a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Shorter Fred Hiatt Plus (Questions for Obama)

Posted by Thomas Nephew on June 4th, 2007

Shorter Fred Hiatt: from outer space, Barack Obama looks just like Mitt Romney. And yet, cries of “wankeretc. aside, Hiatt does have one point, and he has it right here:

Both want bigger, not smaller, armed forces: Obama calls for an additional 92,000 ground troops, Romney for 100,000.*

What is up with that? It’s one of my biggest objections to Obama; we’ve got about 1.4 million men and women in the United States Armed Forces — what on earth do we need more for? Especially if (if?) Obama intends to really get us out of Iraq in a timely way? Surely that would go a long way to “freeing up” any troops needed for military missions that actually are in the national interest? Here’s Obama writing in the July/August 2007 Foreign Affairs:

To renew American leadership in the world, we must immediately begin working to revitalize our military. A strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps, according to our military leaders, are facing a crisis. The Pentagon cannot certify a single army unit within the United States as fully ready to respond in the event of a new crisis or emergency beyond Iraq; 88 percent of the National Guard is not ready to deploy overseas.

We must use this moment both to rebuild our military and to prepare it for the missions of the future. We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests. But we must also become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale.

We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines. Bolstering these forces is about more than meeting quotas. We must recruit the very best and invest in their capacity to succeed. That means providing our servicemen and servicewomen with first-rate equipment, armor, incentives, and training — including in foreign languages and other critical skills. Each major defense program should be reevaluated in light of current needs, gaps in the field, and likely future threat scenarios. Our military will have to rebuild some capabilities and transform others. At the same time, we need to commit sufficient funding to enable the National Guard to regain a state of readiness.

While I don’t disagree with the “rebuilding readiness” parts of this, the “adding on” parts looks more like a conscious sop to placate the right than an actually thoughtful policy. And while I hesitate to challenge “first rate” equipment or “reevaluation” of programs, that often translates to “let’s scrap this old, boring stuff and buy lots of new, much cooler stuff.” It’s possible to read Obama’s article to mean “transforming” 92,000 “tail of the spear” desk jobs to 92,000 “head of the spear” boots on the ground, but he isn’t clear. On the whole (1) I suspect it’s just plain 92,000 more troops and (2) even if it weren’t, he’s still arguing for armed forces even more capable of overseas interventions, which hardly seems like the brand new direction we need these days.

Like Fred Hiatt or not, he’s within his rights to point out that Obama is calling for a U.S. military that is both effectively bigger and better able to do all that asymmetrical stuff that sounds a lot better than, but is often indistinguishable from “counterinsurgency that makes us more enemies than we had before.”

In the spirit of fairness and balance that positively suffuses my writings here, I must admit Obama’s hardly the first Democrat to make this kind of choice, and I must also admit there are uses for the military that Senator Obama and I seem to be more or less on the same wavelength about: a last resort for stopping genocides, for example, in concert with world alliances.

The trouble is, even if all went well, honorably, and according to the best laid plans of a President Obama, and he did nothing but hold his fire unless really, truly, absolutely necessary… he’d still bequeath a bigger, better set of toys to the next guy. If you squint your eyes just right, recent experience suggests the next guy won’t be a militaristic right wing nut about… ulp… 40% of the time — hardly comforting. I might be persuaded that we shouldn’t reduce the size of the US military, if only to take that debate off the table for what will be a crucial presidential election. But I see no good reason to promise expanding it.

* “Stay-the-Course Plus”, Washington Post, June 4. (footnote added 6/5)

3 Responses to “Shorter Fred Hiatt Plus (Questions for Obama)”

  1. » Blog Archive » No more important priority Says:

    […] more, not fewer troops in our standing armed forces must rank high among them (p. 28, and also no surprise to Obama […]

  2. » Blog Archive » More on Baghdad, 7/12/07 Says:

    […] with a bumper sticker I like: “I’m already against the next war.” We shouldn’t even be building up a military designed for counterinsurgency wars, much less using it in such wars.  It’s as if we’re ancient Rome and the Middle East and […]

  3. » Blog Archive » Neither of the above — for now Says:

    […] mollify, and echo the right on Reagan, on Social Security, on religion, on health care, on an expanded military, on all those mortgage deadbeats, to name a few, and with politics so determinedly centrist he […]

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