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Tuesday, February 17, 2004


How long can the US sustain its occupation of Iraq without seriously threatening American security -- by materially diminishing the US ability to respond to other emergencies and by thoroughly sapping the Army's morale?

As I've blogged before, 16 of the Army's 33 active-duty combat brigades are deployed in Iraq, 5 others are deployed in Europe, Afghanistan and Korea and the other dozen are preparing to replace the deployed troops very soon.

As a result, the US has almost no capability right now to engage in new combat missions should it face an unexpected crisis or threat.

Major conflict in Iraq ended nearly 10 months ago, but the troops remain in Iraq to assure order -- performing constabulary functions and nation-building. Some, obviously, are also engaged in counter-insurgency fighting, but I'm not sure of the precise division of labor.

Fine. I personally value these functions of the US military -- though it would be great if they were better trained to performed these functions, and "socialized" to think that this is expected of them.

I'm not sure that either the Army or the Bush administration is really committed to nation-building tasks. For instance, in January 2003, the Defense Department announced that it was closing the Peacekeeping Institute at its own Army War College (which is effectively the Army's in-house thinktank). It reversed this decision later in the year when many non-governmental organizations and members of Congress complained.

Still, DoD opposition to these sorts of missions is fairly open and long-standing. After all, in November 1996, Bill Clinton's first Secretary of Defense William
Perry famously declared :
I've said before, and I will say it again, the U.S. Army is an Army. It is not a Salvation Army. We're not in the business of providing humanitarian relief.
When Perry repeated those words (as he did frequently), he often offered a set of specific conditions for the use of US troops in humanitarian work:
But under certain conditions the use of our armed forces is appropriate. First, if we face a natural or manmade catastrophe that dwarfs the ability of the normal relief agencies to respond. Second, if the need for relief is urgent and only the military has the ability to jump start the effort. Third, if the response requires resources unique to the military. And fourth, if there is minimal risk to the lives of American troops. In humanitarian operations, we only use force to protect our troops or members of humanitarian agencies helping us.
Perry's views are widely shared in the armed forces. Numerous uniformed leaders have been quoted as saying that their primary mission is fighting wars and that they should not be involved in humanitarian or peace operations if that detracts from their primary mission. In 1996, military analyst/writer Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. quoted both Colin Powell and General John Shalikashvili (former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) making this exact point in the Clinton era.

And of course, George W. Bush echoed this point as presidential candidate during the 2000 debates:
Your question was deployment. It must be in the national interests, must be in our vital interests whether we ever send troops. The mission must be clear. Soldiers must understand why we're going. The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well-defined.

I'm concerned that we're overdeployed around the world. See, I think the mission has become somewhat become fuzzy. Should I be fortunate enough to earn your confidence, the mission of the United States military will be to be prepared and ready to fight and win war, and therefore prevent war from happening in the first place. There may be some moments when we use our troops as peacekeepers, but not often.
Bush often made this point on the campaign trail and I think the military resents the long-term missions they are apparently facing.

The most recent Army Times has an interesting poll that perhaps demonstrates this point. Here's the question:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently told Senators that the present high demand on the military is "very likely a spike." How do you feel?
About 1/4 of respondents said "he's right," while about 2/3 clicked "he's wrong." About 8% responded "I don't know."

These recent results are consistent with results reported in October 2003 by the Washington Post from a Stars and Stripes survey last fall:
A broad survey of U.S. troops in Iraq by a Pentagon-funded newspaper found that half of those questioned described their unit's morale as low and their training as insufficient, and said they do not plan to reenlist.

The survey, conducted by the Stars and Stripes newspaper, also recorded about a third of the respondents complaining that their mission lacks clear definition and characterizing the war in Iraq as of little or no value. Fully 40 percent said the jobs they were doing had little or nothing to do with their training.

The findings, drawn from 1,935 questionnaires presented to U.S. service members throughout Iraq, conflict with statements by military commanders and Bush administration officials that portray the deployed troops as high-spirited and generally well-prepared....

In the survey, 34 percent described their morale as low, compared with 27 percent who described it as high and 37 percent who said it was average; 49 percent described their unit's morale as low, while 16 percent called it high.
The Post story acknowledges that the survey was not scientific -- and I suppose it is possible that the respondents reflected the strongest voices of dissent. Those who distributed the "convenience" survey said it was meaningful and Pentagon sources are quoted saying that they take it seriously. The closing line of the story is quite telling -- experts are worried that reservists may decide not to reenlist at "historically high" rates.

Notes: Steven Metz of the Army War College quoted then-Secretary of Defense William J. Perry as telling Congress as early as 1994:
"We're an army, not a Salvation Army."
Apparently, this originally appeared in the NY Times, August 5, 1994.

Second, I'm not sure how seriously we should take Bush's words from the 2000 debates campaign -- he seems to have abandoned a slew of foreign policy promises:
BUSH: Yes, I'm not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, "This is the way it's got to be. We can help." And maybe it's just our difference in government, the way we view government. I mean, I want to empower people, I don't -- you know, I want to help people help themselves, not have government tell people what to do.

I just don't think it's the role of the United States to walk into a country, say, "We do it this way, so should you."
The 2002 NSS isn't quite so humble:
In pursuit of our goals, our first imperative is to clarify what we stand for: the United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. Fathers and mothers in all societies want their children to be educated and to live free from poverty and violence. No people on earth yearn to be oppressed, aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.

America must stand firmly for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property.
Still, it's very doubtful that the US military has the boots or will for pushing American empire too far.

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