February 1, 2005
Bush, military forces, and a strategic visionBy Douglas Hanson
Most of the punditry got it right about GW's second inaugural address: it was a monumental speech that prescribed a major shift in our foreign policy and national security posture. Not only was it a true description of the dangerous world we live in, it also established the framework for our military operations in the years to come.
Some analysts have examined the implications of the speech for our armed forces and their roles and responsibilities in ensuring freedom and promotion of democracy around the world. But they lose sight of the historical context of how this changes our strategic outlook. GW's speech portends not so much changes in the organization and equipping of our forces, but rather changes in the mindset of our military leadership, especially regarding our decade—long rest and 'years of repose' from our responsibilities in safeguarding liberty, the period of time otherwise known as the Clinton Administration. If you read between the lines, he was blunt: former military and national security leaders, who are the most vocal in the criticism of our War on Terror, are also the same people who let our military capabilities lapse to a dangerously low level. In a nutshell, get with the program, and let's win this thing.
However, his address was much more than a chewing out of the naysayers in our fight against global Islamo—fascism. It prescribed the manner in which we would apply force if absolutely necessary, and put teeth into decades—old policies that we thought had served us well, but, in reality had contributed to a soft approach to national security for the better part of 15 years.
It is not surprising then, that Peggy Noonan, who was at the center of the realist school of thought that brought us victory in the Cold War, would be first in line to critique the address as being too moralistic. She then later defended her initial criticisms with an admonition that the White House and the President lack a historical context, especially in regard to what type of enemy we face. The problem for Ms. Noonan is that she is the one lacking in historical context, particularly in the analysis of whom we are fighting. But more importantly, the so—called realist school of thought that she wishes the President would adhere to, has, in reality, not been very realistic. More than anything, the realists' concepts set the stage at the end of Gulf War I for a drawdown that was too severe and too fast, and allowed some of our military leadership to place warfighting as secondary to other considerations.
As the US was winding down its involvement in Vietnam, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger had a mess on their hands. Ultimately, we had upwards of 500,000 service members in Vietnam, which left the Central European Front a shadow of its former self. This was no minor 'refocusing of priorities' by McNamara. It didn't just leave the US Army Europe (USAREUR) in a wee bit of a pinch. It was much worse than that. Living conditions became substandard, the mostly mechanized forces were way down on the priority list for spare parts, and the manpower situation was pathetic. It was not unheard of for brand new 2d Lieutenants to be appointed as battalion executive officers, normally the job of an experienced Major, or to have Staff Sergeants instead of Captains command companies.
To realists, there is no end to conflict in this world, and inter—state conflict can at least be reduced for short periods of time by a combination of alliance formation and the proper application of military and economic power. Nixon's outreach to China and the concept of D�tente can be arguably seen as necessary buffers to buy time for our forces to refit and refocus in Europe in the wake of JFK's and LBJ's Vietnam quagmire.
Of course, Southwest Asia and its huge oil reserves were very important to our economic well—being. After the interruption of the flow of oil after the Yom Kippur War, an agreement signed by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al—Saud and the U.S. Ambassador went into effect in 1973 that established the mission of the Office of the Program Manager—Saudi Arabian National Guard* Modernization Program. For the first time, we would be training and equipping an Arab military organization with both uniformed and civilian contractor US personnel. It was a necessary requirement to secure the southern flank against the Russians.
Despite the 'hollow' military era of Jimmy Carter, and his disastrous abrogation of responsibilities in relation to the ouster of the Shah and the hostage situation in Iran, the US kept our eye on the prize: defeating the Russians and the Warsaw Pact. Under President Reagan, new weapons and equipment flowed into Europe to not only gain parity with the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact, but to surpass them in several categories. The National Guard was organized largely as combat formations designed to augment active duty divisions in Europe. Finally, living conditions were improving, drug use among the troops had taken a nose dive, and realistic training was the norm rather than the exception.
Under US stewardship, the NATO alliance was made stronger than ever, even if we had to add to our collective troop strength using questionable methods because of our own ill—advised post—WW II drawdown. Stateside units were also rehearsing for war either in Europe or on the Korean peninsula. Intelligence gathering and analysis were also focused on our prime adversaries. It had to be so, since the Church Commission had seen to it that our greatly reduced intelligence capabilities had to be used judiciously.
But something happened on the way to our Cold War victory.
Our forces narrowed their focus and became obsessed with a specific enemy and the mechanisms to defeat him. What started as necessary alliances and military build—ups to serve our vital national interests and to defeat a powerful enemy became another set of entrenched interests in both Central Europe and on the Arabian Peninsula.
