“A pair of new reports published February 25 cast stark light on what the U.S. military is doing in our name, and how much it’s costing us. The U.S. conducted counter-terrorism operations in 85 nations around the world in 2018, 2019, and 2020, the Costs of War project reported (PDF). After some quick flicks on The Bunker’s abacus, that works out to about 44% of the world’s 195 countries.“
“Maybe we should call it the Nearly-Half-Global War on Terror.
The activities range from ground warfare to bombing to training foreign military forces in the anti-terror fight. “Despite the Pentagon’s assertion that the U.S. is shifting its strategic emphasis away from counterterrorism and towards great power competition with Russia and China, examining U.S. military activity on a country-by-country basis shows that there is yet to be a corresponding drawdown of the counterterror apparatus,” said the study, authored by Stephanie Savell, co-director of the project at Brown University. “If anything, counterterrorism operations have become more widespread in recent years.”
And that may explain a second study, which seemed to generate headlines everywhere except in the U.S. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) publishes its authoritative Military Balance every year to chart the ups and downs of defense spending worldwide. “Global military spending hit record levels in 2020 amid Covid-19 pandemic,” read the headline on an Agence France-Presse story published widely around the globe. “The United States remained the world’s largest defence spender in 2020, IISS said, accounting for 40 per cent of US$738 billion globally,” AFP added.
But it wasn’t ignored by all American papers. “Global defense spending, led by US and China, hits new high,” read the headline in Stars and Stripes. But, then again, S&S is the in-house newsletter for the U.S. military.”
“Joseph Biden just became America’s fourth post-9/11 “war president.” He now ends all speeches with “May God protect our troops.” First Lady Jill Biden even penned a children’s book titled, “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops.” Their son, Beau, was a soldier — and his parents suspect toxic “burn pit” exposure on his Iraq tour caused the brain cancer that later killed him. Both Jill and Joe repeatedly foreground military and veteran sacrifices — with good reason.
But just what is the best way for Americans to honor and respect veterans’ sacrifices?
Responses to this question tend to be as diverse as America, itself. There’s no single “right answer,” but there are plenty of wrong ones. One thing has become abundantly clear: America’s “thank you for your service” culture doesn’t help veterans — or society.
Deception in broad daylight
A more effective alternative to such lobotomized patriotism — and a better way to honor veteran’s service — is to get informed about how the troops are used, and to dissent whenever the military is not used wisely. Historically, veterans sacrificed plenty to preserve the rights that Americans enjoy.
Return the favor. Get informed, demand transparency, prevent the squandering of such service.
But respect for our military must begin before they become veterans — before they’ve sacrificed limbs, lives, and mental health supporting bad policy. Because by then, it’s already too late. Instead, respect military service by ensuring that everyone who dons a uniform — beginning the moment when minors approach recruiting tables in high school lunchrooms — has informed consent about what they’re actually signing up for.
Isn’t it fascinating that many teachers would never expose children to graphic images of dead soldiers in classrooms, but those same students can be misled in broad daylight, at schoolhouses turned de-facto recruiting stations? Consequently, American youths could unwittingly become those very dead bodies.
Informed consent is a critical component of respect. And if our society believes images of amputees or dead civilians — and statistics about suicide, PTSD, or drug abuse — too explicit for underage audiences, perhaps its military should quit recruiting children.
Therefore, we advocate for our Pentagon and the rest of America’s war making machine — the ever-euphemistic defense establishment — to adopt a code consistent with the American Medical Association’s ethics opinion on informed consent: that “Patients have the right to receive information and ask questions about recommended treatments so that they can make well considered decisions about care.” The AMA guidance further states that physicians — in our scenario, war doctors — should present relevant information about the “burdens, risks, and expected benefits of all options.”
Needless suffering, home and abroad
What, then, are some of the recruiting risks worth mentioning?
For starters, a survey by the Washington Post and Kaiser found the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “have caused mental and emotional health problems in 31% of vets” — more than 800,000 of them. In one of the largest surveys available on post-9/11 soldiers, “40% of veterans polled had considered suicide at least once after they joined the military” and roughly 20 veterans and active-duty service members committed suicide daily in the past several years — a truly staggering figure. That’s “more suicides each year than the total American military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq,” as a New York Times editorial board member characterized it.
Divorce, alcohol, drugs,depression, endless “zombie” medication to mitigate endless deployments — the whole nine yards. All of it ought to be raised before any American enlists but we do not know of a single instance where a recruiter discussed the risks of military service.
Likewise, since it is one of the most traumatic, highly personal elements of combat, recruits should recognize that America’s war on terror has resulted in the deaths, often violent, of more than 100 9/11s’ worth of civilians from Africa to Central Asia. In the final sense, war offers only needless suffering. Ignorance to its evils is more needless still.
Americans have hardly exercised informed consent for their own defense, since so few even comprehend the immensity of Pentagon largesse — the largest segment of the discretionary budget — its tradeoffs, or that it’s more than the next 10 countries combined (many of them U.S. allies). Informed consent’s absence extends to the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a slush fund designed by defense hawks to circumvent spending controls imposed on all other government agencies.
Such consent-free exorbitant expenditures might be excusable if they produced positive results. Only the U.S. military’s win/loss record since WWII is paltry at best: a tortured tie in Korea, losses in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and embarrassments in Beirut and Somalia — hardly offset by “big” wins in small wars like Grenada and Panama. That scarcely justifies such extravagent spending. Yet fear mongering from the military-industrial-congressional complex, and cynically crafted cries to “support the troops,” stifles patriotic dissent.
Demands for informed consent are unlikely to emerge among Americans long-trained to quietly capitulate to war industry whims. So, for now, it may fall on veterans themselves to disavow endless wars — the death and injury caused — and the unsustainable spending underpinning it all.”
The existing pair of [“Authorizations for Use of Military Force”] AUMFs represent an open-ended invitation for a president to bend them to initiate combat, anywhere in the world, without any additional congressional OK, all under the guise of waging a “war on terror.”
“The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with clashes in several other nations, are happening under the authority Congress granted President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2002 shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks.
