Month: January 2015

Step One: Draw Down (Pt 1)

Putting it simply, we need to reduce the size and cost of the military. However, the mere suggestion of a draw-down is almost guaranteed to be balked at in this country. If you remember early last year when SecDef Hagel announced personnel cuts for the Army (keeping in mind that we also have a Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Air Force), you may also remember the ensuing outcry. The Army is an interesting target for historical comparisons, because unlike personnel in the Navy and Air Force, the infantryman’s role has remained largely unchanged since WWII. But there’s a quote about the matter that always bothered me. There are a number of reasons why, but the primary one is that it misrepresents, and deliberately, a number of things.

That would make [the Army] the smallest since just before the U.S. entered World War II.

Ok, first of all: before it entered World War II, America had a draft. It was the first and last peacetime draft in American history, and authorized the conscription of any males between 21 and 35, up to just under a million troops. In the preceding decade, the United States was not ignorant to the threat of war rising both from Europe and Japan, and the 400,000 Army personnel authorized between 1939 and 1940 before that draft were a direct response to that threat. Even in the midst of rising conflict until that point, however, the regular Army capped out at around 280,000 troops.

The quote is deceptive for an additional reason. Up to and during WWII, the US Army did not use military contractors.

Contractors generally serve in logistical and auxiliary roles for the military. They do laundry, food production, construction, security, intelligence, and even foreign training. The estimated ratio of deployed personnel to contractors ranges from 10 to 1 to 2 to 1, but the thing to remember is that everything contractors do now was once done by regular military forces.

Those 280,000 Army troops authorized before WWII included not just the roles soldiers perform today, but every element of the logistical chain of the military, including everything that the billion-dollar industry of defense contracting does now. What is characterized as essential forces, in numbers, of the US Army does not include the thousands of contractors in use. Yet, a few hundred thousand soldiers prior to WWII was deemed enough, even including the requirement for such auxiliary services among the standing military.

What this means is that, while Spain was being bombed by the Luftwaffe and Japan was invading Manchuria, and even while Germany was invading and annexing its neighbors, the US Army and its entire chain of logistical and other support networks (which included the Army Air force, as there was no Air Force beforehand) stood at 280,000.

There are a number of factors that mitigate this number. The population of the United States during that period was less than half of what it is now. Technology at the time did not permit for, let alone require, investment in weapons and vehicles that became essential later in the war, nor those that have been developed since (like helicopters). However, technology has allowed for cheaper or even automated solutions to old problems, and the geographic borders of the United States have remained largely the same. 280,000 soldiers, called to action in an emergency, would still have to defend the same surface area today as they would have then.

One of the keys to the viability of that is the proportionality of warfare, specifically in the engagement of defense. In tactical terms, and especially in the matter of intercontinental warfare, it is generally accepted that an attacker must have numerical superiority over defenders of a holding or defensive position, presuming the defenders use the geography or other infrastructure to their advantage. The ideal, however, is 5 attackers to every defender. This means that even with only 280,000 troops, the US Army could have viably opposed an invading force of 1.5 million and had a reasonable chance of holding them off. Even then, the standing army of 280,000 was never intended to be the sole armed force in the event of war, and the Protective Mobilization Plan in effect during that time accounted for the rapid organization of a 2,000,000-man Army if it were necessary. The 10-million-strong army ideal for taking and holding the United States in the event of the Plan being acted upon simply wasn’t available.

It’s ironic that we call our defense budget a “defense” budget when it predominantly employs, trains, and equips soldiers, sailors, and airmen in numbers far above what is actually necessary for a peacetime standing army dedicated to domestic defense. Including the hundreds of thousands of defense contractors that our defense budget employs, total ground forces alone total closer to around 900,000 personnel, or early WWII draft levels.

But let’s examine the 440,000 number from Hagel again. It does not include the over 500,000 members of the reserves and National Guard. However, included in that number is over 60,000 Army personnel stationed abroad, not including those in Afghanistan or Iraq. Even including the personnel still engaged in Desert Storm II, we’re looking at an effective domestic defense force of 380,000. That’s still 100,000 more than what was deemed necessary in the late 30’s during an approaching world war.

