Six years after Donald Rumsfeld agreed to a second tour of duty as secretary of defense, to rebuild the military, Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker told Congress his Army "will break" if not relieved of the present burdens. Colin Powell says the Army is "almost broken." This week, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there is a significant risk that the United States today may be unable to respond quickly and fully to another crisis should it arise.
Howls erupted across the spectrum for more billions for more men for the Army and Marine Corps. What these revelations ought to trigger, however, are hard questions of our leaders and fresh thinking among our elites about the limits of American power and the extent of American commitments.
For, by any measure, Iraq and Afghanistan are not major wars. The United States had twice as many troops in Korea, resisting a million-man Chinese Army, and took 10 times the casualties we have taken in Iran and Afghanistan, and America was not overstretched.
We put three times as many troops in Vietnam, fought longer and took nearly 20 times the casualties we have taken in these two insurgencies, while maintaining 300,000 troops in Europe and 40,000 in Korea. Yet, though we are spending today as much on defense as the next 10 nations combined, the U.S. Army is "about broken."
In a National Review essay, "The Crying Need for a Bigger U.S. Military," ex-Sen. James Talent details what happened to the armed forces that were Ronald Reagan's great legacy to the nation.
"The active-duty Army was cut from 18 divisions during Desert Storm to 10 by 1994 -- its size today. The Navy, which counted 569 ships in the late 1980s, struggles today to sustain a fleet of only 276. And the number of tactical air wings in the Air Force was reduced from 37 at the time of Desert Storm to 20 by the mid-1990s."
Inheriting Reagan's estate, Bill Clinton sold off much of it for the big party of the 1990s. But bemoaning what Clinton did yesterday does not address today's crisis.
What Desert Storm and the Iraq war should teach us is a simple lesson: The U.S. Army and Marines are capable of winning a small war in weeks against a middle-sized power. They are not large enough to wage a long war against a middle-sized power on the Asian continent. While they can defeat an enemy army and seize a capital, they cannot rebuild a nation. Nor are the marginal increases in the U.S. Army now being proposed going to create such a capacity.
Gen. Eric Shinseki said that to defeat and occupy Iraq would have required two to three times the force we sent in. Yet even that would not have prevented or defeated the insurgency we face.