It’s long past time for Congress to revoke that pair of Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs) and come up with something better, five Democratic representatives told President Biden in a January 21 letter(PDF). “The 2001 and 2002 AUMFs were both passed nearly 20 years ago and bear little resemblance to the threats we face today,” said the lawmakers, led by California Representative Barbara Lee. She was the lone lawmaker to vote against that 2001 authorization, aimed at punishing Afghanistan, three days after 9/11. “Over the past 19 years, three successive presidents have used military force pursuant to the 2001 AUMF in more than seven countries, against a continuously expanding list of targetable adversaries.” The Iraq-inspired 2002 AUMF “is not a necessary source of authorization for any current military operations,” they added, but it “has been stretched to cover past operations Congress never authorized, including the January 2020 killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.” The Biden administration has indicated its willingness to modify the authorizations.
Ever since World War II, members of Congress have been loath to debate and vote to declare—or vote against declaring—war (e.g. Vietnam, Panama, Iraq 1.0, the Balkans, etc).
“Common sense will tell you it’s not right,” Representative Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican, toldPolitico January 21. “Bin Laden’s on the bottom of the ocean. Saddam Hussein—his demise—it’s been over a decade ago, too.”
So why do lawmakers continue the charade, allowing combat that could lead to a wider war without their buy-in? “I’ve talked to many members—I’m not gonna mention names—a lot of them want war, or they want us out, but they don’t want to vote on it,” said Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general who served in Iraq. “They don’t want to take a risky vote. And it’s not right. This is one of the most important things Congress is supposed to decide.”
“American taxpayers have spent some $6.4 trillion in nearly two decades of post-9/11 wars, which have killed some 800,000 people worldwide, the Cost of Wars Project announced Wednesday.
The numbers reflect the toll of American combat and other military operations across some 80 nations since al-Qaida operatives attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington in 2001″
“The annual spending estimates released Wednesday show a general decline in war costs in 2019 as U.S. troops face less combat in major war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Still, the estimated price tag for those wars increased some $500 billion since November 2018, and it has doubled since the Cost of Wars Project — a product of Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs and Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center — first looked at cumulative wartime costs in 2011.
Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the workers involved in the project — some 35 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners and physicians.
“The budget of the Pentagon is difficult to weed through is an understatement,” Reed said. “My hope is that this report will continue to inform, educate and serve as a resource as we consider these wars going forward … to give us a better sense of the costs of wars not in a snapshot, but the long-term costs. This should be for us [in Congress] a guide to our policies, our procedures and actions going forward.”
The actual monetary and human costs of these wars is difficult to discern, said Neta Crawford, the report’s author and a Boston University political science professor, who blasted the lack of budget transparency of federal institutions including the Pentagon and departments of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.
In recent years, Crawford asserted those institutions have made accessing information on how they spend taxpayer dollars more difficult, including where money is being spent overseas because items that were once reported are now “disappearing from the budget.”
She argued Wednesday that without proper accounting, the American public cannot shape informed opinions on the courses of these wars, which are generally viewed as “winding down” but continue to cost thousands of lives in 2019.
The Pentagon’s share of the spending includes the nearly $2 trillion since 2001 in overseas contingency operations funds — the wartime spending coffers used to fund most operations in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The Defense Department has added more than $900 billion to its base budgets since those operations began, which it likely would not have needed in peacetime, Crawford said.
But the project’s cost estimates consider not only Pentagon wartime spending, but also about $1 trillion in spending on homeland anti-terrorism measures, $131 billion for State Department wartime spending, $437 billion for veterans care through fiscal year 2020 and $925 billion of interest payments that the United States will pay on money borrowed to fund those operations. It also includes a projected price tag of more than $1 trillion in future spending on medical care through fiscal year 2059 for the men and women who have fought these wars, which is anticipated to grow further, even if the wars were to end in the next year.
“That’s a very rough estimate,” Crawford said. “I think it’s low balling, honestly.”
The costs of America’s post-9/11 wars include not only money but the loss of lives, which the report estimated to have exceeded 800,000 people. That tally includes combatants and noncombatants in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The report outlines the toll on Americans. Since operations were launched in Afghanistan in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, 7,014 U.S. service members have died in American wars, 22 Pentagon civilians have been killed, and 7,950 U.S. contractors have died.
Other deaths include more than 12,000 deaths among U.S. allied troops, 173,000 deaths in the ranks of national military and police forces, nearly 300,000 enemy fighters killed and more than 310,000 civilian deaths.
Those tallies remain largely incomplete, Crawford said, estimating civilians deaths in war zones where Americans have operated could be twice those reported, but were impossible to verify.
She urged better transparency from the Pentagon — and other federal institutions — on budget decisions and ongoing operations in the wars.
“There’s a lot of blood and treasure spent, but we’re not sure if [the wars] are successful,” Crawford said, highlighting recent Pentagon estimates of number of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan that show similar strength as it held in 2001 and estimates of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria that show the group might still boast 35,000 to 100,000 fighters following its loss of territory earlier this year.
“So how successful is the strategy and how successful could it be?” she asked. “… We can’t assess in some instances what those answers are.”
“ROSE COVERED GLASSES” By Ken Larson – 2 Tour Vietnam Veteran and Retired Aerospace Contracts Manager
In the last 17 years the U.S. has reacted to the 911 tragedy by creating a behemoth machine that cannot and will not continue.
It Knows Only Killing – Has Little Understanding of Foreign Cultural Factors – Spawns New Versions of Our Old Enemies – Creates a Dangerous Outgrowth of Technology Exporting It for Profit and Defies Financial Control
Knows Only Killing
This outrageous explosion of watch listing—of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers… assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield—it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source of the documents told the Intercept. “We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.”
Our government has not considered the risks, the indigenous cultural impact, the expense and the sacrifices required to sustain the nation building that must occur after we invade countries in pursuit of perceived enemies and place the burden of governance on military personnel who are not equipped to deal with it or manage USAID contractors who have profit motives in mind and corruption as a regular practice.
An observer of our military actions over the last two decades in the Middle East could in no way have predicted the splintered, irrational, “Turn-Your-Back-And-You-Have-Two-New-Enemies”, scenario the US faces today. Perhaps a look back over our shoulder, examining cause and effect relationships along the road is in order.
Very smart people in the Pentagon believed that connecting sensitive networks, expensive equipment, and powerful weapons to the open Internet was a swell idea.
This ubiquitous connectivity among devices and objects — what we now call the “Internet of Things” — would allow them to collect performance data to help design new weapons, monitor equipment remotely, and realize myriad other benefits. The risks were less assiduously cataloged.
