Rums­feld back in the Pen­tagon sad­dle

Obama’s to re­sem­ble Bush-era force

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - By Mack­u­bin Thomas Owens

Is Don­ald Rums­feld se­cretly ad­vis­ing the Obama Pen­tagon on force-plan­ning is­sues? If the pres­i­dent’s re­cently pro­posed force struc­ture is any in­di­ca­tion, the an­swer is yes. The Pen­tagon’s plan, an­nounced by Sec­re­tary of De­fense Leon E. Panetta, will sub­stan­tially re­duce con­ven­tional mil­i­tary forces, es­pe­cially ground forces, while plac­ing more em­pha­sis on spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces and armed un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles.

The Army will elim­i­nate at least eight brigade combat teams while re­duc­ing the num­ber of ac­tive-duty sol­diers from 570,000 to 490,000. Most of these cuts will likely fall on ar­mored and heavy in­fantry units, while spar­ing more strate­gi­cally mo­bile for­ma­tions such as the Army’s two air­borne di­vi­sions. The force struc­ture pro­posal will also cut the smaller Ma­rine Corps by some 20,000 troops.

Given the light­ning rod that Mr. Rums­feld be­came as Ge­orge W. Bush’s sec­re­tary of de­fense, the irony here is that the new force struc­ture mir­rors many of the ini­tia­tives he pur­sued dur­ing his time in of­fice. The con­tro­ver­sies aris­ing from the ex­e­cu­tion of the war in Iraq have ob­scured Mr. Rums­feld’s com­mit­ment to “trans­form­ing” the U.S. mil­i­tary at the be­gin­ning of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. This trans­for­ma­tion was de­signed to lever­age a pu­ta­tive in­for­ma­tion-age “rev­o­lu­tion in mil­i­tary af­fairs” in or­der to re­shape a heav­ily Cold War-era U.S. mil­i­tary lack­ing strate­gic mo­bil­ity into an ag­ile force ca­pa­ble of de­feat­ing more elu­sive ad­ver­saries any­where around the globe.

To achieve trans­for­ma­tion, Mr. Rums­feld en­vi­sioned a sub­stan­tial re­duc­tion in con­ven­tional ground forces, pri­mar­ily within the U.S. Army, off­set by an in­crease in the use of spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces. The early part of the war in Afghanistan, which saw small num­bers of spe­cial op­er­a­tions per­son­nel de­ployed with anti-tal­iban forces, seemed to val­i­date Mr. Rums­feld’s vi­sion of trans­for­ma­tion. The im­age of U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions sol­diers mounted on horse­back, us­ing lap­tops to co­or­di­nate air sup­port for the North­ern Al­liance, was iconic for Mr. Rums­feld.

As is the case to­day, the costs of Mr. Rums­feld’s ini­tia­tives fell pri­mar­ily on the U.S. Army. As a mat­ter of fact, some used to joke that “trans­for­ma­tion” was a code phrase for “cut the Army.” There is no ques­tion that the Army faced ma­jor prob­lems in the postCold War se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment that re­quired the ser­vice to un­dergo a sub­stan­tial trans­for­ma­tion if it was to re­main strate­gi­cally rel­e­vant. ThenChief of Staff of the Army Gen. Eric Shin­seki was push­ing hard to trans­form his ser­vice into a more adapt­able, more eas­ily de­ploy­able force ca­pa­ble of a greater range of mis­sions than the Army he had in­her­ited. Gen. Shin­seki’s plan re­duced the Army from 12 ac­tive-duty di­vi­sions to 10 and called for re­plac­ing dif­fi­cult-tode­ploy heavy forces with medium-weight, wheel-mo­bile combat bri­gades sup­ported by an ad­vanced gun sys­tem.

But Mr. Rums­feld was not sat­is­fied with Gen. Shin­seki’s ef­fort. Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports at the time, Mr. Rums­feld wanted to go far be­yond the Army’s trans­for­ma­tion plan, re­duc­ing the Army’s force struc­ture from Gen. Shin­seki’s mix of 10 heavy and light ac­tive-duty di­vi­sions to eight or fewer light di­vi­sions. Mr. Rums­feld re­port­edly wanted to trans­fer the Army’s heavy forces — ar­mor and mech­a­nized in­fantry — to the Na­tional Guard and Re­serves. He also tar­geted Army pro­grams such as the Cru­sader ar­tillery sys­tem. These force struc­ture and pro­gram de­ci­sions would spill over to cre­ate prob­lems be­tween the sec­re­tary and the Army dur­ing the Iraq War. No doubt he was ret­ro­spec­tively happy that his rad­i­cal re­struc­tur­ing did not bear fruit when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan re­quired sub­stan­tial num­bers of ground troops.

While there was merit to some of Mr. Rums­feld’s de­ci­sions — just as there is to those of the Obama Pen­tagon — our ex­pe­ri­ences af­ter Sept. 11 should pro­vide a cau­tion­ary note. Then, as now, there was a heroic as­sump­tion at work: that the U.S. edge in emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies, es­pe­cially in­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies, would per­mit the United States to con­duct short, de­ci­sive and rel­a­tively blood­less cam­paigns along the lines of the first Gulf War. The re­sult was an ap­proach that went un­der the name of “rapid de­ci­sive op­er­a­tions.” A corol­lary held that tra­di­tional ground combat was a thing of the past and that fu­ture U.S. power would be based on pre­ci­sion strikes de­liv­ered by air (to­day it is un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles) in con­junc­tion with spe­cial op­er­a­tions teams.

Such strate­gic and op­er­a­tional happy talk — the idea that emerg­ing weapons and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy of­fered the prom­ise of cer­tainty and pre­ci­sion in war­fare, and that since fu­ture wars would be short, strate­gic speed had be­come crit­i­cal — was re­futed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which our ad­ver­saries re­sponded in un­ex­pected ways, adopt­ing asym­met­ric and cost-in­cur­ring tac­tics. This is the dan­ger we face to­day.

His­tory seems to teach us that any force struc­ture that is based on our pur­ported abil­ity to con­trol events based on tech­no­log­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity is likely to fail at some point. The po­ten­tial threats are too nu­mer­ous and the very act of pre­par­ing for some re­duces the like­li­hood that those are the ones we will face.

The Rums­feld trans­for­ma­tion case should be a warn­ing to be very skep­ti­cal of at­tempts to elim­i­nate or sub­stan­tially re­duce cer­tain ca­pa­bil­i­ties, e.g., land power, be­cause we will only fight the kinds of wars that will per­mit us to lever­age ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies. Bal­anced forces have pro­vided a hedge against un­cer­tainty in the past and, as such, have served the in­ter­est of the United States well. As Afghanistan and Iraq demon­strated, some­times we have to fight wars other than the ones we want to fight. And when we do, it is a good thing to have a ro­bust ground combat ca­pa­bil­ity.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY LI­NAS GARSYS

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.