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May 18, 2005

Boots on the Ground, Pumps Too
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I am on the road this week, visiting my family in New Mexico, so here's my unofficial poll on the latest foreign policy happenings: both seat mates on my flight out here offered unsolicited opinions on John Bolton upon finding out that I work on national security issues. A Republican on my left and an unaffiliated on my right -- after a spirited exchange over the absurdity of it all -- both agreed that the Congress and its conservative leadership is off the tracks and dragging the rest of us unwilling participants along for the ride.

An important contribution to the DA discussion about how to fix our broken legislature: please have a look at "The War Congress: Shouldering the Responsibilities of a US Global Role" (PDF).

This document examines the shocking failure of today's Congress to participate in foreign policy and defense deliberations in a truly meaningful way. It examines the War Powers Act, specifically in the context of congressional actions post 9/11 and the second Iraq war. Author Eugene Kogan depicts the dangers that befall us when committees of jurisdiction become political advocacy venues -- rather than oversight focused.

On expanding the size of the US Army by 100,000 individuals. Although I believe we do need more "boots on the ground", I fear that calling for 100K more troops is just too easy because it assumes that the military -- especially landpower forces -- is the organization that can best solve problems in the post 9/11 world. We have to be more creative than the "more is better" solution. Any additional personnel on the defense side should always be discussed and in fact conditioned upon an integrated strategy of balance between civilian and military tools for engagement.

What do I mean by that?

We need more than boots. In fact, over-reliance on boots may be a primary cause of our public relations problems with the rest of the world. We need loafers, pumps, Birkenstocks, waffle-stompers, sensible flats and tourists in tennis shoes out around the planet… working to retrieve the golden reputation of the good ole USA. The more the face of America is seen in uniform and holding weapons, the less this reputation holds up.

Now, I love the Army as much as anybody, so why do I have a problem with it expanding to carry out ever more duties around the globe? This question needs to be answered with perspective sharing. The American experience with the military institution is by and large positive and mutual. Civilian control over the military is scrupulous and most military officers themselves know democratic principles backwards and forwards.

This is, however, not true for many countries. Just think back two or three decades. In Central and South America, military dictatorships crushed popular participation and democracy. Today, countries where the military is the most functional government organizations are not considered healthy (Pakistan) by any democratic standard. If the United States bills itself as the paragon of democracy, it should model balanced partnership between civilians and the military. Today, as is discussed frequently on this blog, that is just not the case in our tools for engagement.

How about this suggestion? Why doesn't the Army just come out and declare that it will assume a ten year "interim" inter-agency leadership responsibility for our current global challenges...but with the explicit acknowledgment that part of the decade long planning will be to de-militarize our international security policy? During this time, Congress and the federal agencies will work together with the military to set up a time-line and framework for discussion, plus explicit benchmarks for how spending priorities must change. This also means that the military will have to get used to advocating for civilian agencies. I know this is professionally uncomfortable for the uniformed, but we must find a way for this shared responsibility, indeed, this vital national security interest to move forward productively. American landpower professionals have the best stories to tell about how the world has changed. We need to figure out a way for them to inform the process of helping us create better policy. From my discussions with friends in the military, most of them support a variation on the theme of a larger Army…but always with serious caveats about balance and who should be responsible for what. Progressive security policy is to be found in those footnotes. Bonus: it gives the Army ten years to figure out the doctrine for what "fighting and winning the nation's wars" means in today's world.


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» Boots on the Ground from Ezra Klein
Lorelai Kelly has an absurdly good post thinking through the implications of the call for 100,000 more troops that's been echoing around. Do we need that many boots on the ground? Nut grafs: We need more than boots. In [Read More]


I like the direction you've pointed out, except for the notion of the military taking charge of its own mission.

Perhaps a cross-over organization (I don't want to say para-military) under the State Dept that could employ the military's facilities for training and transport, etc., but with a mission of democracy building (nation building) rather than the clear military mission of butt-kicking.

The final paragraph is a real dandy, and makes me happy I live in a "Red State."

Try this:

We should have a military sufficient to the missions to be assigned.

We should be extremely careful about the what, when and where of those missions.

When people dedicate themselves to killing Americans, we should find and kill them as quickly and as ruthlessly as possible.

Let the progressives populate the State Department and the Peace Corp.

"We should be extremely careful about the what, when and where of those missions."

I agree Tom E -- a war in mesopotamia for ideology really shot that to sh*t though, didn't it?
...and had that added bonus of f-ing our ability to respond when "people dedicate themselves to killing Americans."

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