That strategy has spread huge vulnerabilities across the Defense Department, its networks, and much of what the defense industry has spent the last several decades creating.
Defies Financial Control With Dire Consequences for the Nation’s Economic Future
A law passed in 1994 initially set the deadline for 1997, but the Pentagon’s books were in such disarray that it blew past that date. Then, in 2010, Congress told the Pentagon to comply by 2017.
The next year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pledged that the department would by 2014 be ready for a partial account of its finances – a much less detailed accounting than requested of the military services — but the department missed that deadline too.
The Above Machine Cannot and Will Not Continue. The debt is too great a burden for generations of tax payers.
It is too risky in terms of technology that has fallen fall into enemy hands, either through the “Internet of Things” or by blunders in export management.
It will be replaced by domestic and foreign relations programs that emphasize global human progress and economic development in lieu of threats. The result will rely on uplifting, cooperative efforts among nations in lieu of killing.
The globe has become too small to operate the Military Industrial Machine and the resources that have fueled it will be redirected.
There simply is no other way. The change will be brought about in the following manner: Facing geopolitical and economic realities, stopping war interventions and investing in relationships within and without our country by offering mutual collaboration. Ceasing to dwell on threat and building long term infrastructure, education and international development. The threats will melt away. Investing for the long term at the stock holder, company and national levels based on a strategy dealing with both present day and long term challenges in education, communication and society value transitions. Electing a Congress and an Administration that knows how to strike a balance between long and short term actions. Letting them know what we think regularly by communicating with them. Knowing that most cultures and societies in upheaval today are watching our national model and choosing whether to support it, ignore it or attack it. The Dire Necessity for U.S. Long Term Strategic Vision
KEN LARSON is a 2 Tour US Army Vietnam Veteran, retired from 36 Years in the Defense Industrial Complex. Ken worked on 25 major weapons systems, many of which are in use today in the Middle East.
He is a volunteer Micro Mentor Counselor, specializing in Small, Veteran-owned, Minority-Owned and Woman-Owned Businesses beginning work for the Federal Government. Micro Mentor is a non-profit organization offering free assistance to small business in business planning, operations, marketing and other aspects of starting and successfully operating a small enterprise. He can be reached at: Ken at Micro Mentor
“Consider this: We are 17 years into a “War on Terror” that’s come with a $5.6 trillion (and rising) price tag. Our military is currently engaged in an overwhelming number of overseas missions, including a growing number of natural disaster-related deployments.
The U.S. is waging the war on terror in 76 countries. That’s 40 percent of the countries on this planet. Add these facts together, and it begs the question: Can an all-volunteer military force stand ready to answer the call? Will the demands prove greater than our resources?”
“The United States ended its military draft in 1973 after nearly 2.2 million men were conscripted during the Vietnam War era. More than 9 million served during that period, but the majority of those draftees were sent to Vietnam.
‘NOT MUCH IN THE BARN IF SOMETHING BREAKS’
“If there’s a bullet flying anywhere on the planet, Marines want to be there. However, if something big breaks, there ain’t a lot in the barn,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Hedelund, commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Hedelund was speaking at the 2017 Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Maryland, about Marine Corps readiness. Hedelund, along with other high-ranking military officials and veterans, has warned that our military is at a critical crossroads and might be hard-pressed to meet the global demands of numerous ongoing missions as we face low recruitment and retention rates.
Not enough in the barn, indeed. According to a map published by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the U.S. is waging the war on terror in 76 countries. That’s 40 percent of the countries on this planet.
However, this figure may be low and not accurately reflect our total number of secret ongoing special ops deployments. Sources at U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) say the number of countries where the U.S. is waging war on terrorism is much higher, perhaps even as high as 70 percent.
BUT WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO REINSTATE A MILITARY DRAFT?
“Some kind of mass-mobilization; a war on Korean peninsula, or a more conventional confrontation with Russia or China,” retired Army Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich says.
Laich is the author of “Skin in the Game” and founder and executive director of the All-Volunteer Force forum, which contends that our current all-volunteer military is “unfair, inefficient, and unsustainable and contributes to the civil-military gap and the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.”
He argues that it might not take the threat of a rogue nation to initiate a draft — rather, it may be a crisis based on manpower.
“If you do the math, only three out of 10 Americans meet the criteria to serve, and only 15 percent of those able have the propensity to serve,” Laich says. “This is unsustainable, especially with an interventionist strategy where America’s forces are the global police force and the rest of the world is content [with] letting us play that role.”
Laich and many others argue that an all-volunteer force is a fiscal disaster in the long run. There are currently unprecedented incentives for joining the military, some as high as $40,000. Given our current level of debt, he says this trend is “unsustainable” and that “we can’t afford the all-volunteer force that we have today.”
And Laich contends that this money is clearly an incentive for the socio-economic underclass, which brings the issue of fairness into focus.
“Drafts have never been fair,” he says. “But the fact is an all-volunteer force gives us 330 million people that are not obligated to protect and defend. They don’t have skin in the game.”
THE U.S. MILITARY: A GLOBAL INTERVENTIONIST POLICE FORCE?
Dr. Andrew Bacevich, retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War, argues that the root cause of our endless wars is an all-volunteer force because not enough Americans have “skin in the game.”
“We currently have two war parties, even if Democrats and Republicans use different language in describing the purposes of the wars they support,” he says.
Bacevich’s solution? “We need to have another party that is, if not anti-war, at least anti-interventionist.”
Bacevich, professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University, is critical of American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. He maintains that after the Cold War, Washington came to see military power as a tool to solve problems instead of relying on diplomacy.
He also contends that popular culture has given rise to an unrealistic portrayal of what war is really like, simultaneously promoting war as heroic as well as the stereotype of the broken warrior with PTSD. Some say these misconceptions only widen the gap of understanding between the civilian and military populations.
Bacevich’s only son, Andrew Bacevich Jr., also an Army officer, died fighting in the Iraq War in May 2007.
CAN MORE VETERANS IN CONGRESS BE A SOLUTION?
The cross-partisan organization With Honor seeks to help more veterans get into Congress and perhaps bring us back to a time when the goal of war was peace rather than one based on intervention.
According to With Honor, veterans represented more than half of Congress for much of the second half of the 20th century. Today, veteran representation in Congress is near a historic low at 19 percent.
