Friday, November 2, 2007
Two Generations On Alert
You might have seen that retired Gen. John Abizaid, the former Centcom commander who oversaw Iraq operations, predicted that American troops would be deployed in the Middle East for the next 25 to 50 years. Here's the direct quote:
Over time, we will have to shift the burden of the military fight from our forces directly to regional forces, and we will have to play an indirect role, but we shouldn’t assume for even a minute that in the next 25 to 50 years, the American military might be able to come home, relax and take it easy, because the strategic situation in the region doesn’t seem to show that as being possible.
Which got me to thinking about how things used to look in the Middle East -- before 9/11, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in short, before it became a foregone conclusion that American forces belonged there. That thought, after a few google searches, led me to this Heritage Foundation report on year-by-year American troop deployments by country. The actual data, fom 1950-2005, is here, in an Excel file.
There are some surprises. For instance, I was unaware that through the 1970's, the primary American deployment in the Middle East was in Morocco, with a peak of 15,000 troops in 1954, followed by a sharp drop which steadily tapers off before all but disappearing in the Eighties. But after that, with the exception of the brief spike of the First Gulf War, we basically had no deployment to speak of for most of the Nineties.
That starts to change towards the end of the Clinton years. By 2000, we had roughly 11,000 troops deployed between Saudi Arabia (7k) and Kuwait (4k). A number that actually decreases in 2001, before eventually going off the charts in 2002 and 2003.
In other words, we managed to navigate the height of the Cold War, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and the aftermath of the First Gulf War with basically no significant force deployment in the Middle East. Now as a result of one successful terrorist attack and a failed war, we're being told that two generations of American soldiers will be deployed on high alert in the region. And anyone who challenges that orthodoxy is accused of being soft on national security.