I have blogged about Robert Gates several times. My opinion of the Secretary of Defense has been very favorable -but never more so than after some comments he made recently in a speech at West Point. He raised eyebrows all over the Pentagon when he talked about the commitment of large Army and Marine ground forces to Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined.” Wow, I just love it when they agree with my opinions….
It is time the Generals and Politicians start re-thinking how we use our Army (and by that I mean the military establishment as a whole). Events in Tunisia, Egypt, and other parts of the Middle East demonstrate that while many of the societies in the Islamic World are broken and their people are angry about it, these problems have nothing to do with the United States. These societies struggle with socio-economic problems and dysfunctional cultures that will not be solved through American military occupation and counterinsurgency operations aimed at exporting democracy at gunpoint. The huge sums of money a year it costs to keep one American soldier or Marine stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan makes no sense when, for a fraction of the cost, we could easily protect America’s borders from the wave of criminality, terrorism and illegal immigration pouring in from Mexico and Latin America.
Gates wasn’t through; he went on to say “the need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there, as veterans of Sadr City and Fallujah can no doubt attest.” Gates suggested, however, the future would not involve the employment of large Army formations warning the Army’s generals they “must confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements.”
In 1997 Douglas Macgregor (a retired Colonel and Pentagon consultant) published a book, “Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Land Power in the 21st Century.” In it he advocated the dissolution of the Army’s World War II industrial Age war-fighting structure arguing instead for a new model with a flatter command structure designed to tightly integrate Army ground forces with air and naval power. The design he set forth replaced conventional Army brigades and divisions with a new formation, the Combat Group; a permanently organized, all arms formation commanded by a brigadier general with the staff and the critical links to plan and execute decisive operations under a Joint Headquarters that replaced the WW II Corps and Army headquarters. He also said that it was necessary to harmonize readiness training and deployment schedules with the Navy, Air Force and Marines on the Navy’s rotational readiness model to ease the burden on the individual soldier and to reduce the costs.
These ideas were widely supported inside the armed forces, but none of the resent Secretaries of Defense (Cohen, Rumsfeld nor Gates) did anything. Why?
Because the Army’s top brass (active and retired) are just not interested in changing the Army. That plus the politicians in charge of overseeing the military were much more concerned about getting their share of the defense budget than in changing the way we organize to fight.
These ideas were simply pushed aside in favor of purchasing new and ever more expensive 'silver bullet' equipment like the Army’s Crusader Artillery System or the Future Combat System (FCS) – systems designed to support empty-headed programs like the Army After Next and the Objective Force – preferably for delivery in the indefinite future and heavily classified so their effectiveness could not be judged. Meanwhile, the contractors got rich.
Hundreds of billions of dollars and years later the retired four stars who launched these flawed programs and the executives of the companies supplying the equipment are wealthy men, but the Army is poor; stuck with huge inventories of broken equipment developed in the 1970s for use in the 1980s and armored trucks designed to chase men with rifles through alleys and valleys.
Churchill insisted Americans eventually do the right thing after they’ve done everything else. Isn't it time for the next Secretary of Defense to do the right thing? I'd like to see whomever it is take the Pentagon by the scruff of the neck and face the realities of a 21st century where our national interests require an entirely new approach to fighting wars. It will be a hard and arduous task, but the alternative is to risk repeating the bloody and cripplingly expensive mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Live Long and Prosper....