“Veterans took an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” said John Mahony, a Marine infantry officer veteran and chief operating officer of With Honor. “They know what it means to put the country’s interests ahead of their own and, by placing mission accomplishment first, have often been leaders who have made a difference by working together to solve our nation’s largest problems.”
Bacevich isn’t convinced that veterans can do a better job at handling the way our military forces are deployed but says he wholeheartedly supports more veterans in Congress.
NATIONAL PRIDE IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
Of course, not everyone believes that compulsory service is the only answer.
Retired Air Force Col. Dan Merry, the vice president of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), believes an all-volunteer force is the only way forward.
“MOAA’s position on the draft has been consistent,” Merry says. “We support the all-volunteer ‘career’ force as a necessary component of a strong national defense.”
It’s also clear that the government is serious about investigating not only how to bridge the gap between civilian and military populations, but how to inspire the American public to serve.
The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service was created by Congress to consider and develop recommendations about whether we need a military draft. It’s also charged with finding ways to foster a greater attitude and ethos of service among American youth. Established on Sept. 19, 2017, the commission intends to issue its final report no later than March 2020 and conclude its work by September 2020.
The commission hopes to ignite a national conversation around service and, ultimately, develop recommendations that will encourage every American to be inspired and eager to serve. It is currently looking for your input.
‘THE ATLANTIC” From “The Iraq War and the Inevitability of Ignorance” By James Fallows
“The U.S. is destined to keep overlearning the lessons of the last conflict.
The value of tragic imagination remains: for leaders considering war or peace, for the media in stoking or questioning pro-war fever, for the 99 percent of the public in considering the causes for which the military 1 percent will be asked to kill, and die.”
“There’s a specific reason it is so hard to be president—in normal circumstances—and why most incumbents look decades older when they leave the job than when they began. The reason is that the only choices normal presidents get to make are the impossible ones—decisions that are not simply very close calls on the merits, but that are guaranteed to lead to tragedy and bitterness whichever way they go.
Take Barack Obama’s famed choice not to back up his “red line” promise in Syria, which was a focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Obama Doctrine” Atlantic cover story two years ago. The option Obama chose—not intervening in Syria—meant death and suffering for countless thousands of people. The option he rejected—intervening—would have meant death and suffering for countless thousands of the same people or others. Agree or disagree on the outcome, any such decision is intellectually demanding and morally draining. Normal presidents have to make them, one after another, all day long. (Why don’t they get any easier choices? Because someone else has made all of those before they get to the president.) Obama’s decision to approve the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound turned out to be a tactical and political success. When he made it, he had to weigh the possibility that it could end in world-publicized failure—like Jimmy Carter’s decision to attempt a rescue of American hostages in Iran, which ended in chaos, and which Carter later contended was what sealed his fate in his re-election run.
A special category of impossible decision, which I was introduced to in the two years I worked for Jimmy Carter in the White House and have borne in mind ever since, turns on the inevitability of ignorance. To be clear, I don’t mean “stupidity.” People in the government and military are overall smarter than press portrayals might suggest. Instead I mean really registering the uncomfortable fact that you cannot know enough about the big choices you are going to make, before you have to make them.Sometimes that is because of deadline rush: The clock is ticking, and you have to act now. (To give a famous example: In 1980 U.S. radar erroneously indicated that the Soviets had launched a nuclear-missile attack, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, as Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, had to decide at 3 a.m. whether to wake the president to consider retaliation. Before the world was rushed toward possible nuclear obliteration, the warning was revealed as a false alarm before Brzezinski could place the call.) Most of the time it is because the important variables are simply unknowable, and a president or other decision-maker has to go on judgment, experience, hunch.This point sounds obvious, because we deal with its analogues in daily-life decisions big and small. No one who decides to get married can know what his or her spouse will be like 20 years in the future, or whether the partners will grow closer together or further apart. Taking a job—or offering one—is based at least as much on hope as on firm knowledge. You make an investment, you buy a house, you plan a vacation knowing that you can’t possibly foresee all the pitfalls or opportunities.
But this routine truism takes on life-or-death consequences in the choices that presidents must make, as commander in chief and as head of U.S. diplomatic and strategic efforts. The question of deciding about the unknowable looms large in my mind, as I think back 15 years to the run-up to the Iraq war, and think ahead to future such choices future presidents will weigh.
* * *
There’s a long list of books I wish presidents would have read before coming to office—before, because normal presidents barely have time to think once they get there. To give one example from my imagined list: the late David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace is for me a useful starting point for thinking about strains within the modern Middle East. The book argues, in essence, that the way the Ottoman Empire was carved up at the end of World War I essentially set the stage for conflicts in the region ever since. In that way it is a strategic counterpart to John Maynard Keynes’s famous The Economic Consequences of the Peace, written just after the conclusion of the Versailles agreements, which argues that the brutal economic terms dealt out to the defeated Germans practically guaranteed future trouble there.
Also high up on my “wish they’d read” list is Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers, by two Harvard professors (and one-time mentors of mine), Ernest May and Richard Neustadt. In this book, May and Neustadt reverse the chestnut attributed to an earlier Harvard professor, George Santayana, that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Instead they caution against over-remembering, or imagining that a choice faced now can ever be exactly like one faced before.
The most famous and frightening example is Lyndon Johnson’s, involving Vietnam. Johnson “learned” so thoroughly the error of Neville Chamberlain, and others who tried to appease (rather than confront) the Nazis, that he thought the only risk in Vietnam was in delaying before confronting communists there. A complication in Johnson’s case, as this book and all other accounts of Vietnam make clear, is that he was worried both about the reality of waiting too long to draw a line against Communist expansion, and perhaps even more about appearing to be weak and Chamberlain-like.
Because of the disaster Johnson’s decisions caused—the disaster for Vietnam, for its neighbors, for tens of thousands of Americans, all as vividly depicted in last year’s Ken Burns / Lynn Novick documentary—most American politicians, regardless of party, “learned” to avoid entanglement in Asian-jungle guerrilla wars. Thus in the late 1970s, as the post-Vietnam war Khmer Rouge genocide slaughtered millions of people in Cambodia, the U.S. kept its distance. It had given up the international moral standing, and had nothing like the internal political stomach, to go right back into another war in the neighborhood where it had so recently met defeat.
