- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

In his farewell address, retiring Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki warned against “arrogance,” seen as a code for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his supporters. Yet, arrogance has never been in short supply in the Pentagon, among senior officers as well as political appointees. Even among a leadership lacking in humility, there is widespread acceptance of the proposition that the Defense Department and the military need transformation and reform. The Pentagon is not likely to echo the State Department’s institutional dismissive response to outside suggestions that it needs to change.

What is important for transformation is not simply reorganizing the current force structure into more deployable or more mobile formations. Rather, the first step is making up for the lack of effective high-level leadership in much of the 1990s. Such a judgment may seem harsh, for all services — including the much-criticized Army — can point to a string of successes in the 1990s. Army forces were inserted — despite the urgings of its leadership — into potentially disastrous post-conflict situations in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. While the underlying conflicts remained, the presence of US soldiers prevented renewed bloodshed. In Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, recently rotated home, emerged as the focal point of US policy once al Qaeda and the Taliban were defeated. Afghans soon learned he was the key man to make things happen, more so than ambassadors or the frequent high-level visitors from Washington.

The forces that improvised such successes are now faced with a challenge to restore order in Iraq, dealing with a populace that half fears and half expects the Americans to go away and Saddam to come back. In Afghanistan, the slow pace of reconstruction has underlined an increasing security threat.

In many ways, it is not a lack of transformation but of resources that is the threat, and reforms that would reduce the force structure in which these resources are embedded are likely to compound rather than resolve problems. In Iraq, the decision to minimize resources sent to the theater meshed with a belief in Washington — on grounds that remain uncertain — that the situation would stabilize. In Afghanistan, international donors have failed to deliver money and resources that could allow Afghans to earn a living rebuilding roads rather than carrying Kalashnikovs, and the government in Kabul has failed to demonstrate that it can better people’s lives. In both cases, it is likely that more long-standing American military deployments are necessary to preserve peace.

Technology cannot substitute for such deployments, but transformation can help make sure they are effective. Despite the likelihood that the military would be called on to carry out such post-conflict missions, there has not been commensurate investment in specialist high-level headquarters, fully trained and exercised, to carry out such missions.

The military’s willingness to train for and invest in the capability to carry out combined arms warfare was largely responsible for the rapid collapse of Saddam. Its reluctance to train for or invest for the post-conflict commitments — that its leadership hopes to avoid — is now contributing to the problems it is facing in Iraq, despite the quality of the personnel and units committed.

In the First World War, it was said to take 5,000 casualties to train a major general. In Korea, it was said to take 150 casualties to train a company commander. In the past decade, the U.S. military has invested heavily in realistic training to make sure that its leaders at all levels know their business before the bullets and casualties are both real. In the 1990s, it should have been training high-level commanders and establishing headquarters to handle the type of challenge that is today being met with an improvised response and too few forces and resources. In the 1990s, weak leadership and scarce resources precluded such innovation. The price for this is being paid in Iraq today.

The key question that will guide defense transformation must be: What will be the nature of future war? Unless one believes that all such future wars will end without the need for a continuing U.S. presence on the ground or military participation in enabling security and reconstruction, a capability and willingness to carry out such missions must be a critical part of any future U.S. military.

David Isby is a Washington-based author and national security consultant.

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