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Bigger Army, Or Smaller Mission

New York Times editorial page versus Steve Clemons. I think the fact remains that even if we do end the Iraq deployment expeditiously, the war has still demonstrated to us that the Army is too small. Much of the necessary resources to expand it could be easily found by shifting money out of other areas of defense spending. Our budget should be focused on improving our ability to do the sort of things we actually do -- lead or contribute to postconflict reconstruction operations -- rather than things we don't do -- like shoot down ballistic missiles or fight battles with the Soviet submarine fleet.

January 2, 2005 | Permalink


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» The army we need? from INTEL DUMP
Can we really afford to blindly invest in more military manpower when we have no idea what our future military requirements are?

The New York T... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 2, 2005 9:22:03 PM

» Another Army We Don't Need from Mudville Gazette
The NY Time's "Army We Need" editorial was written by someone with no knowledge of the military beyond awareness that the US has one. If you'd like to see a lot of comments on that topic by people with less... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 5, 2005 12:27:55 PM


I think the fact remains that even if we do end the Iraq deployment expeditiously, the war has still demonstrated to us that the Army is too small.

Perhaps instead the assigned task is too big?

No matter what size army we have, there will always be those tempted to use it to accomplish tasks for which it is not designed. And then there will be those who draw the lesson from that failure that we need a bigger army. For some, activated by a lust for domination and control, any army that cannot garrison the entire world is an army too small.

The lesson of Iraq is that the task of occupying a country, dismantling the state that exists there, and in the face of widespread popular opposition erecting a new state on the rubble from completely new foundations is a very large one, best accomplished in the rare circumstances in which it might be necessary by a coordinated, dedicated and broadly sanctioned international effort.

It is a good thing that this task should remain beyond the power of individual states.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Jan 2, 2005 1:52:31 PM

If the Bush Doctrine of aggressive war and imperial expansion into numerous countries is going to be realized, we are going to need a bigger Army than we have ever had.

Hitler's Wehrmacht had 3,180,000 men under arms when he invaded neighboring Poland. Bush has 500,000 active-duty Army troops, 700,000 National Guard and Army reservists. I think we would have to at least triple the size of the Army to satisfy Bush's ambitions.

No one is talking about doing that, or anything close to that. So I think we can look forward to more failed invasions and occupations under Bush, since no one is going to stop him and he is too stupid to stop himself.

Posted by: grytpype | Jan 2, 2005 1:56:11 PM

What have the productivity ( destructivity? ) gains been in the military? The Godwin person above me talked about 3 000 000 soldiers. How much has advances in organisation, skills and machinery multiplied the effectiveness of soldiers? A difficult question, I know, but there must be a study/articles about that.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Jan 2, 2005 2:00:36 PM

"What have the productivity ( destructivity? ) gains been in the military?"

The lesson of Iraq appears to be:not much. We can blow stuff up good with the navy and airforce, but seems we need boots on the ground to occupy and pacify territory. Lots of them.

If we have learned much in the thirty years since Vietnam about 4th-gen and guerrilla warfare and counter-insurgency, I am not seeing the results in Iraq.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 2, 2005 2:49:11 PM

Thanks for the link.

Peace Corps, military police, Green Berets seem to be more pertinent to modern ( post-modern? ) warfare than tanks and aircraft carriers.

I presume you know of this place: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Jan 2, 2005 3:28:52 PM

A partial answer to the question about productivity (destructivity) gains in the military is that it depends.

The ability of a single soldier to shoot things or blow them up has increased tremendously. The ability of a single soldier to be in two places at once remains the same as it did in Alexander the Great's day.

As Rumsfeld famously said, "You go to war with the army you have" and the Army we have is like a fancy construction power tool, say a sliding compound miter saw, and what we are doing is using this fancy power tool to pound nails. An army concieved to fufill the Iraq mission (and similar neocon dreams) at the least cost to the treasury would look like the army that Eisenhower or Pershing led.

Posted by: etc. | Jan 2, 2005 3:41:54 PM

To achieve the neo-con/Bush ideals, What we should do is to outsource the military personnel ie hire foreign mercenaries at a cut rate cost.