From its Vietnam trauma, the United States also codified a crass political lesson that Richard Nixon had applied during the war. Just before Nixon took office, American troop levels in Vietnam were steadily on the way up, as were weekly death tolls, and monthly draft calls. The death-and-draft combination was the trigger for domestic protests. Callously but accurately, Nixon believed that he could drain the will to the protest if he ended the draft calls. Thus began the shift to the volunteer army—and what I called, in an Atlantic cover story three years ago, the “Chickenhawk Nation” phenomenon, in which the country is always at war but the vast majority of Americans are spared direct cost or exposure. (From the invasion of Iraq 15 years ago until now, the total number of Americans who served at any point in Iraq or Afghanistan comes to just 1 percent of the U.S. population.)
May and Neustadt had a modest, practical ambition for their advice to study history, but to study it cautiously. “Marginal improvement in performance is worth seeking,” they wrote. “Indeed, we doubt that there is any other kind. Decisions come one at a time, and we would be satisfied to see a slight upturn in the average. This might produce much more improvement [than big dramatic changes] measured by results.”
My expectation is more modest still: I fear but expect that the U.S. is fated to lurch from one over-“learning” to its opposite, and continue making a steadily shifting range of errors.
The decision to invade Iraq was itself clearly one of those. The elder George Bush fought a quick and victorious war to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991. But he stopped short of continuing the war into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power—and so his son learned from that “failure” that he had to finish the job of eliminating Saddam. (As did a group of the younger George Bush’s most influential advisors: Dick Cheney, who had been secretary of defense during the original Gulf war, and returned as George W. Bush’s vice president. Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the first time around, and secretary of state the second. Paul Wolfowitz was undersecretary of defense during the first war, and deputy secretary of defense during the second. And so on.)
Two of the writers who were most eloquent in making their case for the war—Christopher Hitchens, who then wrote for the Atlantic among other places, and Michael Kelly, who was then our editor-in-chief—based much of their case on the evils Saddam Hussein had gotten away with after the original Gulf War. (Hitchens died of cancer in 2011; Kelly was killed in Iraq, as an embedded reporter in the war’s early stage.) Then Barack Obama, who had become president in large part because he opposed the Iraq war — which gave him his opening against the vastly better known and more experienced Hillary Clinton— learned from Iraq about the dangers of intervention in Syria. And on through whatever cycles the future holds.
Is there escape from the cycles? In a fundamental sense, of course not, no. But I’ll offer the “lesson” I learned—50 years ago, in a classroom with Professor May; 40 years ago, when I watched Jimmy Carter weigh his choices; 15 years ago, in warning about the risks of invading Iraq. It involves a cast of mind, and a type of imagination.As the Bush administration moved onto a war footing soon after the 9/11 attacks, no one could know the future risks and opportunities. But, at the suggestion of my friend and then-editor Cullen Murphy, I began reporting on what the range of possibilities might be. Starting in the spring of 2002, when the Bush team was supposedly still months away from a decision about the war, it was clear to us that the choice had been made. I interviewed dozens of historians, military planners, specialists in post-war occupations, and people from the region to try to foresee the likely pitfalls.The result, which was in our November, 2002 issue (and which we put online three months earlier, in hopes of affecting the debate) was called “The Fifty-First State?” Its central argument was: The “war” part of the undertaking would be the easy part, and deceptively so. The hard part would begin when U.S. troops had reached Baghdad and the statues of Saddam Hussein were pulled down—and would last for months, and years, and decades, all of which should be taken into consideration in weighing the choice for war.
It conceivably might have gone better in Iraq, and very well could have, if not for a series of disastrously arrogant and incompetent mistakes by members of the Bush team. I won’t go into details here: I laid them out in several articles, including this, this, and this, and eventually a book. But the premise of most people I interviewed before the war, who mostly had either a military background or extensive experience in the Middle East, was that this would be very hard, and would hold a myriad of bad surprises, and was almost certain to go worse than its proponents were saying. Therefore, they said, the United States should do everything possible to avoid invading unless it had absolutely no choice. Wars should be only of necessity. This would be folly, they said, and a war of choice.
The way I thought of the difference between those confidently urging on the war, and those carefully cautioning against it, was: cast of mind. The majority of people I spoke with expressed a bias against military actions that could never be undone, and whose consequences could last for generations. I also thought of it as a capacity for tragic imagination, of envisioning what could go wrong as vividly as one might dream of what could go right. (“Mission Accomplished!”)
Any cast of mind has its biases and blind spots. But I’m impressed, in thinking about the history I have lived through and the histories I have read, by how frequently people with personal experience of war have been cautious about launching future wars. This does not make them pacifists: Harry Truman, infantry veteran of World War I, decided to drop the atomic bomb. But Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhower, Colin Powell (in most of his career other than the Iraq-war salesmanship at the United Nations)—these were former commanding generals, cautious about committing troops to war. They had a tragic imagination of where that could lead and what it might mean.
What lesson do we end with? Inevitably any of them from the past will mismatch our future choices. The reasons not to invade Iraq 15 years ago are different from the risks to consider in launching a strike on North Korea or on Iran, or provoking China in some dispute in the East China Sea.”
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. Fallows has won the National Magazine Award for his 2002 story “Iraq: The Fifty-First State?” warning about the consequences of invading Iraq; he has been a finalist four other times. He has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction for his book National Defense and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne (2012).
“Scant public interest yields ceaseless wars to nowhere”
“Straus Military Reform Project – Center for Defense Information at POGO”
“It turns out that my spending four years on an amusement-park midway trying to separate marks from their money was basic training for the nearly 40 years I spent reporting on the U.S. military.
Both involve suckers and suckees. One just costs a lot more money, and could risk the future of United States instead of a teddy bear.
But after 15 years of covering U.S. defense for daily newspapers in Washington, and 23 more for Time magazine until last December, it’s time to share what I’ve learned. I’m gratified that the good folks at the nonpartisan Project On Government Oversight, through their Straus Military Reform Project, are providing me this weekly soapbox to comment on what I’ve come to see as the military-industrial circus.
As ringmaster, I can only say: Boy, are we being taken to the cleaners. And it’s not so much about money as it is about value. Too much of today’s U.S. fighting forces look like it came from Tiffany’s, with Walmart accounting for much of the rest. There’s too little Costco, or Amazon Prime.
There was a chance, however slight, that President Trump would blaze a new trail on U.S. national security. Instead, he has simply doubled down.
