Army shell-shocked in face of Rumsfeld reforms

On Saturday, May 12, the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for a briefing on one of the most eagerly awaited of the many secretive ongoing reviews of U.S. defense policy. Dubbed the "Rumsfeld Reviews," these much-anticipated studies are supposed to provide the blueprint for President Bush's promised "transformation" of the U.S. military. Leading this particular briefing--on the future of conventional war fighting--was David Gompert, a vice president at the RAND Corp. think tank. According to sources familiar with the briefing, Gompert primarily emphasized the future value of long-range, precision-strike capabilities-bombs and missiles that airplanes and ships can fire at faraway targets. There was little mention of forward-based ground troops or the kind of "engagement" activities--joint training and exercises with foreign militaries--that characterize much of the day-to-day operations of today's U.S. Army. The review defined weapons either as fitting well into a future battlefield dominated by rapidly deployable forces with over-the-horizon firing capability, or as marginal or even irrelevant to that scenario. In the latter categories, reportedly, were the Army's 70-ton M1-A2 Abrams battle tank, which was so successful in Operation Desert Storm, and the still-in-development Crusader mobile artillery system, which is designed to fire a huge number of shells very quickly. The Gompert review also suggested shrinking the number of people in uniform to pay for the new kind of warfare, including possible cuts to the Army, perhaps eliminating some of its heavy tank divisions. All of the service chiefs gave the briefing a frosty reception. They were still smarting over being largely excluded from the early stages of the Rumsfeld Reviews. In fact, to ease some of the isolation the services were feeling, Rumsfeld last week undertook an extraordinary series of daily meetings with the service chiefs to go over the reviews. And Pentagon spokesmen are now attempting to play down the importance of the reviews, describing them simply as "get-smart" exercises whose findings will be folded into the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, a report expected in September. Nevertheless, the Rumsfeld Reviews have provoked a profound anxiety in Army ranks, and it is not abating. A week after the May 12 briefing, for instance, retired Army Chief of Staff Gordon Sullivan, president of the Association of the U.S. Army, a booster group, took a rare swipe at the Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld seemed headed, Sullivan said, toward "the easy but erroneous conclusion that by spending hundreds of billions of dollars weaponizing space, developing a national missile defense, and buying long-range precision weapons, we can avoid the ugly realities of conflict." Defense experts believe the Army has every reason to feel threatened by the Bush administration. After heading two influential commissions on national missile defense and U.S. military capabilities in space, Rumsfeld is known to favor these high-tech and far-aloft domains where the Army's foothold is tentative, at best. Rumsfeld's stated desire to pull U.S. Army peacekeepers out of the Balkans and the Sinai Peninsula also suggests a resistance to the entanglements and risks inherent in boots-on-the-ground operations that are the Army's stock in trade. Other aspects of the Rumsfeld Reviews have also sounded alarms inside the Army. According to knowledgeable sources, the review devoted to long-term strategy, led by longtime Pentagon iconoclast Andrew Marshall, argues for a shift in focus away from the European theater, which is dominated by U.S. Army ground troops and Air Force tactical air forces, and onto the Asian-Pacific theater, whose vast, watery distances favor naval forces, long-range air assets, and the avoidance of ground wars. The Rumsfeld Reviews are also widely expected to scrap the requirement that U.S. forces be prepared to fight two major theater wars nearly simultaneously, a yardstick long used to justify the Army's 10 active divisions. Also worrying the Army, as well as the other services, is the Bush administration's $1.35 trillion tax cut. Coupled with the demands on the federal budget from proposed reforms in education, Social Security, and prescription drug insurance, the tax cut could leave very little money to fund Rumsfeld's ambitious agenda, or to meet the high expectations raised by President Bush's campaign pledge that "help is on the way" for the U.S. military. "I think Rumsfeld is discovering that the Pentagon is much more underfinanced and dysfunctional than he anticipated, yet he's promised to transform it, modernize the arsenal, and keep faith with its people," said one longtime defense expert participating in the Rumsfeld Reviews. "All of that takes money, and, lo and behold, there is no money." Over time, the expert said, it will become increasingly obvious that the money will have to come from cutting manpower--the overall size of the armed services. Of all the armed services, the Army, because it is the most reliant on people and the least high-tech, has always felt itself particularly vulnerable to cuts in what the Pentagon calls "force structure"--basically the number of fighting units. Cuts in Army troop strength, for instance, yield relatively immediate and substantial cost savings because the Pentagon's payroll costs are so huge. "The problem with Army force structure is that it has the least political constituency in Washington," said Thomas Donnelly, a former staff member with the House Armed Services Committee and currently a senior analyst with the Project for the New American Century, a conservative think tank in Washington. "Army force structure doesn't translate into home-state programs. There's no big shipyard or airplane manufacturing company tied to it. Especially if you take the cuts out of Europe, there's practically no domestic political constituency whatsoever. So while I can't yet see the strategy driving Rumsfeld's decisions, I'm afraid at the end of the day the punch line will be the same: The Army gets screwed." Unease inside the Army is exacerbated by a sense that the service is already badly off balance. Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki's recently launched "transformation" of the Army--aimed at making Army forces lighter, more rapidly deployable, and more lethal--has generated fierce resistance inside the Army, especially among those officers associated with the Army's heavy tank and armored divisions. That internal fractiousness has been stoked by recent controversies over Shinseki's decision to switch from green caps to black berets for all soldiers and the change from "Be All That You Can Be" to "An Army of One" as the service's recruiting mantra. Many veterans and retired generals find the changes offensive. There is also a growing belief inside the Army that its openness to internal dissent is naive and puts it at a disadvantage in the political infighting around Washington vis-a-vis the other services, which march more in lockstep. "The Army today is suffering from two self-inflicted wounds in terms of the controversies surrounding the beret and new recruiting slogan, plus it is feeling defensive," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Terry Scott, director of national security programs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Add to that defensiveness the Army's tendency to wear its heart on its sleeve and its inability to get its general officers singing in one voice, he said, and the Army has difficulty arguing its case effectively. "Right now, for instance, there are a lot of retired generals who are happy to tell you that Army transformation is a lot of bull," said Scott. Yet a number of experts believe that the Army is vulnerable, not because it has undertaken a risky transformation into a lighter, more mobile force, but rather because it began that process so late. In this view, the Army became too enamored of its success in Desert Storm, when it had nearly half a year to deploy heavy divisions to the Middle East in preparation for a large-scale tank battle. Although that kind of warfare could still happen in the Middle East and in Korea, a more apt model for the future might have been Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989, when the Army had to rapidly deploy airborne shock troops to quell internal unrest in a destabilized country. "We spent a lot of time trying to understand the type of warfare the United States might confront in the next quarter-century, and it is very difficult to imagine where these great ground wars are going to occur in the future," said retired Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd, executive director of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, a congressionally mandated panel studying future national security needs. "We saw a much greater requirement for the Army to deal with failed states and limited conflicts, where the premium would be on rapidly deployable, agile forces of great lethality. So no one on the commission felt that the Army was somehow obsolete, but I think we would like to see the Army transform itself as quickly as possible." Army officials point out that even if the Pentagon were to jettison the requirement of being able to fight two major theater wars nearly simultaneously, the Army would still find its forces stretched thin at today's level of 10 active divisions. If anything, Army officials have privately argued they need as many as 40,000 additional troops to sustain the current tempo of worldwide operations. And they say that the use of these Army troops around the world brings real benefits to the United States. Gen. William Nash, now retired from the Army, led NATO peacekeepers into Bosnia in 1995. "What you find in the real world is that military missions and face-to-face engagement serve more than just military objectives," he said. "They have important political purposes that also advance our national security interests," said Nash, now an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations. "One of those purposes is the maintenance of strong alliances. The NATO allies believe that if our shared interests are important, then the United States should be standing alongside our partners and defending them. Europe is definitely not looking for the United States to lead from behind." On an even more fundamental level, Army officials are distressed by what they see as the growing belief in a sort of "immaculate warfare," whereby the United States can stand secure behind high-tech missile defenses and space systems and smite enemies from afar without fear of suffering casualties. Such a concept defies history, which is full of examples of nations that suffered terrible aerial bombardment and yet kept fighting--Britain, Germany, and Japan, to name just a few. Even a third-rate power such as Serbia endured many weeks of aerial bombardment in 1999, and capitulated only after NATO's threat of a ground invasion seemed real. "A lot of us generals who spent 40 years in uniform are worried that the Army is now threatened by a lot of technological purists and dilettantes who have new ideas about how to fight wars that don't square with reality," said a retired Army four-star who served as one of the Pentagon's war-fighting commanders in chief. "Everyone's predicting what type of wars we'll fight tomorrow, but I can assure you, we never saw Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, or Haiti coming. Tomorrow it could be Iran, Iraq, North Korea, or, God forbid, Russia or China. The point is, a superpower keeps a large, robust Army because that's what deters other nations from challenging us. It's the price we pay for peace."
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