Posted by: Dan the Man | Jan 2, 2005 3:48:19 PM

To achieve the neo-con/Bush ideals, What we should do is to outsource the military personnel ie hire foreign mercenaries at a cut rate cost

What makes you think mercenaries are cheap? And what makes you think they can perform the mission that our soldiers can't?

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Jan 2, 2005 3:53:36 PM

They need to just blow more shit up and hire more local hoodlums to do the 'democracy' thing.

The size of the army is irrelevant, because US soldiers will eventually refuse to murder and die for Halliburton's CEO getting another yacht. And they know it.

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 2, 2005 3:56:04 PM


Thanks. It's all a question of optimisation, innit? Could you point me to some sources ( preferably online ) about the type of army Eisenhower or Pershing led? Or, alternatively, be kind enough to give me an idea of that that implies?

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Jan 2, 2005 4:26:48 PM

The problem is that for occupation against unwilling civilians, the balance of power has shifted toward the civilians since WWII.

It used to be the soldiers were armed and the civilians were mostly unarmed. Civilians could be herded pretty easily that way. It's still mostly like that in palestine where the israelis mostly have the borders sealed and can keep guns, ammo, food, etc from coming in. But most other places occupied civilians can getsmuggled weapons. In iraq there appears to be no shortage at all of such things. Saddam was under sanctions but he had his own factories to build AK47s and RPGs, and apparently he just kept building them for no particular purpose and stored them around the country.

Instead of it being occupation troops with military-grade weapons against a few civilians with hunting rifles etc, now the civilians tend to have automatic weapons too. They're dangerous.

The armor gives soldiers some advantage. But military small arms tend to be deadly except when they're designed not to be. Shoot an unarmored civilian anywhere except an appendage and he'll probably die. Shoot him in an appendage and he'll probably need an amputation. Our guys can get hit in the trunk and be protected, but they still are likely to need amputations when they get shot elsewhere. With good full armor it might be better. Get completely encased in armor and to take out a soldier the civilians will have to do things that, say, blast him 15 or 20 feet in the air and let him get hurt landing. ;-)

Explosives are another issue. Armies have essentially unlimited amounts of explosives, it used to be civilians had very little. If they can get some smuggled in they can do a lot more with it than they used to.

Armies are still far more destructive. An army can still starve out a city, or bomb it to rubble. But the civilians can be more destructive than they used to, too. Usually an occupation is intended to bring the subject nation quickly back to productivity. The germans depended on french ordnance factories to supply their armies, etc. The USA needs iraq to increase oil production. And the resistance has more destructive power than it used to, and can keep more things blown up. They can't stop us from blowing up whatever we want, but it's hard for us to stop them from blowing stuff up too.

It's still hard for them to win against an occupying army, but they can make it more expensive than they used to, and they can delay the profits. The rules of the game have changed against the occupiers, but not at all completely changed.

Posted by: J Thomas | Jan 2, 2005 4:56:38 PM

Another link to the Economist article, via Brad DeLong:


"Little surprise that the Americans had not visited the nearby smugglers' town of Baij in force for three months.... Baij's police station had been blown up and its police had fled. The town's English-speaking former mayor, Abdullah Fahad, was frank about the town's allegiances. “There are terrorists here, not from Syria, not from Mosul, but from Baij. Some are Baathists and some are Islamists and before they hated each other but now they work together, and they tell people that if they don't work with them they will kill them.”

Mr Fahad, who claimed to have survived several assassination attempts and whose son had been kidnapped, refused to help the Americans on the grounds that he would be murdered if he did. When the American commander offered to protect him, he replied: “Thank you, but you are not always here. This is the first time I have ever seen you.” Whereupon the American troops labelled Mr Fahad a “bad guy”, and debated whether to detain him."

This is the story of Iraq today.
"about the type of army Eisenhower or Pershing led?"