We have let the Pentagon become the engine of its own status quo.
For too long, the two political parties have had Pavlovian responses when it comes to funding the U.S. military (and make no mistake about it: military funding has trumped military strategy for decades). Democrats have long favored shrinking military spending as a share of the federal budget, while Republicans yearn for the days when it accounted for a huge chunk of U.S. government spending. Neither is the right approach. Instead of seeing the Pentagon as the way to defend against all threats, there needs to be a fresh, long-overdue accounting of what the real threats are, and which of those are best addressed by military means.
The Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which is supposed to do just that every four years, has become an engine of the status quo. The Pentagon today is little more than a self-licking ice cream cone, dedicated in large measure to its growth and preservation. Congress is a willing accomplice, refusing to shutter unneeded military bases due to the job losses they’d mean back home. The nuclear triad remains a persistent Cold War relic (even former defense secretary Bill Perry wants to scrap it), with backers of subs, bombers and ICBMs embracing one another against their real threat: a hard-nosed calculus on the continuing wisdom of maintaining thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.
Unfortunately, it’s getting worse as partisan enmity grows. It’s quaint to recall the early congressional hearings I covered (Where have you gone, Barry Goldwater?), when lawmakers would solemnly declare that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” The political opposition’s reactions to Jimmy Carter’s failed raid to rescue U.S. hostages held in Iran in 1980 that killed eight U.S. troops, and to the loss of 241 U.S. troops on Ronald Reagan’s peacekeeping mission in Beirut in 1983, was tempered.
But such grim events have been replaced Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi and Donald Trump’s Jan. 29 special-ops raid in Yemen. Rancid rancor by both sides cheapens the sacrifice of the five Americans who died. It only adds a confusing welter of new rules designed to ensure they aren’t repeated. Yet mistakes are a part of every military operation, and an unwillingness to acknowledge that fact, and act accordingly, leads to pol-mil paralysis. It’s amazing that the deaths of Glen Doherty, William “Ryan” Owens, Sean Smith, Chris Stevens and Tyrone Woods seem to have generated more acrimony and second-guessing than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which 6,908 U.S. troops have died.
There is today a fundamental disconnect between the nation and its wars. We saw it in President Obama’s persistent leeriness when it came to the use of military force, and his successor’s preoccupation with spending and symbolism instead of strategy. In his speech to Congress Feb. 28, Trump mentioned the heroism of Navy SEAL Owens, but didn’t say where he died (Yemen). Nor did he mention Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, where nearly 15,000 U.S. troops are fighting what Trump boldly declared is “radical Islamic terrorism.”
But he did declare he is seeking “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” His $54 billion boost would represent a 10% hike, and push the Pentagon spending, already well beyond the Cold War average used to keep the now-defunct Soviet Union at bay—even higher.
“We are going to have very soon the finest equipment in the world,” Trump said from the deck of the yet-to-be-commissioned carrier Gerald R. Ford on Thursday in Hampton, Va. “We’re going to start winning again.” What’s surprising is Trump’s apparent ignorance that the U.S. military has had, pound-for-pound, the world’s finest weapons since World War II. What’s stunning is his apparent belief that better weapons lead inevitably to victory. There is a long list of foes that knows better.
It’s long past time for a tough look at what U.S. taxpayers are getting for the $2 billion they spend on their military and veterans every day. It would have been great if Trump had been willing to scrub the Pentagon budget and reshape it for the 21st Century. But the U.S. has been unwilling to do that ever since the Cold War ended more than 25 years ago. Instead, it simply shrunk its existing military, then turned on a cash gusher following 9/11.
I know many veterans who are angered that their sacrifice, and that of buddies no longer around, have been squandered in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I recall flying secretly into Baghdad in December 2003 with then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The bantam SecDef declared on that trip that the U.S. military had taken the “right approach” in training Iraqi troops, and that they were fighting “well and professionally.” Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the fifth man to hold that job since Rumsfeld, declared in Baghdad that the U.S. training of the Iraqi military is “developing very well.” His visit, like Rumsfeld’s 14 years earlier, wasn’t announced in advance.
Even as Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, tries to chart a path forward in Iraq, it’s worth remembering that he earned his spurs 26 years ago as a captain in a tank battle with Iraqi forces.
If we’re going to spend—few would call it an investment—$5 trillion fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria, and Yemen), don’t we, as Americans, deserve a better return?
The problem is that the disconnect between the nation and its wars (and war-fighters) also includes us:
Our representatives in Congress prefer not to get their hands bloodied in combat, so they avoid declaring war. They prefer to subcontract it out to the White House, and we let them get away with it.
Through the Pentagon, we have subcontracted combat out to an all-volunteer force. Only about 1% of the nation has fought in its wars since 9/11. We praise their courage even as we thank God we have no real skin in the game.
In turn, the uniformed military services have hired half their fighting forces from the ranks of private, for-profit contractors, who handle the critical support missions that used to be done by soldiers. The ruse conveniently lets the White House keep an artificially-low ceiling on the number of troops in harm’s way. We like those lower numbers.
Finally, we have contracted out paying for much of the wars’ costs to our children, and grandchildren. We are using their money to fight our wars. They’ll be thanking us in 2050, for sure.
Until and unless Americans take responsibility for the wars being waged in their name, and the weapons being bought to wage them, this slow bleeding of U.S. blood and treasure will continue. “We have met the enemy,” another Pogo once said, “and he is us.”
“Few doubt that we are failing in our post-9/11 wars.
Those who are 4, 5 or 6 years old will be fighting the war we could not end—like those who were 4, 5 and 6 at the time of 9/11 are doing now. It’s time to adopt an approach that fits the kind of war we’re in.
We have accomplished neither the strategic objectives set forth by the George W. Bush administration nor those of the Obama administration. Both had notable successes and achieved periodic tactical and operational progress, but no sustained strategic success.
Now the contenders for the presidency offer two visions. One is composed of more of the same, with the expectation of a different outcome. The other suggests we can defeat a revolutionary movement with military force alone, an approach that led the British to failure from 1776 to 1781. To put it mildly, both of these visions miss the mark.
How do we reset our thinking? We must first admit we have not understood the kind of war we’re in; that we’ve tried to make it something it is not and in the process, we have been at war for 15 years and have little to show for it. Then we must read our enemy’s documents and actions for what they are. From the start, al-Qaida, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and their ilk have waged a global revolutionary—and therefore, ideological—war, a form of insurgency that is initially local and regional but has global implications.
