Fighting the SecDef instead of fighting the war

The campaign to oust Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld continues unabated at The Weekly Standard, with the latest salvo being fired by Frederick Kagan in his article Fighting the Wrong War.  Mr. Kagan attempts to make a reasoned, thoughtful counter to Rummy's defenders, but instead discusses key issues in generalities rather than specifics, and fails to place events of the 90s and today within an accurate historical context.

Kagan charges Rummy's defenders with evasion, and an over—reliance on

'deflecting all criticism from him [Rumsfeld] onto the Clinton administration.' 

In a sense, he is right that what has occurred in the past should not hinder us from correcting problems in the present. But there are real obstacles which must be overcome, and cannot be wished away. Kagan soft—pedals the near—disastrous effects of the failings of the civilian and military leadership installed by the Clinton administration's in the 1990s, and ignores the realities of undoing them. Policies and people both must be changed, and there are unyielding constraints on the pace of retirements and the termination or reversal of policies and programs. Eight years of  installing Clinton allies the bureaucracy, and mischief—making in force structure and management, cannot be corrected quickly by one man. Witness the wailing and gnashing of teeth at the CIA thanks to Porter Goss's clean—up efforts, which by the way, are taking place over three years after 9—11.  These things take time and thought, especially when in the middle of prosecuting a war.  I fully understand Kagan's frustration and I counsel patience in a conflict that consists of complex politico—military operations.

At any rate, there is no shortage of pundits who slam Rumsfeld or any other public figure. And that's OK in this country, but we should expect a higher degree of perspective and analysis from a military historian of Kagan's stature.  Therefore, his critique deserves a thorough deconstruction and clarification.

It is of course true that the military underwent a dramatic reduction starting at the end of the Cold War under the first President Bush. The pace of that reduction accelerated during the Clinton years, and by the mid—1990s some of us were already warning that it had gone too far. By 1996, the military had reached its current size, a modest increment below the reduced strength Bush I had originally called for.

Mentioning Bush '41 twice in this paragraph in relation to the 90s reductions while stating the drawdown accelerated under Clinton is a nice bit of misdirection, but ignores the numbers and the actual timeline.  The objective strength for each service was developed by Bush '41's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell.  The Army was to reduce its strength from 765,000 active duty soldiers down to 580,000 by mid—1997.  What Kagan fails to note is that this figure was an absolute floor, not a ceiling.  In the first year of Clinton's first term, and while Colin Powell was still CJCS, active duty Army strength was 572,000, which was 8000 fewer soldiers than the floor allowed.  So by 1993, Clinton and his military chiefs had already busted the strength floor. 

If Kagan and his friends were warning us in the mid—nineties that Clinton had gone too far, they were too late.  In 1996, Army strength dropped to 493,000, which is hardly a 'modest increment' below the Base Force Plan.  Think of it this way: this increment is nearly three times the number of troops (30,000) that Congress has authorized for a temporary increase in the active Army due to the War on Terror and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With more troops in Iraq during and immediately after the war, we would have been able to do the following things that we did not do:

* Capture or kill thousands of Iraqi soldiers who were at that time still concentrated in combat units and had not yet melted back into the countryside with their weapons and their skills.

This ignores the ground truth of the tactical situation at the time of the fall of Baghdad.  The units that Kagan speaks of had already withdrawn behind a screen line of suicidal Saddam Fedayeen and pursuit of these forces hinged not on numbers of troops, but rather on the seemingly slow development of the intell picture and the fact that Coalition forces had reached the culminating point of the battle logistically.  Having more combat troops to support, while bringing in more service support troops to supply a quicker refit effort, while supporting more support troops is...well, a vicious circle that Kagan doesn't address.

* Guard the scores of enormous ammunition dumps from which the insurgents have drawn the vast majority of their weapons, ammunition, and explosives.

This also ignores the reality on the ground.  Kagan might be able to make the case that more troops would have helped guard the initial estimate of 130 ammo dumps, but the number turned out to be more like 8,000.  Kagan's crystal ball is no better than Rumsfeld's, and the only way to secure this amount of material is exactly what we are doing now: deliberately accounting for and destroying the ordnance, and concurrently training Iraqi forces to do the job themselves.  Maybe Kagan can provide us a formula to calculate the number of troops to secure 8,000 ammo dumps; my guess is that this would strain even our old Cold War Army.

