Boots on the Ground? – Wrong Question

It feels like we are finally awakening frthom a long nightmare where national security policy was being set by sugar-infused 5th graders who got their foreign policy training by watching back-to-back episodes of Barney.

Can we please take a shot at understanding the threats we will likely face over the next twenty years? Can we then design a military that is capable of handling those threats?
Not that it is just the Obama administration that has proven itself unbelievably incompetent in this area, we have a long embarrassing history of allowing politics to dictate readiness. It would be nice to break the trend. We were in the middle of severe cutbacks in our armed forces based on a “peace dividend” theory that said that since the Soviet Union collapsed that we no longer needed a large, heavy-division, combined-arms based military. Then – we had to face at least two wars with opponents based on the Soviet model. Large, heavy-division-based tactics.

We won, largely due to the complete incompetence of our opponents, poor leadership, and outclassed weaponry. Keep in mind, we were coming off of our peak of readiness to fight the heavy division battle of the future. Also, our opponents were operating without their support structure of Soviet advisers and access to newer Soviet equipment and parts.

Since then we have continued to draw down our military, and focus primarily on small unit patrol and raid operations. Our elites in DC seem to have a problem in separating tactics from strategic risks.

Sure, we can drone-strike whoever we want in the Middle East. And, we can send guys in to kick in doors in urban environments. And, we can send in observers to watch the various armed groups blunder through confrontation after confrontation. To what end?

Did our military positioning do anything to prevent the Russian invasion of Georgia or the Ukraine? What message does our military positioning send to the big threats in the world like Iran, Russia, China or North Korea? Watch out Putin, we will drone-strike some of your lower-level officials in the contested territory in the Ukraine? Really?

Finally, belatedly, we are frantically running through an exercise I call Reforger Redux. (Reforger was an acronym Return of Forces to Germany to augment our forward positioned units should the Soviet Union invade Europe.) And no Obama, this isn’t the 80’s asking for their national security strategy back. (Snarky, but ignorant.) Geopolitics is geopolitics and all the tree-hugging and Barney-song singing in the world isn’t going to change it.

Russia’s strategic center is exposed, and it has always been exposed, to invasion from the West. There are no natural lines of defense in this direction and the landscape is perfectly suited for large armor formations. So, Soviet was and now Russian defense is focused on heavy division structures, and building a buffer to its West to protect itself. Until the geography changes, this will always be the Russian focus, which creates an existential threat to all of the European countries bordering it.

Since this has always been the case, it makes one wonder why we removed all of our heavy units from Germany in the first place? The geography didn’t change, the aspirations of Putin have been clear from day one, and he is a threat to the security of Europe, period. But our politicians in DC apparently couldn’t, or wouldn’t learn from history.

As we now frantically try to establish new bases in Eastern Europe and push armor units forward to be a credible force we are very weak and exposed. We don’t have the forces in place yet, we don’t have the logistics in place to sustain those forces, and we don’t have a network of partners to fill in the gap should something occur while we try to fix the problem. And, we are still drawing down our military.

The whole boots on the ground question is a red herring. We need forces in the right locations structured correctly in order to respond to the strategic threat, period. These military leaders that wisely nod their heads recognizing the threat, then claiming that we cannot put “boots on the ground” and must rely on others are simply politicians in uniform. We should never submit our strategic decision making to popularity polls of those that have only the vaguest clue of what the true issues are.

We need a heavy, combined arms formation in Europe if we decide we want to defend our interests there. We need a slightly different mix in the Korean peninsula based on the landscape. If we want a strong position in the Middle East we need a force capable of countering the threat from Iran.

Wishful thinking is not going to preserve our interests going forward. We have seen a significant reduction in our standing in the world based on ideological rather than strategic planning. We can argue about how to pay for what we need, but how we pay for it doesn’t change what the threat is.

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