Saturday, December 18, 2004

Adding Army Brigades

Lord knows I think the Army needs more combat brigades. So when an author I respect calls for expanding the size of the Army, it is almost painful to say he is wrong. But not painful in the end--just almost. Kagan is off base.

He starts out by attacking Rumsfeld over the armor-in-Iraq episode where the secretary said you go to war with the army you have and not the army you want. What is wrong with that? I'm not mad that the soldier asked the question. This is an American army after all. An army of free citizens. Rumsfeld merely answered with the candor that has been refreshing in the past (as in actually saying we will kill the enemy). Kagan is doing what the loyal opposition is doing--seizing on a non-issue to attack someone they never liked anyway. I was worried about Rumsfeld in the pre-Iraq days and was very concerned that he would kill two divisions. But I think Iraq's post-war stabilization challenges have disabused him of his fighter pilot notions that mere infantry is obsolete. So I am not calling for his resignation for the Army issue or the plastic turkey issue that is being spun up out of the armor-in-Iraq question. (My take here and here.)

Kagan calls for a larger army and normally I'd be much more sympathetic. But calling for hundreds of thousands more troops to add frontline strength is not necessarily called for. Even when we had an army of 18 division, I'd guess we had maybe 56 brigades. Perhaps four of the divisions had only two brigades and we had more separate brigades. But as I wrote, the Army is adding brigades by converting Cold War-era units that are not much used now into line units. The Army is also converting jobs now done by soldiers into civilian jobs which will free up more slots under the current 500,000 ceiling available for combat units. As it is, we are going from 33 line brigades to 43 by adding 1 brigade to each division and we will add at least 5 more and maybe 10. I think we have an extra separate brigade now, too. So this brings us to at least 49 brigades and maybe 54 in the near future. Just two or so shy of the level we had with nearly 800,000 in the active Army. All that without adding to the ceiling.

Look, if Rumsfeld can't add combat brigades by his method, I will gladly join with the calls to expand the Army. And maybe even to call for Rumsfeld's resignation. But Kagan is a little premature in his criticisms.