- The U.S. Army had a strength of 710,000 troops in 1991.
- The U.S. Army has a strength of 566,000 today.
- This reduction was a really bad idea and led to our not doing so well in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- The Army intends to cut another approximately 50,000 active duty positions starting in 2015.
- This is also a really bad idea and the President should provide explanation and assurances on what this bad decision for further cuts should happen.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
I'm going to just label this topic thread GS/GE (Grand Strategy / Grand Enemy) because I'm getting tired of typing it out. I had another post in this series planned in my head, but thanks to twitter I'm going to jump on a target of opportunity: budget debates without a grand enemy.
In short, these debates lack rigor. The budget aspect of grand strategy is essential as it limits a state's ability to react or project itself towards its interests. What else is the administration of government than this distribution of its assets? The defense sector likely among the largest and most critical (for both security and by the impact of it being among the largest). Sure, there are battles of ideas on defense budget issues in times of peace and war as well at times when there is a clear enemy and when there isn't. I'm sure the folks in the Pentagon are conducting rigorous analyses on the programs and monies under their control. But in the public sphere, this debate is becoming ludicrous.
In general, the disparate camps (with regard to defense budgets) could probably be classified as doves (we should spend less on defense, more on aid and domestic issues), "pragmatists" (what a strong defense, but understand that spending has to be limited at some point), and hawks (who would have a hard time ever finding a limit in order to have the strongest defense money could buy). While there are many bad arguments in each of these groups, I am going to pick on defense budget hawks today, and Max Boot in particular.
This afternoon, Mr. Boot linked via twitter to a column he wrote for The Weekly Standard Magazine. In it, he makes the following points:
Oh my. Firstly, I'm not terribly sure what on earth U.S. Army personnel strengths in 1991 have anything to do with our strength today. Those numbers were based on the strategic realities of 1991 (and the likelihood of a ground war in Europe - which we considered vital to our national interest). Secondly, point 3 is just ridiculous statement that is not just inaccurate, but not argued at all. Rumsfeld didn't use more troops in the invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq because he felt that it should be done quickly with a small footprint as a matter of principle, not because there weren't enough forces. The reason both conflicts went/are going so badly is because of piss poor planning assumptions and intelligence, not active duty strength levels.
As for points 4 and 5, my question to Mr. Boot is: after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw down to minimal footprints, how many soldiers do we need? What would they all do? Mr. Boot asks for certainty and assurances on the assumptions used to substantiate the draw down and then states that such assurances cannot be given. I ask Mr. Boot for certainty and assurances that we'll need to intervene in Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia in the foreseeable future that would substantiate, not only the maintenance of current personnel levels, but likely the return to 1991 levels. Oh right. Such assurances cannot be given. In fact, I'm more inclined to take assurances that we won't be trying to do regime change/governance and state building / general meddling with large numbers of boots on the ground any time soon without a really, really good reason. Mainly because we've been doing it for a while and it's taking a toll on the military and our country. If a war of necessity does arise, that's what the Reserves and National Guard are for - they don't get that drill pay to play soldier, they get it so they're ready when they're needed. If you account for them in possible deployable numbers, we're talking just under a million potential pairs of boots.
While this post is dragging on longer than intended, just one more points. Saying that defense spending is "only" 20% of the USG's budget is misleading, considering how much of the total budget is non-discretionary (social security, etc.). It's 50% of discretionary spending - half of the money the USG can spend on things it chooses to. And we're still spending half of the world's budget on defense. Half. How much would be enough?
The bottom line for me, here, is that Mr. Boot isn't making an argument that we need to stop making cuts or even increase spending. He's making the same type of non-arguments that his opponents (who support the cuts) are making. No one has any idea what type of threat the United States should be preparing for - we have no idea what or who our enemies are or will be. Not even an inkling of an idea. Yet, pundits are waxing poetically from all sides of the budget debate without laying out realistic strategic foundations that would justify such a budget (yes, I know, it was an article in a newspaper...). I'm picking on Mr. Boot today, probably unfairly as he certainly is not the only one on any side doing this. But I am adamant that I am not at all interested in any budgetary ideas based on preconceived political ideologies devoid of strategic substantiation. And no Mr. Boot and others, naming countries that just really piss us off sometimes is not a strategic substantiation - it does not make them grand enemies for which to build a grand strategy.