Why is the Military Stressed out by Iraq???

March 19, 2005

Comment #540

Attached References:

[Ref.1] Ann Scott Tyson, "Two Years Later, Iraq War Drains Military: Heavy Demands Offset Combat Experience," Washington Post, March 19, 2005, Page A01

In Reference 1 below, Ann Tyson reports that the heavy demands of Afghanistan and Iraq (about 150,000 men and women are deployed)  are draining the military of people and equipment. She fails to mention that this strain is happening at a cost of about $500 billion a year, if one adds the Fiscal 2005 supplemental defense budget (almost $80 billion) to the rest of the defense budget (almost $420 billion)

Even if one removes the effects of inflation, the current  level of defense spending is far more than we spent at the height of the Vietnam War where we had deployed about 550,000 troops, while we also maintained the forces needed for the Cold War, including:

  • hundreds of thousands of troops in Europe and East Asia (Korea, Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines, etc.),

  • a strategic bombardment force (hundreds of Air Force bombers and missiles and navy sub-launched missiles with tens of thousands of nuclear warheads) on hair trigger alert, and

  • a rotation base of hundreds of thousands of troops at home.

Nor does Ms. Tyson note that, notwithstanding this budget largess, the modernization program in the Pentagon is in disarray or that the average of age of our weapons is increasing faster than the projections made by the Pentagon during the Clinton Administration—which, it should be remembered, candidate Bush justifiably bashed candidate Gore about in the 2000 presidential campaign.  Ms. Tyson does not relate the strain on troops in the field and equipment backlogs to the fact that projected production rates for new weapons (many of which are irrelevant to guerrilla war) are being pared back again in an effort to save them from the chopping block—the recent reports of cutbacks and stretch outs in the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter programs and the Navy's shipbuilding program being cases in point—not to mention the failures of high-cost new weapons to pass relatively benign  tests, like the Ballistic Missile Defense program or the C-130J transport airplane.  Finally, she does not mention the unfunded future liability of over a trillion dollars for the weapons in the modernization pipeline identified in the Selected Acquisition Reports.

In short, the entire military establishment is stressed out big time, but Ms. Tyson looks at the strains on recruiting and equipment backlogs as if they exist in isolation, coming only from the pace of activity in Iraq.  Yet these phenomena are all connected, as we have illustrated in hundreds of blasters about modernization, readiness, recruiting and retention, budgeting, and the conduct of war over the last 9 years. (New readers can find them archived at DNI)  Viewed from afar, as an outsider in retirement, I must say it is quite depressing to how little has been learned by the courtiers of the hall of mirrors that is Versailles-on-the-Potomac or, for that matter, the media that is supposed to be telling the people what is really going on.

There is NO question that the American military (and our nation) is being strained seriously by our adventure in Iraq, but it is time to ask why — is it simply the stress of war, as observers like Ms. Tyson imply, or is this stress a symptom of deeper structural maladies being brought to the head by a war, which, while vicious and exceedingly deadly to its participants, is tiny by comparison to the past wars that truly strained our republic (i.e., the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, or Vietnam).

In the first book ever written on the war, Sun Tzu devoted the first chapter to the decision to go to war and the importance of ensuring the people and leader were of one mind with regard to the moral legitimacy as well as the need for the war.  One reason that the war in Iraq is straining the military that our leadership chose arrogantly to ignore Master Sun's sage advice.

This error can seen in the fact that our nation's leadership has chosen not to mobilize the nation (including, amazingly, the military - industrial - congressional complex) for war.  The original case for war was based on phony intelligence coupled with the free-lunch promise that it would swift and easy, relatively bloodless, and self-financing (via Iraq's oil).  Now the case for the war has changed to promoting democracy, yet our leadership still refuses to ask for the sacrifices needed to mobilize the country for action.  For you non-believers, just consider the spectacle of our president running around the country saying action is needed now to save Social Security from going "bust" in 2017 or 2042 or whenever, but still refusing to submit a five year budget plan (including the deficit reduction plan) to Congress that includes estimates of the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than one year in the future.  Is this leadership calling for sacrifice in a just cause or is it a cynical budget shell game of trying to hide the future consequences of its current decisions?

My good friend, retired Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan, a veteran of the Pacific theater in WWII who came over the bows and rose to command of the 2nd Fleet by the late 1970s, has a thoughtful take on the nature of the leadership crisis and its relation to the theory of Just War and the strain on the military.  I urge you to read it carefully because in my opinion he is much closer to the heart of the matter than those who think throwing money at the Pentagon in time of war will solve its recruiting and equipment problems.

