After criticizing the Clinton Administration for overdeploying and overusing the US military in the 1990s, the Bush Administration is now doing exactly the same thing—except on a much larger scale. Having made the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and having badly underestimated the difficulty as well as the force requirements of accomplishing the post- Saddam stabilization effort successfully, the Bush Administration or its successor now needs to get serious about making ends match means. At present, the latter are insufficient.
The possibility exists that large numbers of active-duty troops and reservists may soon leave the service rather than subjecting themselves to a life continually on the road. The seriousness of the worry cannot be easily established. So far the problem has not become acute. Stop-loss orders that prevent some military personnel from leaving the service at the scheduled end of their tours, together with a surge of patriotism after 9/11, together with limited awareness to date of just how long the Iraq mission is likely to last, have limited the fallout of overdeployments. But there can be no assurance that this state of affairs will continue. Avoiding a personnel crisis in the all-volunteer military has become the chief force management challenge for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or his successor, much more so than transforming the armed forces or relocating overseas bases.
The problem is most acute for the US Army, which numbers only a half million active-duty troops, though it is also significant for the Marine Corps. The Air Force and Navy have benefited considerably from not only the end of the Iraq invasion but also from the end of the no-fly zone and sanctions enforcement operations that characterized the 1991-2003 period. However, US ground forces still have about 140,000 personnel in Iraq, another 30,000 or so in Kuwait and other parts of the Persian Gulf region, and nearly 20,000 in Afghanistan. More than 25,000 soldiers remain in Korea (even if several thousand of those are now slated to go to Iraq); nearly 2,000 are still in the Balkans; several thousand marines are on Okinawa; dozens here and hundreds there are on temporary assignments around the world. Virtually all of these soldiers, most of them married, are currently separated from their home bases and families.
The state of America’s veterans community
At the end of the day, as we all know thorny national security issues don’t just involve the military; political-military considerations invariably bleed into them. If the senior military’s leadership views are going to be just constrained to military advice … who is thinking about issues from that broader perspective?