Friday, August 05, 2005

Citizen Soldiers

Our Army can stand a short-term stress but if the pace of operations continues, it could harm our Army by driving high quality volunteers from the ranks to escape the high operating tempo. I used to think that a foreign legion was the answer to manpower problems but I fully retract that opinion now.

A year ago, I advocated creating a foreign legion-type organization that could fight in Iraq but be disbanded once the need for US troops declined:

American officers and NCOs with bilingual skills would lead lower-ranking enlisted personnel recruited from foreign countries. Form them into national-based companies in plug and play light infantry battalions that could be attached to our brigades or used independently. Base them on US or allied territory overseas from basic training on. Teach them English to understand commands and citizenship to give them goals to work for. Teach them riot control and counter-insurgency techniques. Guarantee that they will face two tours overseas in combat in a 6-year term of enlistment. Provide them with citizenship upon completion of their terms (or upon wounding or death in combat) and allow them to transfer at the end of their service to the regular Army or Marines or become a civilian and move to America. There will be no retirement pay from the AFL. Think of them as temps. Do not let them re-enlist in the AFL to keep a mercenary force from developing in our military establishment. Indeed, max out their rank at sergeant E-5.

And building such a force would be better than a dedicated constabulary corps in the Army to keep our Army a single force dedicated to winning wars instead of bifurcating into hard and soft units. We will avoid the problem of needlessly expanding our military and then having to pay for it since we can just disband these units at any time and pull the US cadre back to the Army and Marines. We'd have combat-oriented forces that we can actually use with a reward that many will want very badly. Plus, we'd give people friendly toward us an opportunity to fight with us when their own countries will not help us fight our common enemy.

We could aim for 15,000 in 30 battalions, bringing in 5 battalions every year as we discharge 5 battalions.

An American Foreign Legion. I like the idea.

And the stress on our Army continues as the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan require us to cycle troops through those countries from the active and reserve components. We need to do something. Over the short run, our Army can handle the stress. In the long run, it can't. A foreign legion seemed like the way to bridge the gap without adding force structure we might not pay for when the immediate problem passes.

Max Boot recently agreed that we can't pull out of Iraq and we can't draft the needed troops. He mentioned a foreign legion, too:

The proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act is targeted at children of undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. for more than five years but not born here. They would get legal status and become eligible for citizenship if they graduate from high school, stay out of trouble and either attend college for two years or serve two years in the armed forces. This bill, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), drew 48 cosponsors in the Senate last year but failed to get a floor vote. It is likely to be reintroduced soon.

The DREAM Act is a great idea, but I would go further and offer citizenship to anyone, anywhere on the planet, willing to serve a set term in the U.S. military. We could model a Freedom Legion after the French Foreign Legion. Or we could allow foreigners to join regular units after a period of English-language
instruction, if necessary.

But thinking about this subject, I've changed my mind. I don't like the idea of a mercenary foreign legion to cope with the current stress on the force. Sure, let foreigners into our military but not as separate units. We do have foreigners in our military, although I was not aware of the numbers:

About 35,000 non-citizens are currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, while another 12,000 serve in the Reserve Components. The navy has the largest proportion of non-citizens on active duty, almost 16,000, nearly half the total. The Marine Corps has about 6,500, the Army about 5,000, and the Air force about 3,000. The differences are the result of variations in the service regulations governing the re-enlistment of non-citizens. The Navy and Marine Corps place no restrictions, while the Army allows them to stay in for only 8 years of service, and the Air Force limits them to no more than 6. This is to encourage the non-citizen troops to become naturalized citizens.

I formerly wanted a separate force that could endure losses without rocking home front morale as much as the loss of citizens. On reflection this seems morally bankrupt and even if it works in the short run, in the long run the loss of reliance on citizens would harm our ability to sustain a war. If the war is something that others fight or endure, will citizens and voters endure even the lesser pain and inconvenience they are asked to put up with?

I am sympathetic to the call for public sacrifice to mobilize support. This factor alone argues against a foreign legion that insulates us from the need to sacrifice. Chester (via Winds of Change) wanted the President in a recent speech to call for public sacrifice:

He then needs to ask people for sacrifice, and for two kinds of sacrifice. First, he needs to ask for people to join the military. He needs to ask those who've thought about it for awhile to come off the bench and get in the game. Make it very clear that their country needs them. Don't mention any kind of economic incentives, etc, because while those are nice, they won't give his remarks the right tenor. Instead, call upon people to serve in the same inspiring language that has always marked such calls.

