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IS THE U.S. MILITARY DANGEROUSLY UNDERSIZED?

FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
By Gary D. Halbert
October 7, 2003

IN THIS ISSUE:

1.  In The Post-9/11 World, Our Military May Be Too Small.

2.  Stratfor.com Argues We Should Increase The Military Now.

3.  Will It Take Another Terrorist Attack To Know For Sure?

Introduction

The Bush administration, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in particular, have argued for several months that we do not need more forces in Iraq.  Yet with US troops dying almost daily in Iraq, even the casual observer would conclude that more forces would be very helpful. 

One of the problems is, the US military force may simply be too small.  We are definitely spread out in too many places.  And troops must be held in reserve in case another hot spot (or two) should erupt.

Beginning in the Bush 41 administration and during the Clinton years, our military has shrunk by 40%. Army divisions have dropped from 18 to 10. During the same period, the Air Force has also downsized by nearly 40%, falling from 36 fighter wings (active and reserve) to 20.  Similar decreases have occurred in other branches of the armed services.

Now we are in a new kind of war, the War On Terror (WOT), and it is far from over.  It may get worse before it gets better.  As a result, many experts argue that the US needs to expand the military significantly and sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, it appears that any such plans may have to wait until after the 2004 election, and that assumes Bush is re-elected.

This week, I have elected to reprint an interesting article published last week by our friends at Stratfor.com which addresses the military debate.  Stratfor is the highly respected global intelligence firm which I have quoted often in the past.  Stratfor’s founder, Dr. George Friedman, offers a serious look at why we need to significantly expand the military to pursue the WOT and increase homeland security.

QUOTE:

The Unpredictability of War and Force Structure

by Dr. George Friedman of Stratfor.com

Summary

In the United States’ open-ended war against al Qaeda and militant Islam, two factors are driving up requirements for the size of the U.S. military. One is the unpredictability surrounding the number of theaters in which this war will be waged in the next two years, and the second is the type of warfare in which the United States is compelled to engage, which can swallow up huge numbers of troops in defensive operations. However, for several reasons, U.S. defense personnel policies have not yet adjusted to this reality.

Analysis

Prior to the beginning of the Iraq campaign, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked how long the war would last. His response was both wise and true: He said that he didn't know, because the enemy got to vote. Much of the discussion about the length, cost and requirements of U.S. military operations in Iraq should be answered the same way -- there is no answer because the other side gets to vote. The Iraqi command decided to abandon conventional warfare and shift to guerrilla warfare. It is as unreasonable to ask how long this will last and how much it will cost as it would have been to ask Abraham Lincoln in 1862 when the Civil War would end and how much it would cost. It is an unanswerable question.

War is extremely predictable, with 20-20 hindsight. It is easy to say now that the Soviets would defeat the Germans in World War II. All of us know now that the North Vietnamese had the advantage in Vietnam. We all know now that the Normandy invasion would work. That’s the easy part of military analysis; predicting the future is the hard part. It is possible to glimpse the outlines of the general forces that are engaged and to measure their relative strength, but the finer the granularity sought, the harder prediction is. The only certainty to be found is that all wars end eventually, and that the war you are fighting is only occasionally the war you expected to fight.

No one, therefore, knows the course of the U.S.-militant Islamist war. The CIA has produced no secret papers nor uncovered any hidden plans in the caves of Afghanistan that reveal the truth. War is about the difference between plans and events: Nothing goes according to plan, partly because of unexpected failures among the planners and partly because the enemy gets a vote. Carl von Clausewitz, the father of modern military theory, had a word for that: friction. The friction of war creates an ever-widening gap between plans and reality.

That means that the first and most important principle of military planning is to plan for the worst. No general was ever condemned for winning a war with too many troops. Many generals - and political leaders -- are reviled for not using enough troops. Sometimes the manpower is simply not available; demographics limit the number of troops available. But the lowest ring of the military inferno must be reserved for leaders who take a nation to war, having access to massive force but choosing to mobilize the least numbers they think they can get by with, rather than leaving a healthy -- even unreasonable -- margin to make up for the friction of war. Calibrating force to expected requirements is almost always going to lead to disaster, because as we all know, everything comes in late and over-budget.

Washington is engaged with the question of what constitutes sufficient force structure. As one might imagine, the debate cuts to the heart of everything the United States is doing; the availability of force will determine the success or failure of its war. And here, it appears to us, the administration has chosen a radical course -- one of maintaining a narrow margin of error on force structure, based on plans that do not necessarily take into account that al Qaeda gets to vote.  [Emphasis added.]