If The War Were Just, Rumsfeld Would Be Right: Fight With What You Got

Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN, Ret.), www.MinutemanMedia.org, March 9, 2005

[Re-printed with permission of the author]

You may recall that last year Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a soldier in Kuwait that you go to war with the army you've got. That happened to be true last year and it's still true today.

And, as more of our sons and daughters die, we should still be talking about it — because you won't find a better argument showing that this war is senseless and was so from the start.

Here's what I mean: If you're fighting a war that makes sense, you fight with the soldiers and equipment you've got—because you have to fight.

There would have surely been no backlash or criticism during WWII if the Secretaries of the Army and Navy had told a trooper you go to war with the Army you've got.

During the early stages of WWII, the Roosevelt administration gave priority to the European theater, for obvious reasons. Those of us in the Pacific theater were frequently short-changed. For example, replacement aircraft were shipped to us without weapons, bomb racks, radios and navigation gear. Our solution was to locate shot-down and crashed U.S. aircraft, send out small teams to salvage what we could, bring the stuff back to our base, install it in the new aircraft, and get them in the air.

The unacceptable option in our minds was to sit around, complain, and wait for someone else to solve our problem. And by the way, there was no policy of rotating us back to the United States every six or twelve months.

And if we had complained or demanded to go home, our peers would have been just as unsympathetic with us as our commanders. And we would have received no sympathy from the home front, which was fully mobilized on our behalf.

We all knew WWII was the right war at the right time.

Even in the case of the unpopular Vietnam conflict, the military went about its business with only the normal grumbling. For example, the swift boats and river patrol boats played prominent roles during the Vietnam conflict. They lacked armor. Like in the situation in Iraq, the crews had no place to really take cover during firefights and frequent ambushes. We had two options: Don't go on the mission (unacceptable) or improvise. The crews lined the gunwales of their boats with flak jackets and spare body armor, so they could take some cover while on patrol. There was no complaining to the Secretary of Defense. Just do what had to be done.

But judging from the unprecedented reaction to Rumsfeld's comment last year, it's not only our soldiers who may think the Iraq war is the wrong war at the wrong time, but also the pundits and members of Congress who were upset at Rumsfeld's remarks, and felt they could express their dissatisfaction without being sent home by their constituents.

And it makes sense. If you're fighting a war as a last resort, as should always be the case in war, you fight with whatever you've got.

The fact that Rumsfeld did not appear on national TV and express his own outrage at being challenged in public by a soldier makes it appear that he, too, has doubts about the legitimacy of the war. And if he does, he should say so. And our nation should take corrective action as soon as possible.

A military leader fighting a just war would have told Americans that the soldier who questioned his country's commitment to its troops is mistaken and misinformed and further complaining of this type will not be tolerated.

As the Iraq war drags on and more people die, you can bet you wouldn't hear anything like this from Rumsfeld if he were confronted by another soldier today.

Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN, ret) formerly commanded the U.S. Second Fleet and heads the Military Advisory Committee of True Majority.

Chuck Spinney

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference 1

Two Years Later, Iraq War Drains Military
Heavy Demands Offset Combat Experience

By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 19, 2005; Page A01




The unexpectedly heavy demands of sustained ground combat are depleting military manpower and gear faster than they can be fully replenished. Shortfalls in recruiting and backlogs in needed equipment are taking a toll, and growing numbers of units have been broken apart or taxed by repeated deployments, particularly in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.


Yet such remedies take time, and no one, including senior officials, can predict how long the all-volunteer force can sustain this accelerated wartime pace. Recruiting troubles, especially, threaten the force at its core. But with a return to the draft widely viewed as economically and politically untenable, senior military leaders say the nation's security depends on drumming up broader public support for service.


The active-duty Army and Marine Corps, and five of six reserve components of the military, all failed to meet at least some recruiting goals in the first quarter of fiscal 2005


Because the Army traditionally undersupplies Guard and reserve units, few had the troops or gear needed when mobilized. As a result, large numbers of soldiers and equipment were shifted from one unit to another, or "cross-leveled," to cobble together a force to deploy.

"We were woefully underequipped before the war started. That situation hasn't gotten any better. As a matter of fact, it gets a little bit worse every day, because we continue to cross-level," Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told Congress this month.


"For the all-volunteer force to work, it has to work all the time, not just in peacetime," Schultz said. "It's now time to answer the call to serve, to assemble on the village green."