Okay,Okay, Westmoreland had a ton of troops in Vietnam. Maybe they weren't used well, or maybe the military culture hinders effective use. We need to protect and support local friendlies, or the fucking war is lost. Period. If our soldiers don't like that duty, and only will rush out in large convoys to blow something up, and then rush back to base, we will lose.

There was the idea for Vietnam, had a name, I associate it with David Hackworth where you put a platoon with 50 locals in 1000 villages, and leave them there for a year. War is fucking hard, and I think if you are not taking high casualty rates, you are either not doing it right by setting the mission and strategy and tactics too low, or you should not have started the war in the first place.

I know some General (Patton) said war is about getting the other jerk dead, but if we just wanted to blow stuff up and kill people, we could have used the airforce and navy. We are either not really working the mission, or should be killing a lot more people. By a factor.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 2, 2005 5:00:02 PM

"for occupation against unwilling civilians, the balance of power has shifted toward the civilians since WWII."

And that's a good thing. An even better thing would be for people like George W. Bush and his administration to figure that out and stop trying to conquer a world filled with unwilling civilians.

Posted by: Shirin | Jan 2, 2005 5:02:35 PM

To achieve the neo-con/Bush ideals, What we should do is to outsource the military personnel ie hire foreign mercenaries at a cut rate cost.

I've heard that Blackwater USA is now hiring mercs for Iraq at a special rate of $1000/day for the first sixty days. That's hardly "cut rate"...

Trouble is, it's hard to find cheap mercenaries when you've spent the past two years driving up demand. Pesky market forces.

Posted by: oodja | Jan 2, 2005 5:05:28 PM

Is it really totally out of the question that we might, you know, give up on the idea of global domination?

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Jan 2, 2005 5:44:45 PM

"Is it really totally out of the question that we might, you know, give up on the idea of global domination?"


Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Jan 2, 2005 6:09:23 PM


You're looking for CAP. Combined Action Platoon. Here it an article by Max Boot ( yes, him ) about strategies in Vietnam:

