Monday, January 10, 2011

Max Boot is still not making the argument for a larger land force

Forget grand strategy and all that. There are a couple of significant problems with this newest Max Boot column where he responds to critics of his Weekly Standard article that I commented on the other day.

Let's start near the top. "Regarding the first point: critics say that Bush and his civilian and military officials decided to send a small force to Afghanistan and then Iraq not because of force constraints but because the were wedded to the ideology of the "small footprint." There is a great deal of merit in this assertion." Great deal of merit?? I've yet to see a single piece of evidence to suggest anything but that being the case. I ask Mr. Boot to provide any, because I've never seen it. Every book, article, or primary source I've seen on the subject stated explicitly that a small footprint was decided on as a matter of principle and had nothing to do with troops available. I'll agree that force sizing was part of the calculus later in the Iraq conflict, after the insurgency grew, but for a couple years, I'd still argue it was barely a "major" part of the calculus. No one was interested in an escalation for political reasons (remember that whole "we're not in the middle of an insurgency" business?) - as well as principles. At the time, Afghanistan was going swimmingly with practically no footprint. No one was terribly sure what was going wrong in Iraq that it couldn't follow that model.

The second major problem I have with his post is in the last paragraph. "Indeed, even as we were winning in Iraq, we were losing in Afghanistan, because we didn't have enough troops to adequately garrison both countries." He goes on to state that Bush and Clinton force planners that we'd have such large commitments. Let's get past the heavily weighted term "garrison" and move on to what this logic does mean for force planners. How big of a country should the United States be prepared to "garrison"? For what purposes? We had 500K active duty troops available (not including the USMC) for Iraq and Afghanistan to "garrison" two fairly large countries with populations totaling just over 50 million people. Mr. Boot specifically listed Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan as countries the President should assure us that we won't have to commit troops to. Populations? 26 million, 10 million, and 180 million people respectively. If Mr. Boot feels we should have maintained a force size of 700K to "garrison" 50 million people and that the U.S. should maintain whatever capability necessary to do the same to other problem nations, then by that logic we'll need an army of roughly 3 million active duty soldiers. Yeah, that won't adversely effect our economy.

This last bit was a bit tongue in cheek. I'd like to think that Mr. Boot wouldn't think an army of that magnitude would be reasonable (I could be wrong though). But this "who knows what we'll have to occupy" is terrible reasoning, especially as there is no real political, strategic, or operation reasoning that would dictate the necessity to "garrison" these and other places. To say nothing of the Albright logic (we have a huge military so let's do something with it) that could put the U.S. in strategically ill-advised positions again. And finally, as I mentioned the other day, neither of these articles mentions the size and role of the National Guard or Reserves in case of national emergencies. The more I think about it, the more I think this is a good rule of thumb: if you don't think your operation is so vital to the nation that you don't think the the Guard or Reserve should be deployed for it, then you shouldn't be there at all.

Anyway, there are probably good reasons for maintaining a large land force. Max Boot is not making any of them.

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