We have waged, with few exceptions, a counterterrorist war. Our first approach was expansive: going after the terrorists and the states that sponsored them. Our second approach, the one we’re still using, is minimalist and gradualist: a combination of precise targeting of key individuals and selected groups coupled with reliance on surrogate ground forces. Neither works because both approaches miscast the enemy. We are waging one kind of war; our enemies are waging another. As long as we stay in this mode, our failure is near-guaranteed.
Waging a counterrevolutionary war is complicated and difficult, but this is the task before us. We are not conceptually or organizationally prepared to wage the kind of war we’re in. To move to a better strategic position, we must first create, and then use, a real alliance.
In both the maximalist and minimalist approaches, we’ve treated coalition partners as if they were members of a posse with the U.S. as the sheriff. We called the shots; they could join or not. Perhaps this approach made sense in the immediate period following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the strategic landscape has changed dramatically. Then, it appeared that only the U.S. was under attack. Now, it’s clear: The nations of Europe are also under attack, as are many in the Greater Middle East and as some will be in Southeast Asia Pacific. The U.S. must lead, but it cannot be the sheriff. The problem begs a true alliance.
Forming such an alliance will be difficult, but not impossible. Everyone would like a large tent in which all participate. To actually function, however, the core alliance will have to be smaller, with only those nations willing and able to commit to six actions. The initial alliance may contain only some of the NATO members: Turkey, which is key; a few of the Middle East and North Africa states; and select nations of the Asia-Pacific.
Over time, as the alliance succeeds, it will grow. Success, however, requires at least the following actions:
Identify a set of common goals and principles that will guide alliance actions. This first task is the most important. Right now, the potential alliance has different perspectives on the problem it faces as well as the solutions. A properly conducted diplomatic dialogue will not eliminate all differences, but it can reduce them to a point where all can commit to a set of common goals. Then the alliance must commit to a set of guiding principles. The legitimacy of the alliance’s transnational actions will derive from these goals and principles. Internationally, nations still live in a somewhat Hobbesian world. We have some international structures, laws and conventions, but no international government. The reality is that the United Nations is unlikely to sanction transnational actions against the revolutionary enemy we face. That leaves action up to individual nations—the alliance. Unilateral action, although sometimes justified, is an insufficient foundation upon which to wage the war we’re in. In fact, the problem itself defies any unilateral solution. An alliance, committed to a set of positive goals and guiding principles, will provide both the legitimacy and the resources necessary to succeed against a common enemy.
Create the structures to make decisions, coordinate execution, and adapt as the war unfolds. Collective action requires organizational capacity. The heads of government of at least core alliance members must set the strategic agenda and approve goals as well as the associated military and nonmilitary strategies, policies and campaigns necessary to achieve those goals. Further, they must meet frequently enough to provide continual strategic guidance. The alliance then needs an execution capacity—staff and line—that assures coherent action and timely adaptation as the war unfolds. Using existing bureaucracies to wage war is a very risky endeavor. One need only read Robert Komer’s Vietnam-era monograph, Bureaucracy Does Its Thing, to understand these risks.
Bureaucracies do “same” very well; they do “fast and continually dynamic” not very well. War is, by its nature, fast and continually dynamic.
Protect the commons that connect alliance members. Our enemies use the open transportation, information, fiscal and commercial commons to their advantage. They create followers. They move leaders and operatives. They raise and distribute money. They buy and distribute arms and ammunition, and they supply themselves—all using the global commons. Alliance members must close the commons to our enemies with minimal disruption to normal social and economic life. Closing the commons will require primarily a mix of information-sharing and coordinated law enforcement actions. And it will probably require adopting some new laws and conventions as well as taking some combined military action.
Prevent the fall of a state to the revolutionary enemies. Part of our revolutionary enemy’s strategy is to depose what they call apostate governments and replace them with fundamentalist regimes that even most Muslims do not support. The alliance must help to prevent states from collapsing. Such action is not solely related to building security forces—military and police—in at-risk countries. At times, alliance military or police actions, taken in conjunction with local forces but not reliant solely upon them, may be necessary to reduce the already present revolutionary presence within a threatened state. This reduction cannot be merely using remote means, for such action does not create durable effects. Reduction operations must be taken in conjunction with correspondingly necessary changes to social, political, security and economic policies that the revolutionary enemies use to their advantage. Such changes need not be aimed at creating democracies. Rather, they should increase the legitimacy of the government from the perspective of its citizens, whatever type it is. Without these changes—which will likely become the main effort in the overall prevention campaign—the revolutionary fervor is likely to remain, even spread.
Some might believe that these kinds of changes are impossible. They will be hard, that’s for sure, but these changes can be made incrementally. Committing to change and starting to change is what’s important. Further, absent this commitment, real progress in the war we’re in will remain elusive. One need only read Ken Pollack’s A Path Out of the Desert to see the essential connection between success in the war we’re in and a reform agenda.
It’s already too late for Syria. It has collapsed. There’s no resurrecting the Bashar al-Assad government, and no allowing a radical, jihadi revolutionary group to take over. So Syria becomes a special case, an important and hard nut to crack. This special case, however, should not be an obstacle to actions and progress in other areas. In fact, reducing the already present threat, improving legitimacy in other states—within and bordering on the alliance—and closing the commons will all contribute to creating an environment in Syria from which a potential solution may emerge.
Eliminate safe havens that threaten alliance members. Safe havens are breeding grounds for enemies. No good can come from allowing them to continue to operate. The alliance’s air, special operations and ground forces—again, in conjunction with local forces—may be necessary to clear and initially hold these areas before turning them over to local security forces. Once more, eliminating safe havens means more than conducting security operations that achieve only temporary effects. Such operations must be followed by improved governance packages; otherwise, bad guys just return. Experience over the last 15 years shows how hard coordinated security and governance actions can be. But difficulty does not erase need. If alliance nations don’t figure this out, our future will merely repeat our past.