The Lessons of a Quagmire

Published: November 16, 2003
This month's setbacks in Iraq — the downing of American helicopters, the suicide bombing of an Italian headquarters — have made President Bush's mantra of "progress" ring increasingly hollow. It's true that 80 percent of Iraq remains peaceful and stable, but we seem to be losing in the other 20 percent, mostly among Sunni Muslims who benefited from Saddam Hussein's rule. The escalating violence lends credence to critics who see parallels with Vietnam.
In truth, there is no comparison: In Vietnam, we faced more than 1 million enemy combatants backed to the hilt by North Vietnam and its superpower patrons, China and Russia. In Iraq we confront a few thousand Baathists and jihadis with, at most, limited support from Iran and Syria. But even if this isn't "another Vietnam," we can still learn important lessons from that earlier war about how to deal with the insurgency.
The biggest error the armed forces made in Vietnam was trying to fight a guerrilla foe the same way they had fought the Wehrmacht. The military staged big-unit sweeps with fancy code names like Cedar Falls and Junction City, and dropped more bombs than during World War II. Neither had much effect on the enemy, who would hide in the jungles and then emerge to ambush American soldiers. Seeing that his strategy wasn't working, Gen. William Westmoreland, the American commander, responded by asking for more and more troops, until we had 500,000 soldiers in Vietnam. And still it was not enough.
President Bush seems so intent on avoiding this mistake that the Defense Department has unveiled plans to cut the total number of troops in Iraq next year from 132,000 to 105,000. It is hard to see what, in the current dismal strategic picture, convinces the Pentagon that this makes sense. Such a slow-motion withdrawal will only embolden our enemies in Iraq and discourage our friends.
Senator John McCain has suggested that, far from reducing our forces, it's time to send another division. There are certainly tasks where we could use more troops, such as securing Iraq's porous borders and guarding arms depots that have become virtual Wal-Marts for terrorists. But as the experience of Vietnam suggests, more troops will not necessarily solve our central challenge: defeating guerrillas.
Sending more soldiers could even be counterproductive if it results in more civilian casualties, as it did in Vietnam, complicating our effort to win over the population. American forces in Iraq have tried hard to avoid "collateral damage," but they have nevertheless made some costly mistakes. A week ago, an army sentry shot dead the American-appointed mayor of Sadr City in Baghdad.
What proved most effective in Vietnam were not large conventional operations but targeted counterinsurgency programs. Four — known as CAP, Cords, Kit Carson Scouts and Phoenix — were particularly effective.
CAP stood for Combined Action Platoon. Under it, a Marine rifle squad would live and fight alongside a South Vietnamese militia platoon to secure a village from the Vietcong. The combination of the Marines' military skills and the militias' local knowledge proved highly effective. No village protected under CAP was ever retaken by the Vietcong.
Cords, or Civil Operations and Rural Development Support, was the civilian side of the counterinsurgency, run by two C.I.A. legends: Robert Komer and William Colby. It oversaw aid programs designed to win hearts and minds of South Vietnamese villagers, and its effectiveness lay in closely coordinating its efforts with the military.
The Kit Carson Scouts were former Communists who were enlisted to help United States forces. They primarily served as scouts and interpreters, but they also fought. Most proved fiercely loyal. They had to be: they knew that capture by their former Vietcong comrades meant death.
Phoenix was a joint C.I.A.-South Vietnam effort to identify and eradicate Vietcong cadres in villages. Critics later charged the program with carrying out assassinations, and even William Colby acknowledged there were "excesses." Nevertheless, far more cadres were captured (33,000) or induced to defect under Phoenix (22,000) than were killed (26,000).
There is little doubt that if the United States had placed more emphasis on such programs, instead of the army's conventional strategy, it would have fared better in Vietnam. This is worth keeping in mind today as Sunni towns like Fallujah and Ramadi increasingly turn into an Arab version of Vietcong "villes." The Army is running some valuable counterinsurgency programs in Iraq, but too often it responds to major setbacks with big-unit sweeps (the ongoing one is called Iron Hammer). In a move reminiscent of some of the excesses of Vietnam, the military has taken to dropping 500-pound bombs and sending out M-1 tanks in a largely futile attempt to wipe out elusive foes.
To secure the Sunni Triangle, the army would do better to focus on classic counterinsurgency strategies. We need closer cooperation between Iraqi and coalition forces, as in CAP. We need better coordination between the military and L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, as in Cords. We need better intelligence to identify and neutralize Iraqi insurgents, as in Phoenix. We might even want to recruit Baathists and induce them to turn against their erstwhile comrades, as in the Kit Carson Scouts.
The common factor in all these initiatives is solid help from Iraqis. Only locals can pick out the good guys from the bad. Also — and this is a more delicate matter — Iraqis would be able to try some of the strong-arm tactics that our own scrupulously legalistic armed forces shy away from.
Excessive brutality can be counterproductive in fighting an insurgency (as the French discovered in Algeria), but there is also a danger of playing by Marquess of Queensbury rules against ruthless opponents. Our military — which is court-martialing an Army lieutenant colonel who fired his pistol into the air to scare an Iraqi suspect into divulging details of an imminent attack — may simply be too Boy Scoutish for the rougher side of a dirty war. Iraqis who suffered under Saddam Hussein's tyranny likely feel no such compunctions. More should be done to recruit relatives of those killed by the Baathists who would be eager to pursue a "blood feud" against Saddam Hussein's men.
While Mr. Bush's plans to accelerate the turnover of political authority to Iraqis and the deployment of Iraqi security forces make sense, for now the brunt of the military campaign will still have to be borne by Americans. If American forces fear to spend time on the streets of Fallujah and other Sunni towns, what hope is there for undertrained Iraqi security officers who will be branded collaborators by their own people?
Even if the American forces do everything right, there is no quick or easy end in sight. No halfway competent guerrilla force has ever been defeated as easily as the Iraqi army was in 1991 and 2003.
The Iraqi guerrillas, like the Vietcong, realize that a conventional military victory is beyond their grasp. Their only hope is to continue ratcheting up the cost of the conflict until the desire of the American public to continue the struggle is shattered. This worked in Vietnam. It might — sobering thought — work today. Is the American will to sustain casualties greater than our enemies' ability to inflict them? Upon that question will turn the future of Iraq.
Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of ``The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.''

