Summary: Our defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan (failures to achieve any major national goals despite large expenditures of blood and money) accompanied an overwhelming victory invisible to the public. In fact, these defeats resulted from that victory — the Pentagon’s defeat of the military reform movement. The post-9/11 campaigns by defense intellectuals demonstrated their shallow roots in the Washington, just as the anti-war protests showed their shallow roots in our society. These twin defeats leave the National Security State triumphant and stronger than ever. Our defeats abroad matter not at all to its leaders.
This is another in a series of posts commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 25th anniversary of the Marine Corps Gazette article “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”, the high point of the military reform movement.
To see how we go here let’s travel back two decades, to when military reformers were strong. They found an audience interested in deep reforms to a Pentagon flush with funds from the Reagan revolution. To hear a voice from that time see Senator Gary Hart’s (D-CO) op-ed in the New York Times: “An Agenda for More Military Reform“, 13 May 1986. It’s a summary of his 1986 book (coauthored with William Lind) America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform. Excerpt:
Five years ago, military reform was the province of a small band of iconoclasts in the Senate. Now the need for broad changes in the way we train, equip and deploy our conventional forces has become conventional wisdom. Congress and the American people must not, however, let satisfaction with early gains take the steam out of the reform movement before it achieves its fundamental goal – military forces that can win in combat.
Spurred by Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, reports of $600 toilet seats and an angry public’s realization that a 40% increase in defense spending has not bought real security, national leaders have begun to recognize that in defense, costlier is not always better. The Congressional Military Reform Caucus has grown to more than 130 lawmakers from both parties. And the Administration has endorsed – in word if not yet in deed – a wide-ranging package of reforms recommended by a Presidential commission headed by David Packard, president of Hewlett-Packard, which manufactures computer technology.
Their book gave specific recommendations, each well-supported by a large body of expert analysis.
- Shift the military from attrition warfare (2GW) to maneuver warfare (3GW);
- Buy systems based on their effectiveness in combat rather than seeking the most advanced (complex) technology;
- Boost unit cohesion by keeping personnel together for many years rather than rotating them as individuals;
- Make submarines the core capital ship of the Navy, not aircraft carriers;
- Reduce the number of senior officers
- Focus officer education on the art of war, not management “science”.
The result were some noteworthy reorganizations, which streamlined the Pentagon but (like the many previous reorganizations) changed its nature not at all. Unit rotation became the rule (#3). We built both submarines and aircraft carriers (#4). Military leaders strangled other proposals in their cribs. The reform engine steamed on with slowly diminishing impact but strong intellectual heft. A good example is Military Reform: A Reference Handbook, Winslow Wheeler and Larry Korb (2007). William Lind’s review gives a capsule summary of attempts to reform the monster President Eisenhower warned about in 1961. Lind explains…