Thursday, July 31, 2008

Building Task Force Smith--Again?

The Pentagon is preparing to get out of the warfighting business, apparently:

The Pentagon's new national defense strategy calls for a shift in focus from conventional warfare to mastering the complex threat of global extremism, a published report said Thursday.

"The use of force plays a role, yet military efforts to capture or kill terrorists are likely to be subordinate to measures to promote local participation in government and economic programs to spur development, as well as efforts to understand and address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies," the document said.

"For these reasons, arguably the most important military component of the struggle against violent extremists is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we help prepare our partners to defend and govern themselves."

This is how militaries prepare to fight the last war.

It is true that the Long War will go on a long time. The name provides that clue. And it is true that the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan won't define the Long War. Non-military means to end the appeal of jihadi ideology are necessary to gain a strategic victory. Using our military in Iraq and Afghanistan occurred because those situations were too far gone to be addressed by more subtle means. In other locations, our advisors or just limited support will help us win battles. Remember the Philippines early in the war where our advisors worked and Somalia where we helped the Ethiopians smash up the Islamic Courts movement? And consider too, that Iraq is starting to stand up to fight the jihadis inside Iraq with only our limited support.

So without the need to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan with a third to half of our ground force combat units, we will use our military for the tasks needed to bolster other countries to resist jihadis before they reach the level of an Iraq (or Algeria). These tasks will involve small amounts of our military. And they will require the non-military parts of our government to contribute more.

So why would we de-emphasize conventional warfare capabilities in armed forces--the only part of our government able to fight enemy armies, navies, and air forces--to wage the Long War that ideally won't require combat brigades in large numbers overseas?

We need a full spectrum military capable of training local forces, advising local forces, supporting local forces in a fight, fighting insurgents ourselves if necessary, and defeating major combat formations in conventional warfare. For the lower ends of the spectrum we need more help from the rest of the government rather than just letting our military take on that burden at the expense of conventional warfare.

Don't start believing that crud that nobody would dare to take on our conventional forces in a straight-up conventional war based on our prowess in past fights. We've been down that path before.

UPDATE: Ok, the document itself doesn't sound like conventional warfare is being slighted as much as it is just recognizing that we can't consider Iraq and Afghanistan as interruptions in business as usual. And Secretary Gates adds what I've mentioned before, that we need to institutionalize the counter-insurgency knowledge we've gained in Iraq even as we prepare for the admittedly less likely--but more serious if we lose--conventional war:

If I could describe the new National Defense Strategy in one word, it would be "balance," balance between the range of capabilities to prevail in persistent asymmetric or irregular conflict, and sustaining our conventional and strategic force superiority as a hedge against rising powers.

Now, the reality is that conventional and strategic force modernization programs are strongly supported in the services and in the Congress. I also support them. Indeed, in the 2009 base budget, of the $104 billion in procurement and about $80 billion in research and development, the overwhelming preponderance is for conventional modernization programs. And nearly all of these programs are multi-year.

The principal challenge, therefore, is how to ensure that the capabilities gained and counterinsurgency lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the lessons re-learned from other places where we have engaged in irregular warfare over the last two decades, are institutionalized within the defense establishment.

Excuse me, but I'm sensitive when I read reports about downgrading our conventional warfighting abilities. We heard this in the 1990s when everyone knew we'd never need more than peacekeepers and air power.