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Jan 2, 2005 6:15:36 PM

Has it eluded everyones attention that the army is slowly changing a lot of support (arty, eng, etc.) battalions to inf battalions?

This will not change the size of the US army, but it will dramatically increase the availiability of infantry, much needed in stabilisation efforts.

It´s one of the most overlooked reforms of the US armed forces, probably because it doesn´t involve new technology but just redesignation and retraining. Pretty unspectacular stuff.


Posted by: Grosbøl | Jan 2, 2005 6:36:08 PM

"Is it really totally out of the question that we might, you know, give up on the idea of global domination?"


Thanks for clearing that up for me.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Jan 2, 2005 7:30:58 PM

Oh, if only Max Boot were President!

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Jan 2, 2005 7:49:09 PM

"Our budget should be focused on improving our ability to do the sort of things we actually do -- lead or contribute to postconflict reconstruction operations -- rather than things we don't do -- like shoot down ballistic missiles or fight battles with the Soviet submarine fleet."

That's funny. That logic is exactly why the U.S. military was such a pitiful helpless giant when it came to stopping the 9-11 attacks. You see American air defenses were stripped to the bone because why worry about stopping air attacks when America could get hit with missiles? 9-11 showed the folly of going with the thin strategy of MAD, deterence by retaliation, instead of the robust strategy of defenses AND offensive forces.

During 9-11 there only 14 aircraft, based at seven locations, on a 15 minute ground alert, to defend the entire continental United States from air attack. That's it. No air patrols, no surface to air missiles, no nothing.

Once upon a time there were hundreds of aircraft on FIVE minute alert and rings of surface to air missiles based around our big cities. One F4D Skyray squadron at North Island Naval Air Station even set a record of a 90 second alert rate. From warning to wheels lifting off the tarmac only 90 elapsed seconds.

Military strategy and spending priorities require deep thought and careful consideration. Not wistful nostalgia over dead ABM treaties.

Posted by: Brad | Jan 2, 2005 10:09:01 PM

"for occupation against unwilling civilians, the balance of power has shifted toward the civilians since WWII."

"And that's a good thing."

It doesn't matter whether it's a good thing, it's how it's turning out. In a few years it might go the other way, particularly for urban populations. They might set up a bunch of cheap TV cameras in cities, with cheap AI watching for things to call out the goon squads for. The cameras could be equipped with grenades to discourage vandalism. Break or steal one and the grenade goes off. Outside the cities everybody could wear transponders and anybody the aerial surveillance finds without a transponder is fair game.

I don't know whether that sort of thing will get cheap enough before the oil crunch hits. But it doesn't matter whether we like it. When the rules of the game change then you're stuck playing the new game.

"An even better thing would be for people like George W. Bush and his administration to figure that out and stop trying to conquer a world filled with unwilling civilians."

If they had they'd have gotten voted out. The american public is a bit slow on the uptake.

I can remember when the dominant question was "If we can send a man to the moon, why can't we do X?" where X was whatever expensive thing the questioner wanted. Lots of people were liberals then; we were rich and getting richer, already the richest in the world by far, and we attributed it to our wonderful technology which was also increasing at an increasing rate. But we had to stop the russians. So we had to fight vietnam, and suddenly we weren't so rich after all.

And about that time we got our first oil shock. Maybe we should have worked harder on alternative energy then, but we were a bit slow. Also we were starting to get the idea that new technology is something you shovel money into and things come out at random, on their own time, and there's no telling who'll benefit. We started cutting back on research.

A whole lot of americans started thinking that we weren't so rich and they'd be lucky to live as well as their parents did. Their tolerance went down for government doing things that didn't immediately and directly benefit them, unless it was to protect us from dangerous enemies. We stopped sending people to the moon.

Then the russians collapsed. A lot of americans thought that would finally let us spend a lot of money on them, money that used to go to the unending cold war effort. But it didn't work out. Maybe part of the problem was that so many of us depended on doing hi-tech military stuff for our incomes, and when we started cutting that off it hurt more people than it helped in the short run. They desperately looked for another evil empire to threaten us so they would be needed.