Yet, there is no sign of the immediate threat of WWIII breaking out. It is not just out of military dominance that the threat of invasion is tiny, but because our primary military rivals are also simultaneously our close economic allies. It would require a tremendous global political upheaval before Russia or China even contemplated attacking the United states. 280,000, let alone 380,000, is a wartime footing approaching a stance towards national defense in the event of an immediate war, but there is absolutely no serious threat of invasion. If a force this size, plus our thousands of contractors, is not necessary for defense, then what sort of force do we have? Well, obviously it’s an attack force, an imperial force. The United States military resembles an imperial military.

This arrangement is necessary to maintain the US’s global position as top-dog: politically, economically, and of course militarily. Foreign bases operated by volunteer, career military men and women, in addition to prolific use of contractors, or mercenaries, is the bread and butter of an empire. But what has being an empire gained us?

We have cheap access to resources and goods. While these things may seem nice, they are in fact a symptom of the US’s dependence on a consumer economy. A consumer economy is not sustainable over a long-term period, and it’s a primary factor in our present economic situation, but we’ll get to that later.

The bottom line is that what we love about our huge military is also what’s likely to lead to our country’s downfall. Factoring into that the tremendous amount of waste in the defense budget burdened upon our national debt and our still struggling economic climate, we simply can’t afford to maintain the military we have. Given the domestic situation in regards to dwindling rights to privacy and protections from law enforcement, let alone unjust law, and rampant political and economic dysfunction, we have no business spending so much money and manpower on a force that exists largely to project our waning power onto the rest of the world. We need to tighten the belt and get back to basics.

During the 30’s, one of the core concerns of the government was maintaining at least 100,000 Army officers for the purpose of training a raised army in the event of war. 100,000 is two-thirds of the entire invasion force of the Normandy landings on D-Day, and seems more than adequate as an emergency reaction force, but accounting for population growth it would be wiser to double it to 200,000. What I propose is maintaining 200,000 trained personnel for the Army, 200,000 for the Navy and Marines, and 50,000 for the Air Force while leaving the Coast Guard untouched. That would put the entire armed forces under the umbrella of a number currently proposed for the Army alone, and would cut budget costs on personnel by three quarters. Eliminating contractors from the equation and proportionally decreasing spending on component materials and technologies.

And in the event of a war or impending invasion, where immediate national defense is urgent, who would make up the rest of the armed forces? It might be argued that less than half a million troops might be a tempting target to, say, China, with over 2.2 million active duty personnel. The answer, I think, is compulsory military service. With 120,000 million men and women fit for military service, the United States is uniquely poised to defend itself if the citizenry should ever need to take up arms.

But more on that next update.


How the Terrorists Won

And Other Uplifting Stories from the 21st Century

Hello, Internet. It’s been a while.

Well, let’s get to it.

So, let’s indulge certain world leaders and acknowledge at face value that there is a literal “war” on “terror.” Terror, of course, being a poetic substitution for “terrorism.”

In 2003 the US government released its “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.” In it is outlined the national strategy for “victory” against terrorism. The primary goal is stated as this:

“to stop terrorist attacks against the United States, its citizens, its interests, and our friends and allies around the world and ultimately, to create an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and all those who support them”

According to the report, there are four intermediate objectives required in order to accomplish this.
1. Defeat terrorists
2. Deny them sponsorship and support
3. Diminish the conditions which engender terrorism
4. Defend the security of our interests at home and abroad

Now aside from the clear hard-on for ‘D’s here alliterated, what do you notice 12 years later?
1. Terrorists are more proliferated now than when we invaded Iraq in 2003.
2. Terrorists enjoy increased support from around the world, including from our own alleged allies like Kuwait, as well as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China.
3. The Middle east has become exponentially more unstable, with civil conflict among many states creating prime conditions for breeding more extremism.
4. We have suffered through the Boston Bombing, the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, and numerous terrorist attacks upon our allies in the Middle East and the European Union.

In other words, every single objective of this strategy has failed. I’ve talked previously about how the attack on Iraq itself counter-intuitively encouraged this failure. But Al Queda, too, had a strategy, although of course it was for the advancement of terrorism.