Last week, while speaking at the National Defense University, Rumsfeld repeated his conviction that the United States had deployed sufficient force in Iraq and that with additional deployments it would be able to contain the situation there. Last week, U.S. officials announced the mobilization of additional reserve and National Guard units for 18 months of duty.

The reality is this: The United States went to war on Sept. 11, 2001, and since that date, it has not increased the aggregate size of its armed forces in any strategically significant way. It has raised the effectively available force by reaching into its reserve and National Guard units. That short-term solution has served well for the first two years of the war. However, deployment requirements tend to increase over the course of a war, so the needs in the first year were relatively light and increased progressively as additional theaters of operation were added. [Emphasis added.]

The problem with this structure of forces is simple. People can choose to leave the military and its reserve and National Guard components -- and they will. Following extensive deployments, or anticipating such deployments, many will leave the active force as their terms expire or leave the reserve components when they can. In order to replace these forces, the pipeline should be full of recruits. This is not World War II. The requirements for all specialties, including combat arms, will not be filled by basic training and a quick advanced course. Even in the simplest specialties, it will take nearly a year to develop the required expertise -- not just to be deployed, but to be deployed and effective. For more complex specialties, the timeline lengthens.

U.S. leaders appear to be giving some attention to maintaining the force at its current size, although we think the expectations on retention in all components are optimistic. But even if they are dead on, the loss of personnel will be most devastating among field-grade officers and senior noncommissioned officers -- who form the backbone of the military. These are men and women in their 30s and 40s who have families and mortgages -- none of which might survive the stress of a manpower plan designed in a way that imposes maximum unpredictability and disruption on mature lives. The net result is that the military might keep its current size but become thin-waisted: lots of young people, lots of gray hair, not nearly enough in between.  [Emphasis added.]

The problem, however, is that keeping the force stable is not enough by a long shot. The United States is involved in two significant conflicts, in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also operating in smaller deployments throughout and on the periphery  of the Islamic world. Added to this are immediate and potential requirements for homeland security, should al Qaeda strike again, as the U.S. government consistently predicts is likely. When these requirements are added up and compared to the kind of force planning and expectations that were being discussed prior to Sept. 11, it is obvious that the U.S. force is at its limit, even assuming that the complexities of reserve units weren't added to the mix.

The strategic problem is that there is absolutely no reason to believe that the demands on the current force represent the maximum. The force level is decided by the administration; the force requirement is decided by a committee composed of senior Pentagon officials, Congress and al Qaeda. And on this committee, al Qaeda has the decisive vote. [Emphasis added.]

Al Qaeda’s strategy is to expand the conflict as broadly as possible. It wants to disperse U.S. forces, but it also wants U.S. forces to intrude as deeply into the Islamic world as possible in order to trigger an uprising not only against the United States, but also against governments allied with the United States. There is a simple-minded answer to this, which is to refuse to intervene. The flaw in that answer is that it would serve al Qaeda's purpose just as well, by proving that the United States is weak and vulnerable. Intervention carries the same cost as non-intervention, but with the upside that it might produce victories.

Therefore, the United States cannot easily decline combat when it is offered. Al Qaeda intends to offer as much combat as possible. From the Philippines to Morocco, from central Asia to central Africa, the scope -- if not the tempo -- of operations remains in al Qaeda's hands. Should Indonesia blow sky high or Egypt destabilize, both of which are obviously among al Qaeda's hopes, U.S. forces will be required to respond.

There is another aspect to this. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is engaged in guerrilla wars. The force required to combat a guerrilla army is not determined by the size of the guerrilla forces, but rather by defensive requirements. A very small guerrilla force can menace a large number of targets, even if it cannot hit them all. Those targets must be protected for military or political reasons. Pacification cannot take place when the population is exposed to guerrilla forces at the will of the guerrillas. A narrow defensive posture, as has been adopted in Afghanistan, cedes pacification. In Iraq, where ceding pacification is not a political option, the size of the force is determined not by the enemy’s force, but by the target set that must be protected.

Two factors, therefore, are driving up requirements for the size of the U.S. armed forces. First, no one can define the number of theaters in which the United States will be deployed over the next two years. Second, the type of warfare in which the United States is compelled to engage after the initial assault is carried out is a force hog: It can swallow up huge numbers of troops in duties that are both necessary and parasitic -- such as patrolling 15 bridges, none of which might ever be attacked during the war, but all of which must be defended.

Rumsfeld’s reassurances that there are enough forces in Iraq miss the key question: Are there enough troops available and in the pipeline to deal with unexpected events in two years? Iraq might be under control by then, or it might not. Rumsfeld doesn’t know that, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi doesn’t, Osama bin Laden doesn’t. No one knows whether that is true. Nor does anyone know whether the United States will be engaged in three or four other theaters of operations by that time. It is certainly al Qaeda’s intention to make that happen, and so far al Qaeda’s record in drawing the United States into difficult situations should not be discounted.

