Several weeks ago, the New York Times offered a maddening editorial calling for a 90,000 troop expansion of the armed forces - truly an idea in search of a strategic rationale. (Why again does America need a 750,000 soldier army?)
But on Sunday the Times really went overboard with an editorial calling for this expansion of the military to be paid for with cuts to the Navy and Air Force.
The United States enjoys total dominance
of the world’s seas and skies and will for many years to come. The Army
and the Marines have proved too small for the demands of simultaneous
ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are the forces most likely to
be called on in future interventions against terrorist groups or to
rescue failing states. Reducing the Navy by one carrier group and the
Air Force by two air wings would save about $5 billion a year.
There is much here to chew on. First, the U.S Navy and Air Force represent this nation's most significant asymmetrical advantages; we have absolute control over the global commons (namely the air and the sea). Diminishing America's advantage in these two areas is quite simply a bad idea. But, taking funds from the Navy and the Air Force and using it to expand the ground force. That is a terrible, head-shakingly bad idea.
It is our large ground force that provides the most limited military advantage for the United States - and if anything, when deployed, can serve as a real liability to U.S. strategic interests. It is far more difficult and extraordinarily expensive to mobilize our ground forces (not to mention, quite difficult to get them out), they quickly become fair game for insurgents and guerrilla attacks (as we've seen in Iraq) and is a blunt instrument when scalpels are generally more effective in confronting the transnational and non-state challenges of the 21st century. Indeed our Navy and in particular our Air Force are often far better for dealing with these threats.
Think for a second about the last three wars the U.S. has fought. The Iraq War, a manpower-heavy, counter-insurgency focused conflict, has been a quagmire. Not only is our Army ill-equipped for long-term deployments so too is the country as a whole. But then look at Kosovo, Afghanistan, even the first Gulf War. In each of these conflicts, the Air Force took the lead, with far more positive results. While I realize that each of these wars are unique and not necessarily comparable, if there is a lesson of the post-Cold War era, it is that air power and to a lesser extent naval power represents America's greatest strategic advantage. Now, why the New York Times would think that building up our ground force at the expense of a cheaper and generally more effective investment in the Navy and Air Force is difficult to comprehend.
What's even harder to understand is the Times' argument that the U.S army is going to be "called on in future interventions against terrorist groups or to
rescue failing states."
Again, while other methods would seem more appropriate in dealing with both of these threats does the New York Times really believe that the country is ready for another massive deployment of U.S. troops? It's nearly impossible to imagine such an event occurring in the near-term. Unless the U.S is prepared to once again send 250,000 troops into harm's way then there is little necessity for building a ground force of 750,000 troops. How much additional security will America receive from 90,000 additional troops and at a cost of $110 billion over 6 years? Very little.
And the notion that our army is most likely to be called on for rescuing failing states or even waging war against terrorist groups strikes me as foolish strategic thinking. If the past five years has taught us any one thing it is that there are many better tools in the arsenal to deal with both of these challenges. If anything our army should be the least likely option to be called on -- or at the very least should be the option of last resort.