Reduce the attractiveness of the revolutionary narrative. Alliance domestic actions are as important as any other in this kind of war. Alliance members themselves must commit to social, political, security and economic policies that do not make it easy for our enemies to recruit, motivate or radicalize within their borders. Reducing the attractiveness of the revolutionary narrative is not just an information or spin campaign. It is a campaign of the civil and military actions described previously that first, makes real the values and principles the alliance stands for and seeks to engender more broadly and second, demonstrates the fallacies in the revolutionary narrative. An aggressive counternarrative campaign begins at home but doesn’t end there. The campaign most likely to succeed is one that uses government-private organization partnerships. The ultimate aim is to influence the audiences the revolutionary seeks to encourage to remain on the sidelines.
Creating a real alliance that is able to take these six civil-military actions, and others, is a tall order. Sustaining it over time is harder still, but what’s the alternative? Strategic leadership is about getting the right people together to understand the problem at hand, setting in place and sustaining the right processes to act and adapt, and maintaining the focus through to success. This is what waging war, rather than just fighting it, is all about.
The revolutionaries waging war against us aren’t going away; the problem isn’t going to solve itself. The solutions of the past have not worked, and those now on the table show little promise. More of the same will merely get us to where we already are. Applying a solely military solution absent a broader strategic context won’t work, either. “
“It’s time to think of the costs that more than 14 years of war have had on this country.
I’m not just thinking in terms of dollars, although we should worry because most of the added expense, over $1 trillion, has been put on a credit card. This so-called war on terrorism – with no end in sight – remains the first war that American presidents have not asked the public to pay for with a special tax.
I’m also concerned with how few Americans are directly or even indirectly involved in the conflict, with only one percent of U.S. citizens serving or having served in the military, and another two or three percent only being a part of the defense community.
That means more than 90 percent of the public are just observers, for whom this near decade-and-a-half of bloodshed is something that appears on television or causes a moment of recognition at some sports event.
Even the five presidential candidates give it only a sentence or two when they mention it at all, and they are almost never questioned about it.
However, with little or no public notice, the growing human and dollar costs were front and center the past two weeks on Capitol Hill, as military and civilian leaders from the Defense Department testified about the fiscal 2017 Defense Department budget.
“Today, less than half of our nation’s military is ready to perform their core wartime mission, and some critical units are in far worse shape than this 50 percent.” That was Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), hardly a military hardliner, speaking at a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee hearing March 15, referring to a previous classified briefing on military readiness he attended, but saying he was disclosing what was already made public.
The cause, Kaine said, was “fourteen years of sustained combat together with the Budget Control Act of 2011 [that] have presented the nation with a unique readiness challenge. It’s kind of the perfect storm of two significant events, and that problem has no likely end in sight.”
His list, echoed in other hearings by Pentagon officials, included “no – zero – fully ready Army brigade teams…only nine ready BCTs [brigade combat teams] available for unforeseen contingencies. Less than half of the Marine Corps units are ready to perform their core wartime mission…80 percent of aviation squadrons do not have the required number of aircrafts to train…Less than half of our Navy ships are ready to ship to meet wartime plans…ship deployments that used to be six months are now eight to 10 months, which exacerbates the conditions of the ships and also creates challenges for those in the extended deployments.”
Marine Assistant Commandant Gen. John Paxton Jr., summed up what most service commanders also told Congress saying, “We mortgage our future readiness because we’re trying to fight today’s fight. So I have concerns about capacity and future readiness, and everything we do is trade space, and we – we need some top line relief.”
“The Air Force never came home from the first Gulf War,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III told a House Armed Services hearing March 17. “We’ve had airmen flying in their tasking order for 25 years in the Middle East. During that time…we’ve cut 40 percent of our active duty force. So that lower force size combined with increased deployment operations tempo over the last 25 years, has limited the amount of training we can do for the other missions that we’re required to do in a different kind of conflict.”
“Fifteen years we’ve been running back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. “And during that time, we’ve been fighting one typology of war against counterinsurgents or terrorists or guerrillas. And our higher-end training against conventional threats, hybrid threats, threats that involve enemy artillery, enemy air, enemy electronic warfare, et cetera, the higher end, high intensity type battlefields, have not been routinely practiced for 15 consecutive years. So our readiness against that type of threat has deteriorated over a decade and a half.”
What is it that the Defense Department is preparing for? Gen. Milley put it more bluntly, “The very first question any of us needs to ask is readiness for what?
Milley answered it this way: “We’re talking about great power war with one of, or two of four countries. You’re talking about China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. That’s the guidance we were given, that’s how we’re for sizing the budget, or that’s how we’re for sizing the force and that’s how we planned the budget, in accordance with the National Military Strategy, the Defense Planning Guidance, and a wide variety of other documents.”
You would think that the current election campaign would be the time for candidates at every federal level, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and for certain the Presidency, to be laying out their concerns on national security and their plans to meet them.
For example, we should be hearing candidates’ positions on the rebuilding of America’s triad of nuclear weapon delivery systems.
In last week’s hearings, Navy officials stressed that the multi-billion-dollar costs of constructing the planned 12 new Ohio class strategic submarines beginning in 2021 will, as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus put it, “Just gut…Navy shipbuilding for decades to come.”
The Air Force has a similar problem as it faces funding 100 or more new, B-21 strategic bombers at some $500 million apiece. Exploration has begun for future replacement of the current, 450 land-based, Minuteman III ICBMs.
Air Force Chief Welsh described the impending costs for rebuilding the Triad of nuclear delivery systems as requiring “a much larger discussion than any particular service. It has to be the Department of Defense. It’s Congressional, it’s a White House discussion. And I hope it’s something that the next administration takes on early in their tenure, because we need an answer pretty quickly, or we’re going to spend money toward a lot of programs that we can’t complete if we don’t fund them down the road.”
Here, at The Cipher Brief, we plan to start our own “larger discussion” in the coming weeks and months, not just on funding strategic weapons but many other defense programs, such as healthcare, retirement, roles and missions, acquisitions, contractors plus the need to generate funds to pay for them.
We are hoping you readers will contribute your ideas so we can start a conversation on these subjects. Eventually, the presidential and congressional candidates must realize they have to join in.”
“Walter Pincus is a Columnist and the Senior National Security Reporter at The Cipher Brief. He spent forty years at The Washington Post, writing on topics from nuclear weapons to politics. In 2002, he and a team of Post reporters won the Pulitzer Price for national reporting. He also won an Emmy in 1981 and the 2010 Arthur Ross Award from the American Academy for Diplomacy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
For our take on answers to the conundrum Walter conveys please see: