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A Bigger, Badder, Better Army

From the November 29, 2004 issue: The military needed for the Bush Doctrine.

Nov 29, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 11 • By THOMAS DONNELLY and VANCE SERCHUK
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AT THE HEART of this fall's presidential campaign was a policy debate about the meaning of the "global war on terror." Is it, as George W. Bush came to understand, a struggle for the political future of the greater Middle East--a contest between liberalism and radical Islam to supplant the crumbling autocracies that have dominated the region since the fall of the Ottoman Empire? Or is it, as John Kerry claimed, a narrower mission--to roll back al Qaeda, a fringe movement whose members can be tracked down, captured, or killed, and thus restore the pre-9/11 status quo?

The president's electoral victory on November 2 did not settle this argument, but it gave him a new opportunity to prove his case. Ultimately, a second Bush administration must convince Americans and the world that a tolerant, democratic Middle East is not a desert mirage, but a winnable prospect. And real success must be achieved both in and beyond Afghanistan and Iraq.

The next steps toward the transformation of the Islamic world must be taken here at home, with the transformation of our national security establishment. This is the central challenge for the second Bush administration. If the United States is to succeed in spurring the emergence of a different kind of Middle East, it must also create a different kind of military. And for that, it must redefine defense transformation to meet the geopolitical challenges we face, not simply to harness the technological opportunities before us.

This gap between our strategic ends and our military means must be addressed in four major areas.

* More ground troops. As of mid-November, approximately 180,000 reservists and national guardsmen are mobilized, of whom 154,000 are U.S. Army. They supplement an active Army force set by law at 480,000, but "temporarily" expanded to a little over 500,000. In total, then, there are about 650,000 soldiers actively in service.

For reasons that are hard to fathom, there is still a debate in the Pentagon about whether this requirement for ground forces is an Iraq-driven anomaly or a reflection of the "long, hard slog" that is the global war on terror. The answer ought to be obvious. Even if, in the next year, it proves possible to reduce the number of troops in Iraq, the need for larger land forces won't end. It's the nature of this war.

That's hard for Americans to accept. We have always put great faith in the notion that technology and firepower can substitute for human capital; that "it's better to send a bullet than a man." And while there's no question that extraordinary efficiencies and effects have been wrung from the Pentagon's emphasis on speed, precision, and coordination, it's also true that the open-ended, low-level counterinsurgencies that increasingly are the operational reality of the global war on terror are manpower-intensive. Technology can help--and greater efforts should be made to develop devices that can counter the "improvised explosive devices," suicide bombs, and car bombs favored by Islamic insurgents--but it cannot solve the problem.

That's because progress in these conflicts is predicated on more than lobbing precision-guided weapons at terrorists. Rather, making the greater Middle East part of the global liberal order depends on the U.S. military's ability to provide a measure of security for local populations, rally their support, and mobilize them to fight alongside us.

But as always in history, patrolling the frontier is a job for regulars. It has been a revelation to military personnel wonks that reservists have been willing to sign up for repeat duty on the merciless missions they've been given in Iraq, but this can't go on forever. This year the Army failed to achieve its reserve recruiting goals, a worrisome sign. Relying on citizen soldiers as an "operational" reserve allbut obliterates the distinction between reservists and regulars. It also deprives the military of a true strategic reserve to mobilize in times of unanticipated crisis, such as could develop in North Korea, Iran, or other trouble spots.

Further, regulars are the most effective tool for training and organizing local forces that will ultimately safeguard and legitimize the new governments in Kabul and Baghdad. It's not simply that the new Afghan and Iraqi armies and police must learn their trade. They need an institutional model of how a military serves a free society. And they need a reliable, long-term partner. It is said that al Qaeda has "franchised" jihad; we need to franchise its opposite in counterterrorism.