The Magazine

Preparing to Fight the Next War

From the December 1, 2003 issue: The blind spots in the Pentagon's new plans.

Dec 1, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 12 • By THOMAS DONNELLY and VANCE SERCHUK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

To be fair to the Pentagon, force planning for what the military calls "stability operations" is inherently difficult; there are few computer programs that model counterinsurgencies. The Clinton administration's attempt to plan in this area, a 1997 effort called "Dynamic Commitment," revealed the difficulty of quantifying open-ended small wars. Unfortunately, the lesson of that study--that force size matters a lot in extended, manpower-intensive missions--was unpalatable to Pentagon leaders. The results of Dynamic Commitment were summarily ignored.

It is further true that the amazing and improving ability of U.S. forces to strike with precision from long range can result in "efficiencies" across the armed services. There are some things--tactical aircraft, for example--we have too many of. But there are more things we have too few of--most pressingly, well-trained dismounted infantry.

Secretary Rumsfeld has said it is not possible to predict with precision where the next threat will come from. But we do know where our wars are likely to be fought in the near term. President Bush, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden are pretty much in agreement on this: It's the Middle East. Yet the Pentagon continues to cling to a "capabilities-based approach" in which all wars are created equal, and speedy wars are the most equal of all.

Tom Donnelly is a resident fellow and Vance Serchuk a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.