The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Memo to rogue states: now's the time to chance your arm!

The Dear Leader in Pyongyang, the Supreme Leader in Tehran, are surely too sensible to lay down a military challenge to the US. Aren't they?

Perhaps, listening to the cracker-barrel philosopher Donald Rumsfeld firing off a zinger in response to Thomas Wilson's famous question, and reading Jonathan Weisman's (A1) piece today in the warmongering Post [1] -
The war's length and intensity has clearly left the Army winded.
- crackpot dictators everywhere may feel that home field advantage plus a US military systemically frazzled by a commitment of a mere 150,000 or so troops in one theatre gives them a fighting chance of pulling Uncle Sam's beard and getting away with it.

A piece by Michael O'Hanlon in the US Army War College's Parameters (Autumn 2004) The Need to Increase the Size of the Deployable Army looks at the current efforts to reshape the US Army for the roles in which it is likely to be used [2] - but concludes, as the title suggests, that more bodies will be required - O'Hanlon says 40,000 more. Which, to this layman, seems rather on the paltry side, given the current amount of overstretch, and the long list of potential further trouble-spots the flaring up of any one of which would make that overstretch a whole lot worse.

One has to beware of Pentagon brass talking with forked tongue: essential lubrication for the military-industrial gravy train, after all. (The cost of O'Hanlon's 40,000 is only around $10 billion a year. And, unlike a weapons programme of similar cost, there are no arms company profits to kick back to the pols who approve the deal.) But the problems caused by the Iraq deployment seem real enough - and, in weighing the assessments of brass and pols, the case of Eric Shinseki (March 3 2003) is naturally uppermost in one's mind.

What's striking from O'Hanlon's piece is the Rubik's Cube-style shifting of forces that making the numbers in Iraq has required or may require in the future: for example (p3), the Iraq invasion
has meant reducing the Marine Corps presence in Okinawa; it also means asking marines to accept a temporarily higher global deployment pace themselves. (Even though their personnel are not perfect substitutes for marines, the Navy and Air Force could increase certain deployments in East Asia and elsewhere temporarily to compensate for a reduced Marine Corps presence.)

For a military which is calling up grandmothers from the Reserves, deploying the navy on dry land really doesn't seem too much of a stretch.

(A 1996 piece by O'Hanlon under hed Ready for Action is distinctly Pollyanna-ish. He says that
The United States Could Probably Win Simultaneous Wars in Korea and the Gulf.
And ventures to suggest that
rather than bank on future spending increases, the Pentagon might be wiser to reduce force structure in order to buy equipment.

That was then...)

  1. They're all piling in: pieces in the New York Times today, Newsweek (no post date) to name but two.

    Somebody with Nexis should crunch the stats for coverage since the Glorious Victory of the difficulties with equipment that US forces in Iraq have been having. My guess is, in effect, the Tom and Don double act gave the media permission to go to town on the issue (which has clearly been around for months, at the very least).

  2. Hordes of armoured divisions with heavy tanks are as obsolete as the Warsaw Pact they were organised to fight.

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