failure, that’s a technological failure (and don’t get me started on the sorry state of technology within the federal government). Several excerpts:

    DOD’s ability to effectively manage the health status of its reserve component members is limited because (1) its centralized database has missing and incomplete health records and (2) it has not maintained full visibility over reserve component members with medical issues.

    …Second, DOD’s ability to effectively manage the health of its reserve component members is limited because some of the reserve components could not adequately track personnel with medical issues. The Army previously lacked central visibility over its reserve component personnel with medical problems… The Army has taken steps to address all of these problems and now has good visibility over its reserve component personnel who are on active duty with medical problems.

    And even with the Armed Forces’ technological failings, the problem is not as bad as you make out:

    Despite some missing information in the database, we determined that over 90 percent of the more than 290,000 mobilized reserve component personnel rated their overall health as good to excellent.

    Thanks for the link, though. The report provides a great in-depth view of military bureaucracy, and is quite fascinating for those of us interested in some of its deeper workings.

  18. “Can you honestly see any Democratic support for spending lots of money to increase military capacity? I can’t.”

    IIRC, the McCain proposal to increase Army end strength had substantial Dem support.

  19. This has been and will continue to be a war with less than overwhelming popular support. Prosecution of a war evenly split 50%-50% is to say the least difficult. What we really need more than troops, is better cheerleading and more talking points. Let’s bring back “tipping point” for starters.

  20. Liberalhawk said:

    bq. IIRC, the McCain proposal to increase Army end strength had substantial Dem support.

    Primarily because the Bush Administration is against it.

  21. The Bush Administration is juggling (quite well, by the way) competing interests that far too many folks seem quite willing to ignore.

    Increase the boots on the ground, and you weigh down the imperative to quickly transform (relatively speaking) while also communicating to far too many folks around the globe to kick back and let the United States DO . . . IT . . . ALL. That’s what pacified the Europeans, remember?

    Thomas Barnett is right about the need for a System Admin force but that doesn’t happen quickly, or neatly. Rumsfeld and Bush are fighting many, many vested interests who are skillfully using pundits and politicians to carry their water.

    Not only do we have to worry about where those 150,000 additional American troops are going to come from but how are we going to pay for they AND THEIR FAMILIES, and thereafter pay to KEEP a healthy proportion of those service members in the force.

    In a bitching and moaning culture still unable to praise Rumsfeld for developing a unique way to temporarily “grow” the Army without adding permanent lines to the budget — and one that takes every opportunity to distort the subsequent recruiting goals and numbers utilized to achieve that “growth” — it’s unsurprising that large numbers of folks can’t see that we’re witnessing what appears to be a successful revolutionary change in our military. Even the Marines have been forced to wake up and smell the damn coffee!

    With a modest amount of luck, we’ll see the same thing within our State Department. Condi’s recent statement about incentivizing people out of Europe and into the remote locations of the larger world is a damn good start.

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