In 2005, Saif al-Adel, al Qaeda’s military commander at the time, revealed Al Queda’s 7-point strategy for the 21st century.
1. “The awakening,” 2000-2003, in which the 9/11 attacks were the first wave. The purpose of this phase was to provoke the US into declaring war on the Muslim world.
2. “Opening Eyes,” 2004-2006, in which Iraq is converted into a hotbed for terrorist activity and an active way-station and base for recruits.
3. “Arising and Standing Up,” 2007-2010, plans for an increase in terrorist activities, especially attacks against more stable Middle eastern nations like Israel and Jordan, with a particular emphasis on Syria.
4. For the years of 2010-2013, Al Queda planned to bring about the end of dictatorial governments in the Middle East, like those of Syria and Egypt, as well as undermining the US economy using cyber-terrorism.
5. Between 2013-2016, Al Queda hopes for a literal establishment of the “Islamic State,” or caliphate, wherein the Western image will be weakened so much that support for Islamic fundamentalism will rise exponentially.
6. From 2016 onwards, the new “Islamic State” will provoke or inflict national violence against “non-believers” in the pursuit of enforcing Muslim beliefs on the entire region.
7. Al Queda foresees victory in 2020, after a two-year war in which the Western world finally admits defeat by the Muslims of the Middle East and, presumably, withdraws totally from both overt and covert capacities.

It’s sobering to remember that this was released in 2005, and had probably been in the works for at least half a decade. While some objectives are, generously, a pipe dream by terrorism defined as Al Queda alone, expanding the objectives to encompass all terrorist activity shows where the organization possessed startling prescience.
1. It goes without saying that the 9/11 attacks worked. The US invaded Afghanistan, and then Iraq, with the predictable result of getting stuck there for more than ten years.
2. Iraq has been completely destabilized, and Al Queda in Iraq, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations which were nonexistent under Saddam’s regime now flourish.
3.-4. Al Queda’s third and fourth phases eerily predict the Arab Spring and ensuing end to, or challenge of, dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen, as well as their emphasized focus on Syria, where Al Nusra Front and ISIS (both local outgrowths of Al Queda)  have made significant, well-publicized gains since 2010. The economic defeat of the United States precluded any need for cyber-terrorism, as its own military adventure served the same objective, and with little need for effort on the part of Al Queda.
5. The name of “ISIS”, or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is predicted. While the group exists more as a guerrilla force than a government entity, it’s startling to realize that its existence is owed in no small part to the plans and predictions of Al Queda ten years prior. The US’s predictions for Iraq and Afghanistan ten years ago were significantly less astute.
6. Although this phase is planned for the future, there’s already evidence that ISIS’s designs include such activities, and has begun to encourage them.
7. It’s hard to say what exactly will be the case in 2020, but the future isn’t looking particularly bright.

Strategy, independent of tactics, determines the victor in war. Strategy is more than a simple prediction of victory, but a description of the means to achieve victory in terms which can be interpreted broadly, but implemented specifically. As such, there is some leeway in judging the success or failure of each strategy in the Middle East, and around the world.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to say that the strategy of defeating terrorism has had any success. If anything, the US’s means of achieving that goal has actually contributed to its own defeat. Invasions and military actions in the Middle East have inflamed an already unstable region, united opinion against us, and crippled our own economy, which has resulted in an unprecedented rise in terrorism around the world.

For terrorism, US activity has been a boon, as has been the growing animosity to Muslims around the world. Western reactions and backlashes to these activities, exhibited in the rise of right-wing ideology engendered by terrorist activities, increasingly isolates and radicalizes Muslims domestically and abroad. This leads to greater recruitment of terrorists, as more Muslims see solidarity in joining with those who oppose increasingly reactionary Western governments and populations.

This, like the US and the Middle East, like Israel and Palestine, is yet another recursive loop of foreign policy, where so-called enlightened powers play into the most bold-faced and basic guerrilla strategies of extremists without recourse to real international political or economic pressure. Throughout the course of the war on terror, we have framed victory as a mere matter of search-and-destroy, and of exporting our ideas to other countries in an attempt to stabilize in one lifetime what centuries have wrought, as though those countries could not survive without our wisdom or guidance.

The truth that has emerged is that these very strategies bring about more terrorism. And if our war on terror has simply sewn more terror, what can be done? Clearly we need a new strategy. I am sick and tired of seeing these same strategies, the same tactics, used again and again by the United States, in the name of high-minded ideals like freedom and democracy, when in actuality our actions serve only to engender further animosity abroad by representing us in the most myopic and unenlightened possible light.

I have an alternative strategy to propose. It’s not a simple fix, and it is unlikely ever to be implemented, but I believe if we do not significantly change the course of this country, it will be a footnote before long, a tragic tale of the rise and fall of the first, and last, global democracy.