The second sacrifice needs to be from the rest of the population. What it should be I'm not sure, but there needs to be some kind of program that people can participate in, contribute to, and otherwise get a sense of involvement in the war. It needs to not just be such in spirit, but also in effect, such that it won't just give people a feeling of involvement, but it needs to actually help the war effort. It might be adopt-a-soldier, it might be war bonds, it might be a list of charities that help the war effort (like Spirit of America), or it might be something else entirely. There is a great untapped reservoir of popular patriotism and a similar reservoir of desire to be involved and to play a part in victory.

Still, I am cautious about this line of reasoning. Like the call for a draft, I suspect that some are calling for sacrifice as a means of weakening public support for the war by placing unnecessary burdens on the public.

Most basically, I think we are trying to solve the wrong problem if we create a foreign legion--mercenaries--to fight for us when recruitment falters. Victor Hanson thinks reliance on mercenaries is a sign of decline:

Much of the instability of the fourth and third centuries B.C. in Greece was due to the decline of the notion of citizenship and the growth of a large pool of transient professional warriors whose loyalties were entirely predicated on money, not ideas, roots, or belief in the polis.

While, as I wrote to Max Boot, it is hard to argue that mercenaries eroded the empire (since they were integral to its half-a-millennium existence), by the same token they were emblematic of unfortunate trends. We forget that the earlier republic for all its flaws, existed for 6-7 centuries, and employed largely either a conscript army or a professional army of Roman citizens.

Mercenary service was a barometer, I think, of insidious problems in the early empire — the decline of the Senate, near autonomous frontier military enclaves, the rapid expansion in slavery, latifundia, high taxation, rural depopulation, and the decline of civic unity — that eventually proved its downfall.

I guess I have to agree with this. Mercenaries in the form of a foreign legion might work for a while on solving the narrow military problem, but if we relied on this for long, the effect would be bad for our country. If we started thinking of our entire military as a mercenary force, we will have broken the bond between our citizens and our military. Our public might think of all soldiers--citizen and foreign legionnaire alike--as extendible. Our military might grow to view our society as alien. If this erosion of military-civil relations goes on, one day we could find ourselves with our first military dictatorship. And when our military becomes political, it will lose the ability to defend us from foreign threats. Composed of mercenaries it will be the threat.

We need to rely on our own resources. Sure, perhaps we should step up recruitment for Americans-at-heart abroad and bring them into our military. This would make up for having Europeans-at-heart right here at home who only get worked up over bike path issues. But we would be creating new Americans and not relying on those who fight for pay.

If we can't get recruits to fight for our nation, this is a bigger problem than just failing to meet a quarter's recruiting goals. Victor Hanson wrote about the Romans when they were weak yet fought hard against tough enemies, and contrasted them to Romans of a later era who faced weaker enemies but lacked the will to fight:

But the difference was—during that six hundred year period between the threat of Hannibal and the later Huns—that whether you liked all of what Rome stood for or not, in 200 B.C.E. a Roman knew what it was to be a Roman. He didn’t think it was a perfect thing; he didn’t think it was the best thing, necessarily, but he knew it was better than the alternative. And I am not sure that in 400 C.E. a Roman felt that. He wasn’t sure what it was to be a Roman; he wasn’t sure if it was any better, or if it was any different. And when that happens in history, there is no reason why it has to continue.

A foreign legion would paper over problems and let them get worse without our noticing them. We'd create a military dangerously free of love of country and steadfast belief in our Constitution, freedom, and way of life. If we can't get our people to defend our nation, we need to see it as it develops early in order to embark on efforts to make sure that Americans know we are better than others even if we aren't perfect.

So sure, recruit foreigners who believe in our country, but put them in our existing military on a citizen track. Even in my orignial proposal for a foreign legion, I was aware of the drawbacks and thought we could guard against them. I no longer think we can risk creating a foreign legion.

Make sure we have enough Americans to carry out our defense missions: Increase pay. Replace rear echelon troops with civilians. Redeploy troops.

And by all means inculcate a sense that America is worth defending. It may seem that this should be obvious, but once we assumed all Americans could shoot so didn't bother to train recruits on weapons. Weapons training is now intense. So teach our children about the greatness of our country. It isn't enough to assume they know it.

And we are the best. No doubt. We deserve to triumph over our mediaeval and fascist enemies, and send them to hell.