Thursday, October 11, 2007
Ring The Alarm
Since being appointed Army chief of staff, Gen. William Casey has gone out of his way to sound the alarm on the toll six years of war have taken on the Army. This is from the keynote speech he gave at the Army's Annual Meeting, in which he foresaw a future of "persistent conflict":
"Today's Army is out-of-balance," said Gen. Casey. "The current demand on our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as we would like for other contingencies. Overall, we are consuming our readiness as fast as we are building it."
In addition to the accelerated plans already in place to increase the standing force, Casey identified the changing role of the Reserves as critical to getting the Army back in balance:
"They are no longer a strategic reserve mobilized only in national emergencies," he said. "They are now an operational reserve, deployed on a cyclical basis to allow us to sustain extended operations. Operationalizing the Reserve Components will require national and state consensus as well as continued commitment from employers, Soldiers and Families. It will require changes to the way we train and equip, resource and mobilize, and also administrative policies. We owe it to them to make this transition rapidly."
This is worth noting, because what he's talking about is institutionalizing what was initially a stopgap measure. And it's a process that is already underway. Over the past four years, the Reserves have effectively functioned as a draft pool because, let's face it, anyone who signed up previous to 9/11 did not realistically expect to see active duty. Casey's suggesting we transform their role into a sort of rotating replacement corps, giving breathers wherever the line is stretched thinnest. Not, mind you, because of any logistical advantage that might offer, but because we simply don't have the capacity to prosecute the War in Iraq -- let alone "other contingencies" -- otherwise.
It's true you go to war with the Army you have, as Donald Rumsfeld famously noted. But you don't start wars unless you have the Army you need. Now we're playing catch-up, expanding the army in both explicit and implicit ways, all for a war that remains highly contested and so far largely inconclusive. One that even the Army chief of staff believes will do nothing to prevent decades of persistent conflict. Discouraging, to say the least.