Friday, January 24, 2014

How Were We Over-Extended?

Stratfor seems like a good private intelligence outfit. But sometimes I just wonder about them.

Geopolitics, or the way geography shapes foreign policy regardless of era or ruler, is a useful way to look at foreign policy. So Stratfor has that going for it. But sometimes I just don't get how they get to some of their positions.

Recently, an email mentions as an aside to their main point that we over-extended ourselves for the last decade in wars in the Middle East. What does "over-extended" even mean?

Our Army was certainly stretched during the peak fighting years with a major war going on in Iraq and Afghanistan as a secondary theater. The surge saw us put Army troops in the field for 15 months with too little time between unit deployments (although keep in mind that for most lower ranking fighting troops, their deployment was their first even if the unit was going back into the war after perhaps only a year or just 9 months between deployments).

But winning, efforts to cope with stress, and keeping unit cohesion strong by keeping units intact for the deployments (by the much misunderstood "stop loss" that kept troops in their unit for the duration of the deployment rather than allowing them to complete their formal commitment to the Army and be discharged and sent home while the unit was fighting), kept the Army from breaking.

The Army was "unbalanced" to be sure, with all units training to fight an insurgency rather than training to fight high-intensity conventional combat. But the Army emerged combat experienced from the campaigns. This Army is outstanding.

The Navy wasn't stressed much at all. And even the Air Force got a lot of combat experience with the only real stress being on the airlift assets.

And you can't really say the wars over-extended us financially. The wars were a drop in the budget bucket. The entire cost of fighting the Iraq War was matched at the stroke of a pen with the 2009 economic stimulus law.

Is it simply that we are tired of war? By that measure, any war means we are "over-extended" if the war goes on for long. And that includes the "good" wars of Afghanistan and even World War II.

Was our leadership's focus on the wars the measure of being over-extended? Good grief. We were at war. With troops in the field. What were we supposed to focus on if not winning those wars? Hugo Chavez and his effort to wreck Venezuela? That was and is sad, but the threat was Islamist jihadi murder sprees.

And if a vast government like ours can't keep non-crucial theaters going reasonably well without the president and his cabinet paying constant close attention, why bother having vast defense and diplomatic bureaucracies?

But perhaps Stratfor is right. Maybe only issues that are on the front burner of our leaders get the attention they deserve.

Which may explain how we could win the Iraq War and find ourselves watching the country unravel as Iran undermines us there and al Qaeda rebuilds and takes cities.

Which may explain how we could be winning in Afghanistan and find ourselves about to go down the same Iraq road as our leadership fails to have a sense of urgency about defending our gains there, too.

Pray tell, what is distracting our leaders from defending our gains in Iraq and Afghanistan? Because I see nothing else of note to indicate they are overly focused on anything at all. Well other than the Israel-Palestinian issue, bizarrely enough.

Anyway. So I pay attention to Stratfor. They are good. And have a good template for analysis.

But sometimes I scratch my head at things they come up with. I'll ponder their position if it is contrary to mine. But often I still scratch my head at their conclusion.

I just don't see an over-extension in the Middle East over the last decade.