* Secure critical oil and electrical infrastructure that the insurgents subsequently attacked, setting back the economic and political recovery of Iraq.


* Work to interdict the infiltration of foreign fighters across Iraq's borders.

I put these two together to highlight that these requirements are valid in the sense that they reveal the regional nature of the fight in the Central Region.  However, Kagan fails to place these in the context of the drawdown in the '90s and our strategic retreats in the face of a dominant Iran during the same time period.  Ten years of a lack of leadership in this area cannot be made up in a matter of a few years, especially in the middle of a fight.

If the U.S. Army had begun expanding in 2001, we would have been able to:

* Establish reasonable rotation plans for our soldiers that did not require repeatedly extending tours of duty beyond one year.

* Dramatically reduce the frequency with which soldiers return from one year—long tour only to be sent immediately on another.

Mr. Kagan has apparently never heard of the term 'for the duration.'  The Army has done an admirable job of re—deploying units for rest, refit, and re—training while maintaining unit integrity, but why do a rotation at all?  In my opinion, a rotation policy out of country gives no motivation to the leadership to go on the offense, get the job done quickly, and then return the troops home.  Troop strength increases are a definite requirement for this type of system, but how long would it be before it devolves into an individual—type replacement disaster ala Vietnam?

Unfortunately, false expectations of tour length were reinforced by Operation Desert Storm and Stabilization Force rotations to the Balkans.  Soldiers were cautioned that the length of operations in Gulf War I were unique in contrast to other wars; yet, tour lengths of six months to, at most, one year for peacekeeping operations in other parts of the globe reinforced the notion of a predictable time—driven deployment, rather than the unpredictability of a concerted fight against a determined enemy.  This flawed construct is probably Rumsfeld's biggest challenge, and Kagan glosses over the decade—long institutional acceptance of this fantasy.

* Avoid the need to activate reservists involuntarily.

Huh?  By and large, as individuals, who wants to go to war voluntarily?  Like active duty troops, reservists voluntarily signed their names on the dotted line, and therefore agreed to accept the danger that might come their way.  And if reserves are his concern, Kagan conveniently ignores reserve 'burn—out' during our nine—year Bosnian quagmire.  Critical combat support specialties, such as intelligence, military police, signal, and counter—intelligence reside primarily in the reserves.  These troops were over—tasked to support the Bosnia operation with repeated six to nine—month deployments.  Ultimately, volunteers were needed to perform their third tour of duty to staff critical support positions.  Ironically, counter—intelligence and military police investigators provide the capability to 'vet' local nationals for duty on military bases.  These types of Soldiers would have come in handy to help secure the US base camp at Mosul, and are the type that the Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker, is in the process of increasing as part of the Army's transformation effort.

However, Kagan may be on to something that is much larger than the issue of troop strength.  That is, the entire structure and roles of the reserve components, the Army Reserve and the National Guard need to be reviewed and possibly changed dramatically.  But we are in the middle of a fight now, and yet Kagan appears to push for a 'hands—off' policy for our Reserve and National Guard units lest, as the leaked memo states, they continue

 '...rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force."

In many ways this is an alarming assertion.  The US taxpayer has expended billions in a 25—year effort to build a credible reserve force to augment active duty combat formations in the event of a clash with the Warsaw Pact. After Desert Storm, reserve commanders were miffed that they weren't allowed to deploy to the Gulf.  Now, Rumsfeld's actions are apparently breaking the force that wanted to be considered the equals of their active duty counterparts.  This situation begs several questions not the least of which involves the true readiness status of our reserve component units when they were called to duty for the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Kagan's call for more troops and his focus on Rumsfeld's supposedly stubborn refusal to make a plea to Congress to authorize a troop increase, belies a potentially serious military command integrity issue.  But it's one that cannot be fixed by getting Rumsfeld fired in the middle of a war.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent