With the installment of Robert Gates as the new U.S. Secretary of Defense, there is now growing discussion of a possible increase in the overall size of the U.S. military and a "surge" in the number of troops in Iraq. And it's not just the conservatives. Many liberals, perhaps fearing the stain of being "soft" on defense, are joining this sanctimonious chorus. Even the LA Times has called for a "repudiation" of the "'leaner, meaner' posture identified with Rumsfeld."
But this is madness. It opposite to what America voted for in 2006, opposite to what the Iraq Study Group recommended, and opposite to common sense. Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously oppose that tired old path. And the greatest danger may be that the Bush Administration seems on the verge of abandoning the Army's path to "transformation" and returning to the heavily armored, bloated military of the Cold War. We certainly need a new plan for Iraq. But when it comes to transformation we should stay the course.
The following remarks would have been a fitting tribute by George W. Bush to commemorate the installment of Robert Gates as the new U.S. Secretary of Defense...
[W]e're going to need all of your accumulated wisdom and experience to carry us through the turbulence of the present to secure our future... You're going to build a more agile Total Army that harnesses the full potential of all of its members--Active, Guard and Reserve. And you will complete their transformation into information-age warriors ready to dominate a digitized battlefield and ensure that all stay well-trained and well-equipped and well-prepared for any mission that fortune or fate might demand of them.
...but they were not spoken by Bush. Instead, these were spoken by over seven (7) years ago on June 22, 1999 by then-Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen at the ceremony welcoming General Eric "Ric" Shinseki as the new U.S. Army Chief of Staff. (This is the man whom Bush's first Secretary of Defense effectively fired.) The quote illustrates that the "transformation" of the Army was underway at the highest levels--that it was already dogma--long before Rumsfeld or even Shinseki took the stage. (This has been discussed before on this blog in some detail.)
Rumsfeld always claimed to be the a champion of "transformation" but in practice he has come close to wrecking it. He had the arrogance to conduct the war Iraq as though it were a showcase for his personal vision of transformation, and purged the Pentagon of those who counseled against it. Rumsfeld's attempts to hijack the transformation effort and claim it as his own are about to backfire: as a result of Rumsfeld's failure in Iraq (and his subsquent sacking), many now seem to think that the transformative effort itself is a proven failure as well.
It is not. The failures in Iraq are political, not military; the Stryker Brigades (and other networked forces) and our soldiers have performed admirably over there. The trouble is that Bush and Rumsfeld thought "full spectrum operations" meant that the Army could do anything... and we are now reminded once again that this is not so. Armies are good at destroying other armies, not destroying insurgents or terrorists. They are good at holding ground, not occupying nations. They are good at rebuilding infrastructure, not rebuilding an economy. They are good at setting up polling stations, not establishing a democracy. They are good at enforcing order and subduing rioters, not fostering peace and justice. They can patrol streets, but are a poor substitute for local police. They can protect key locations, but they cannot be everywhere.
We should transform the Army so it can do its job better. We should not just throw men and money at the military in hopes that somehow it will be able to do what it is just not designed for. We will not achieve security and peace in Iraq by doing more of the same--by sending more troops or enforcing stricter curfews on an already-weary population. We need instead a comprehensive political, diplomatic, and economic approach to Iraq. (For example, we might consider giving reconstruction funds to the Iraqis rather than handing out plum no-bid contracts to our own corporations.) The knee-jerk hard-line response of the Bush administration has failed. Let's not let this same reaction kill transformation too.
Former Secretary of Defense Cohen understood the danger of the hard-line approach better than his successor. I will leave you with the eloquent conclusion of his address.
...[General Shinseki] was born in a small town in Hawaii in 1942. Due to the hysteria of the time, the law stated that all persons of Japanese ancestry, whether citizen or not, be designated as enemy aliens. Ric's grandfather was a laborer in Hiroshima who arrived in Hawaii in the late 1800's, and he raised his children and grandchildren to love America. Yet on the day that he was born, Ric Shinseki was considered an enemy of the state. Today, we have the privilege to present Ric as the 34th Army Chief of Staff.
-Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen welcoming new U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Eric "Ric" Shinseki, at Fort Myer, Virginia on June 22, 1999