In Europe, the logistic infrastructure was improved as were the amenities to support large numbers of family members. Some argued that having the families accompany the service members in what was viewed as a forward deployed area was a recipe for disaster. Nevertheless, the spouses and children were viewed as a necessary 'readiness' requirement. Repeated tours in Germany resulted in the catch—phrase of 'third culture' being applied to returning families to US soil. That is, they fit in neither here nor there. I guess it was worth it to defeat the Russians.
The high level of infrastructure in Europe also led to a tunnel vision approach that effectively tied down the deployment of over two full corps of troops beyond the relatively small sphere of action. The deployment of VII Corps from Europe to support Operation Desert Storm caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth, even though a child looking at a globe could tell who was actually closer to the theater of war. General Schwarzkopf's desert command was still seen as a backwater assignment by certain leaders, despite the fact the Berlin Wall had fallen the previous year.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, the 17—year effort to bolster the Kingdom's fighting forces and to establish the logistics infrastructure was paying off. As part of Desert Shield, Coalition forces were flowing into modern seaports and airfields constructed to receive US forces in the event of a Soviet attack. The Saudi armed forces reacted to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in fits and starts, but thanks to their US uniformed and contractor advisors, made a good showing in the war.
On the verge of victory, Bush 41's national security team let its realist approach start the long, painful journey culminating in today's Iraq. Brent Scowcroft and other realists were infatuated with playing the real politick game. To them and their apologists, the alliances and 'management of conflict' concepts reigned supreme. Victory over the enemies of freedom was somehow not seen as realistic. They attempted to mastermind the geo—strategic conflict of the region by leaving Saddam in power to counter Iran, while securing the Saudi oilfields for Western and Japanese economic well—being. Despite their best intentions, they accomplished neither. And now these same realists criticize GW for wanting complete victory over Islamo—fascists in Iraq and the agents of Syria and Iran that have infiltrated into the country.
The First Gulf War was a turning point in many ways for our military and national security establishment, especially in light of the demise of the Soviet Union. The military had executed a masterful punitive raid against a madman dictator, but had been held short of total victory by people who ultimately would be outsmarted by Arab and Persian leaders they often viewed as unsophisticated bumpkins in the game of geo—politics.
In the aftermath of Desert Storm, the military establishment looked around for an enemy to replace those damn Russians, threw up their arms, and mentally went home for Miller time. For an institution that prides itself on process, apparently no one in the intelligence branches bothered to analyze the building threats from the terrorist rat holes and the nation—states that supported them in the Central Region or elsewhere. While fighting to retain their share of the federal budget during the drawdown of the Clinton administration, service chiefs would remind Congress that 'it's still a dangerous world out there,' without completely articulating where or why. The political took precedence over the operational. As more childcare centers and social services buildings sprung up on military installations, tank platoons and self—propelled artillery batteries literally spent months parked in the motorpool.
In the 1990s, our forces in Europe were sent on expeditions to the Balkans that, in some cases, seemed to surprise a reluctant uniformed leadership that sought every opportunity to avoid deployment. Say what you will about the bad decisions of Clinton's national security team, some elements of our military were tied to home stations in the US and Europe as never before. The near disaster of Task Force Hawk in Kosovo was one result.
And in Saudi Arabia, despite deadly terror attacks on our service members and on our contractor advisors, we retain a strong presence in the kingdom, one that has expanded to training and equipping the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF) with modern M1A2 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Our 'deal with the devil' from over 30 years ago has paid tremendous dividends, but it's time for the realist critics of GW to at least acknowledge that this and other decades—old alliances with supporters of terrorism have outlived their usefulness.
President Bush has given our military leaders clear concepts upon which to fight our current and future battles. He has challenged us to view any enemy of freedom and democracy as deserving of some kind of economic, military or diplomatic action. He has taken a proven national security concept which states that democracies are very unlikely to go to war with one another to its logical conclusion. This is guidance to the military leadership that transcends the confusing mess that is transformation. Contrary to critics of the 'full—spectrum of conflict' warfighting concept, GW has, in fact, told us we must have forces prepared to do just that.
We've received our marching orders. GW demands victory over the enemies of freedom and democracy, not accommodation or nuance through a series of questionable alliances for their own sake, or to foster international special interests. Interestingly, there appears to be a potential that the Russian Bear may make a comeback . If they did, would Ms. Noonan and the realists, and the cabal of gloom and doom retired generals jump back on the bandwagon and get behind our efforts to achieve victory over the enemies of freedom?
A resurgent Russia might almost be worth it, but not quite.
* Of note, the commander of the Saudi National Guard outranks the Saudi Defense Minister since the Guard's primary mission is to protect the holy sites of Medina and Mecca. No other country has this type of command relationship.
Douglas Hanson is The American Thinker's military affairs correspondent.