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April 19, 2005

Fix What's Broken
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Further to Derek and Suzanne's colloquy on the state of the military, I offer this analysis by Charles Moskos, a pre-eminent sociologist of the US military and inspiration for much thoughtful progressive writing on the subject.  This piece is particularly interesting to me as it appears on the website of FPRI, an organization that usually puts out rather conservative thinkers.  Do I smell convergence?

Moskos says that the real readiness and retention problem is in the reserves, and in the functions filled by the reserves.  He also claims that reserve morale is low, contrary, he says to the Clinton PKOs of the 1990s, when he found reserve morale to be high, and reservists to be quite inspired by the idealistic elements of what they were doing.

To fill these non-expert functions -- interestingly, he numbers prison guards and MPs among these -- he proposes reinstating the draft.  But he quickly concludes that cannot be done and suggests, instead, offering very short-term enlistments (15 months) that would fill some of the low-tech, high-frustration military jobs and come with education benefits.

He presents some survey data that suggests college students would find this appealing.  What Moskos doesn't say, that I find interesting, is that this might accomplish some of the goals of those who want to reinstate the draft for non-military reasons.  Lots of middle-class and non-minority kids might be interested, and though we still might not have too many US legislators with kids under fire (one in the last Congress, how many in the new one?) we'd broaden the base of Americans -- maybe even including progressives -- with personal experience of the military.


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"What became known as the Abrams Doctrine led to many essential supporting tasks shifting to reserve components... This would preclude the Army from being sent into another unpopular war because public support would be needed to call up the reserves in the event of a major conflict... The era of the Abrams Doctrine has come to an end."

-- Charles Markos' "New Conception of the Citizen Soldier"

That is the essence of the "problem": How can we fight an unpopular war without the draft?

Why progressives should rack their brains trying to find an answer to that question is beyond me. If we think the American people are wrong about Iraq then we should honestly say that this war is just and we advocate forcing all classes to share the burden equally.

Instead we seem to be trying to find safe duties for graduate students so more of the lower classes can risk their lives in an unpopular war.

I appreciate your insights.

I think Cal has it right and Markos has his assumptions wrong (although his ideas has merit). The Abrams doctrine is working exactly how it was envisioned. Vietnam was an unpopular war, and the political administration avoided committing Reserves and Guard units and therefore didn't get the public deep into the issue until 1972. As a result, we were stuck in Vietnam for 15 years or so.

What we are seeing today is that, as a result of having the Reserves and Guards over there, the public IS involved and starting to show their disapproval over the war, only two-plus years into the conflict when DOD has postulated this as a 10-12 year effort. So there is success in that if the public isn't buying in, instead of increasing the effort, maybe we ought to pull out (seeing as there is no real national security threat in Iraq that we didn't lure there).

The military's personnel issue is not broken, but it could be improved. More stability in home bases, increase the end strength slightly, more coalition support, shorter missions. Fix it, don't nix it.

To say the real problem is the guard and reserves and that this was fine under Clinton is to fundamentally misunderstand the entire structure of the military. The reserves were not used very much under Clinton, certainly not large numbers of ground troops, but the size of the active ground troops were reduced to the point that today any major operation requires a large percentage of reserves.

This is simply a fact. It is fine that it is so as nobody seems to have envisioned a need for large numbers of ground troops. The reserves thus became insurance against this near to medium term vision. As it turns out the vision was wrong.

The size of the active forces obviously needs to be increased. This by itself would reduce the need for the reserves and over time they could go back to being what they really should be- insurance against a major conflict.

The Abrams doctrine of so intergrating the reserves into the active component mix that full mobilization is required for a major conflict is not going to get the job done for this nation for the forseeable future as there is very little liklihood of a major operation but rather significant numbers of small and medium sized operations.

On a historical level Iraq is actually a medium level operation. Four times as many troops were used in the Gulf War. The real issue is how small the US Army is today and how a medium level operation like Iraq can require such a high percentage of the USMC, Army Guard, and Reserves.

The notion that the public is going to turn against the mid level insurgency in Iraq given Bush's re-election, the elections in Iraq, and recent trends in Iraq is one that simply has no basis in reality.

Lane Brody

Re Markos:
15 month enlistment? Great idea, the Army is introducing it now.
"Clinton operations resulted in higher morale? Sure, they weren't being shot/IEDed at, they weren't being deployed as long, and the small numbers enabled the Army to call for volunteers to go on active duty.
"Morale is low among reservists because contractors are receiving higher reimbursement? Well, of course they are receiving more. Civilians receive greater reimbursement than the military (active or reserve) in any almost any field. And in any situation involving danger or hardship, of course civilians receive more than the military, because only the latter can be ordered into a theater. Just look at the differntials DoS pays FSOs to go to non-first world countries to work.

Lastly, I cannot agree that "The size of the active forces obviously needs to be increased". To me, what is obvious is:
--that if we hadn't obtained a peace dividend by reducing the armed forces by 40% in the 90's, we would not face a manpower shortage today
--if we had not fallen victim to the military industrial complex led by the fighter jocks in the USAF and Congress we would not have skewed investment away from ground combat systems in favor of short range fighters
What is not obvious to me is what the conventional force requirements three years from now are going to be to justify large scale long term investments in manpower now, especially as the current restructuring of the Army dramatically decreases the number of FA and ADA battalions in favor of close combat manuever and supporting forces. I am absolutely certain the restructuring will not support reaching the 48 number Rumsfeld and the CSA claim, but it will certainly increase the number from 33.
Nor is it obvious to me that there will be another surge in demand for massive numbers of conventional forces in the future as there was in 2003. Don't think we will see another Iraq any time soon. MHO.

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