They tried quelling civil unrest in foreign countries. It was hard and dangerous and not very high-tech. It didn't provide the jobs we needed.

They tried cleaning up after dictators we had supported back when. Those guys tended to fall whether we took them out or not -- note the shah, Marcos, Pinochet etc. That was a stopgap, we'd run out of them in a little while.

Then we discovered a giant islamic threat. Now we need an ABM system in case some emerging country gets nukes and missiles and lobs one at us without thinking about how we'd obliterate them afterward. We need lots of new hi-tech gadgets to stop terrorists. And as the occupation goes sour we'll discover we need lots of new hi-tech gear to stop insurgents and provide security to innocent civilians.

There's the undercurrent that when we're the only superpower we deserve some rewards for our sacrifices beating the russians and all. But we don't really want to conquer the world. It's just that we have no choice because the world is full of our enemies. If Bush changed his mind about that sort of thing he'd lose his base. There are rules to the game of politics too, more than the gentlemen's agreements we think of as rules, and politicians lose by ignoring those rules.

Maybe they'll lose regardless. Sometimes things go wrong and there's no way to fix them and the public decides to throw the bums out. Like a sacrifice to the gods.

Posted by: J Thomas | Jan 3, 2005 9:49:51 AM

Another thing they might want to consider is switching back to the old good time-proven methods of extortion, corruption and assassination - as outlined in the recent book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins.

Of course it is frustrating when a foreign leader refuse to be bribed, intimidated and assassinated, but maybe - just maybe - they could find it in their hearts to restrict themselves to only starving the population of the offending country, rather than directly and actively murdering hundreds of thousands of them.

I know - it's hopelessly naive, but one can dream...

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 3, 2005 10:09:30 AM

I think the fact remains that even if we do end the Iraq deployment expeditiously, the war has still demonstrated to us that the Army is too small.

I'm not sure that this is true; the fact is, for every major war the US has instituted a draft; usually a fairly broad draft (the Vietnam draft was unusually limited; we also didn't win).

What Iraq may have demonstrated (again) is that an all-volunteer force is a luxury that the US cannot maintain while fighting a major, protracted campaign.

Inasmuch as it demonstrates a lack of capacity, it demonstrates a need for more specific training and expertise in stabilization; probably a capacity which ought to be developed in the NG and reserve components particularly (it seems more of a natural fit with the peacetime missions of the guard, particularly).

Posted by: cmdicely | Jan 3, 2005 11:30:45 AM

Before we claim that we need a larger army or not maybe we need to look at HOW we are fighting it. Most people now agree that one big reason we lost Nam was politicians running the war and the constraints they put on it.

What size army do you really need if you forget about 1. how everyone else will think about us, they hate us, just accept it; 2. rebuild costs, lets keep as much as the infrastucture intact so we can spend our money to rebuild them better than they we; 3. winning the hearts and minds.

From a cold hearted view until very recent times the object of war was to decimate the enemy, completely removing his will and ability to strike back. When you killed a king, you killed his family. Prisoners were killed, ransomed or enslaved. Pretty brutal but the war was won. How large of an attack force would an army need to level a "rebel" town? Depends - are we worried about the civilians? The buildings? the utilities? or do we just level it to rubble and end all discussion.

We have the capability to have a very small military. Missles allow us never to leave home. Nukes allow us to "subdue" a large area without loosing a single person to unfriendly fire. B52's and B2's can bring massive fire power into any backyard. All we need are pilots and people to push the button. Yet we choose to fight a war in which we rebuild what we bomb, we give teddy bears to children rather than making it a rule to indescriminantly kill, we make rules where we must get injury to us first before we can fight back and we allow respect for others religions by not leveling "holy" buildings used as weapon depots. So before you say positive or negitive about the size of the team needed to do a job - remember the job description they have been given.

Posted by: Allium | Jan 5, 2005 1:39:51 PM

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