George Friedman, writing for Strategic Forecasting, tells us “The Army is the heart of the matter,” i.e., of regaining freedom of action militarily and putting teeth back in American diplomacy. Today’s U.S. Army was designed in the 1990s, on the assumption that the need for extended combat operations was a thing of the past. Not only was the Army reduced in size, many key components of combat divisions and critical specialties, such as civil affairs, were shifted to the Army Reserve and National Guard. The administration’s expectation for Iraq was that there would be a buildup of forces for several months, a short, intense period of combat operations and a drawdown in forces from a pacified country. The 1990s force was designed just for these kinds of conflicts. The Reserve and National Guard components were mobilized to join and backfill for units deploying to the combat zone. By the end of the year, it was expected, the force would return to peacetime operations. Iraq didn’t work out that way. The drawdown never took place because major combat operations were followed by a major insurgency. The expectation of the administration was that the insurgency would be dealt with in a reasonable time, so the Army was not reconfigured for extended warfare. At any point, proposals for dealing with the fundamental problem—that the force was too small—were rejected, with the thinking that there was no need for a significant overhaul to deal with a problem that would be under control in a matter of months. This expectation turned into hope, the hope into dogma. Thus, the 1990s Army continued to fight a multi-year insurgency with a multidivisional force, while also fighting a second war in Afghanistan and having to stand by for the unexpected.
Having learned from Vietnam that constantly rotating individuals into units for one-year tours undermines unit cohesion, the Army shifted to rotating entire divisions in and out of Iraq after roughly one year. Had the conflict ended in two years, it might have worked fine. But it now has been more than three years and divisions are doing their second tours, mobilizing Reserve and National Guard units as they go. Consider this example: The 1st Cavalry Division is embarked on its second tour to take control of the Baghdad region from the 4th Infantry Division. For the coming year, the 1st Cav is going to be locked down in Iraq, but the 4th ID will not be available for operations elsewhere. Upon arriving back in the United States, they will need to rest, repair and integrate new equipment and integrate new recruits to replace veterans leaving the Army. The 4th ID will not be available to deploy anywhere for many months. In effect, for every division in Iraq, one division is being overhauled. Add to this the weakness in the Reserves and National Guard, and you begin to appreciate the United States’ strategic challenge.
Iraq is eating up U.S. geopolitical options by eating up the Army. This is the first major extended ground war the United States has fought in a century without dramatically increasing the size of the Army. World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam all brought massive increases in military size, mostly through conscription. The Bush administration did not view Iraq as a potentially multi-year, multi-divisional combat operation. It maintained the force roughly as it started, and now that force is headed towards broke. Indeed, the administration had come to the conclusion prior to the mid-term elections. In October, one sign of a strategy shift was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, long an opponent of expanding the Army’s budget, agreeing to allow the Army to plead its case directly for more money to Congress. In the past, Rumsfeld wanted the Army to find more efficient ways to run counterinsurgency operations, relying more on technology than manpower. That’s a good idea and might happen some day, but it didn’t happen for this war. It is now pretty late in the game to cut the Army loose for funding—plus, any new funding won’t impact the battlefield for a couple of years. But Rumsfeld’s move signaled recognition that a basic assumption up to this point was flawed, and this is where he leaves the nation and its Army at the end of his tenure. With its troops and equipment worn down by years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army needs to receive a spike in its share of the Pentagon’s budget request when it goes to Congress this year. Significantly, increases to the size of the Army made by Congress since 2001, amounting to 30,000 troops, have become a permanent fixture of the force. Beyond that, the Army is discussing internally whether it should expand by tens of thousands more. Pentagon officials are likely to seek $138 billion, compared to its $112 billion request last year. Army officials say the service was already $50 billion short in equipment when terrorists struck September 11, 2001. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan require $17 billion in extra spending for 2007 to repair and replace destroyed and worn out vehicles and equipment, and at least $13 billion additional spending for the next five years after that.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he ran for U.S. Congress (TX-District 31) in the 2004 Republican Primary. This article condensed from an October 2006 STRATFOR Geopolitical Intelligence Report by George Friedman. Army budget figures are from Thom Shanker and David Cloud of the New York Times. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.