The problem is that on the one hand, the Defense Department is in the process of running off critically needed troops with unpredictable and spasmodic call-ups. Second, the number of men and women in the training pipeline has not taken a quantum leap forward in the course of the war. The United States is engaged in a global war, but its personnel policies have not adjusted to that reality. This is the first major war in American history that has not included a large expansion of the armed forces. [Emphasis added.]

There are a number of reasons for this. At the beginning of the war, the administration envisioned it as a primarily covert war involving special forces and some air power. Officials did not see this war as a division-level conflict. They were wrong. They did not count on their enemy’s ability to resort to effective guerrilla warfare. They did not expect the old manpower hog to raise its ugly head. In general, Rumsfeld believed that technology could substitute for manpower, and that large conventional formations were not necessary. He was right in every case but one: large-scale guerrilla warfare. Or more precisely, the one thing the United States didn’t want to be involved in is the one thing the enemy dealt up. When you think about it, that makes sense.

The assumption on which this war began was that there was ample U.S. force structure for the requirements. At this point, that is true only if one assumes there are no further surprises pending. Since this war has been all about surprises, any force structure built on that assumption is completely irresponsible. We suspect that Rumsfeld and his people are aware of this issue. The problem is that the Bush administration is in an election year, and increasing the force by 50 percent or doubling it is not something officials want to do now. It cannot be done by conscription [mandatory service]. Not only are the mechanisms for large-scale conscriptions missing, but a conscript army is the last thing needed: The U.S. military requires a level of technical proficiency and commitment that draftees don't bring to bear. [Emphasis added.]

To keep the force at its current size, Congress must allocate a large amount of money for personnel retention. A father of three with a mortgage payment based on his civilian income cannot live on military pay. Military pay must not be permitted to rise; it must be forced to soar. This is not only to retain the current force size but to increase it. In addition to bringing in raw recruits and training them, this also means, as in World War II, bringing back trained personnel who have left the service and -- something the military will gag over -- bringing in trained professionals from outside, directly into the chain of command and not just as civilian employees. [Emphasis added.]

Thinking out of the box is something Washington always talks about but usually does by putting a box of corn flakes on top of their heads. That’s all right in peacetime -- but this is war, and war is a matter of life and death. In the end, this is the problem: While American men and women fight and die on foreign land, the Pentagon’s personnel officers are acting like this is peacetime. The fault lies with a series of unexpected events and Rumsfeld’s tendency to behave as if nothing comes as a surprise.

The defense secretary needs to understand that in war, being surprised is not a failure -- it is the natural commission. The measure of a good command is not that one anticipates everything, but that one quickly adjusts and responds to the unexpected. No one expected this type of guerrilla war in Iraq, although perhaps in retrospect, everyone should have. But it is here, and next year will bring even more surprises.

The Army speaks of “A Force of One.” We prefer “ The Force Ready for the Unexpected.The current U.S. force is not. [Emphasis added.]

END QUOTE

Conclusions

There is little disagreement that US military forces will be stretched dangerously thin should another problem arise that requires the use of significant force.  President Bush and his advisors undoubtedly know this but are apparently delaying a move to increase the military significantly due to political considerations.

Conservatives like to blame Bill Clinton for the downsizing of our military, and he certainly deserves much of the credit (or discredit).  But in fact the downsizing of the military began during the Bush, Sr. administration.  Yet both assertions miss the point: Post 9/11, we are in a new kind of war that demands a larger military and much better intelligence.

The problem is, the deficit is already in the area of a half a trillion dollars.  Federal spending is out of control.  Instead of endorsing bloated farm bills and pork barrel spending programs, and envisioning other massive social spending splurges, the Bush administration should step up to the plate when it comes to increasing the military – whether it is popular or not.  Let’s not wait until another crisis develops somewhere or another terrorist attack occurs on our soil.

Along this line, we should give a thought to Howard Dean.  This man is openly anti-military and anti-war, yet he is arguably the Democratic frontrunner for president.  Were he to win the election next year, the US military would very likely be downsized even further.  Who knows, he might also decide to end the War On Terror.  

Americans have short memories.  It has been over two years since 9/11.  Dean’s supporters have apparently forgotten.  I haven’t and I expect you haven’t.  That is why I chose to reprint the article above from Stratfor.  Feel free to forward it to others.

Best wishes,

Gary D. Halbert

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Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, Halbert Wealth Management, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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