Too Small for What? The Absence of American Strategic Introspection
“Americans have a tendency to believe that when there's a problem there must be a solution.”
-- Henry Kissinger
"America has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings....She goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."
-- John Quincy Adams, 1821
The National Commission on the Future of the Army’s report confirmed several long-standing biases. Among them was the assertion that the Army is too small, a statement paired with a recommendation to expand the Army’s footprint in Europe, and the premise upon which the entire report is based[i]. What is not evident through the smoke of the apocalypse described in the report should America’s Army not grow, is the deeper, more relevant question of what America really needs an Army for.
It seems audaciously optimistic that America would only apply a larger Army against the problems our military leaders want it applied against. Although more combat brigades would certainly provide the force with more flexibility and capability to deal with today’s problems, it is a near certainty that Americans would consume a larger force against a variety of boutique problems. Global challenges better left to be managed with standoff, would now be ‘solved’ at bayonet range. The temptation to intervene in every political fancy would be irresistible to any politician wanting to appear tough or hawkish to a constituency. Remember Michelle Obama’s #bringbackourgirls selfie? The result of an expanded force would be a larger, more costly Army stretched as thin as today’s is.
If America had a force unconstrained by resources, what would our involvement have been in the recent crises that no longer get our attention? Would we have sent troops into Libya? Would we be chasing Joseph Kony around the Ugandan jungle with more than just a handful of green berets? Would we have sent troops into Mali? I believe the answer to be yes, with the only limitation on our appetite being on how big America would let its Army grow. The broader point here is that many of the world’s problems are rarely resolved, but better managed with standoff to mitigate their impact on the rest of world, kind of like Somali piracy.
Any infantryman welcomes the introduction of lighter gear. Efficiencies aside, no contemporary infantryman would exchange his 6 ½ lb M4 carbine for the 9 1/5 lb M1 carbine of his WWII predecessor. But every infantryman also understands that any savings in weight will be accompanied by a newly available piece of gear to replace the weight differential. So too with the size of the Army.
America’s most vital national interests relate directly to our ability to sustain the authority and domestic reach of a government that operates in accordance with the Constitution of the United States, and to protect the territory and possessions of the United States. As SEN Jack Reed noted during the Commission’s testimony in February, the optempo demanded of the Army is a critical part of the equation. However, the Army, and the Department of Defense have been publicly silent on the list of tasks in which it ought not be involved. Perhaps it is time for the nation’s chief military advisors to start drafting a list.
[i] Recommendations 13 and 14, respectively