August 29, 2007

Army Transformation

This article by conservative military historian Fred Kaplan landed in my in-box three times on Tuesday. It was sent to me by friends and colleagues and, needless to say, has very likely made the rounds in the Pentagon and other national security agencies already.

The article is well worth reading if you are into such matters as military innovation, institutional change, and the institutional effects of the war in Iraq on the U.S. Army. It is a well-written and thoughtful piece. In fact, the only critique I have on the article has nothing to do with anything Kagan writes but, instead, with a quote attributed to the Vice Chairman of the Army, Gen. Richard Cody.

Let me set the scene. In May, an Army Lieutenant Colonel wrote an excellent article decrying the performance of senior Army leadership (i.e., its Generals) in the conduct of the Iraq debacle. The article, A Failure in Generalship, was very widely read throughout the Army community. Two months later, General Cody finds himself in a room filled with Army Captains, fielding a series of questions that echo the complaints set out in the Generalship article. To whit:

In response to the captains’ questions, General Cody acknowledged, as
senior officers often do now, that the Iraq war was “mismanaged” in its first
phases. The original plan, he said, did not anticipate the disbanding of the
Iraqi Army, the disruption of oil production or the rise of an insurgency.
Still, he rejected the broader critique. “I think we’ve got great general
officers that are meeting tough demands,” he insisted. He railed instead at
politicians for cutting back the military in the 1990s. “Those are the
people who ought to be held accountable,” he said.

Here's the beef: Gen. Cody copped out with that answer. I happen to have worked for Gen. Cody at one point in my checkered career and I can say with some authority that Cody is known for being a straight talker. He's a no-bullshit kind of guy. So his answer above is surprising because it is a dive. Let me translate what he meant:

“I think we’ve got great general officers that are meeting tough demands." This means: I and the other general officers that lead the Army are doing a great job. We are not at fault. That article is wrong. Instead of being diplomatic, he should have been straightforward with his Captains. He should have acknowledged some of the shortcomings which, at this point, are clearly evident.

Those are the people who ought to be held accountable.” This means: blame the civilians that were in office in the 1990s. Now, who where the civilians in office in the 1990s? Democrats. According to Cody, the poor state of the Army today is due to the Clinton Administration. What a crock.

During the Clinton administration there were significant troop and budget reductions as well as an increase in the Army's operation tempo (i.e. the number of times forces were deployed). This caused significant wining in the Army because it had to deal with increased deployments with lower troop levels (smaller force structure). This meant that there were too many deployments for the size of the force. But what Cody doesn't say, and how we now know Gen. Cody is a political hack, is that the troop reductions and budget cuts first happened under President George H.W. Bush immediately following Desert Storm. Further, had 9/11 not happened, idiot Rumsfeld would have cut the size of the Army even further (I think reducing it by two divisions was the going in assumption, if I recall) and used the savings to buy more airplanes and space technology.

Thus, to blame the policymakers of the 1990s is very disingenuous and smacks of political spin. Moreover, how reductions and mismanagement of the force in the 1990s impacts our current piss-poor performance in Iraq, is not clear. I think it's a leap of logic. Very disappointing. Yet another example of the failure of Generalship in the Army.

One more thing. The article alludes to the changes the Army underwent as a result of the Vietnam War. That war was a watershed event for the Army as an institution. Many of the most redeeming characteristics of the current institution, such as the degree of professionalization, was borne from the Army's experience during that war and immediately afterwards. (Even some of the not-so-redeeming characteristics, such as it's aversion to counter-insurgency, is a result of that war). The current war in Iraq will play a similar role in transforming the U.S. Army. The jury is still out on what the Army of the future will look like as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but there are some fine line and field grade officers that definitely have an idea. The Young Turks of this generation.

1 comment:

Sean said...

When discussing the draw down of the 1990's and connecting that to the civilian leadership of the time you must look beyond the 1990's to find your connection. The military draw down of that period was in fact a political decision. Although implemented by the Clinton Administration, it was planned and initiated by the first Bush Administration. As a lieutenant at the time station in Germany prior to the Gulf War and during the Bush Administration, I recall traveling around to all my sites and conducting mandatory chain teaching briefings about the drawdown specifically targeted at the civilian employees of the Army. This was implementation of the so called "peace dividends" resulting from the end of the Cold War. Iraq's Kuwait adventure and the resulting Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, merely delayed the draw down until Clinton came to office. I'm not saying the drawdown was justified or not, simply pointing out a common mistake on which administration to hold accountable for it. Planned, initiated and put on hold by the first Bush Administration. Implemented by the Clinton Administration.