Depressing the army

The Secretary of Defense gave a speech at West Point that surely bummed out the student body:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in one of his last addresses to the Army, said Friday that he envisages a future ground force that will be smaller, pack less heavy firepower and will not engage in large-scale counter-insurgency wars like those in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Gates quipped.

Gates, who is expected to leave his post later this year, predicted a greater role for the Navy and Air Force in the future and warned the Army to gird itself for a period of relative austerity compared with the gusher of defense spending that has sustained it over the past eight years. In particular, Gates suggested that the Army will have a tough time justifying its spending on heavy armor formations – which have been the core of its force for decades – to lawmakers and the White House.

“In the competition for tight defense dollars, the Army … must confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements – whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf or elsewhere,” he said.

The defense chief predicted that Army and Marine forces would increasingly be asked to focus more on short-duration counterterrorism strikes and disaster relief. As he has for the past several years, Gates called on the Army to devote more of its best personnel to training and equipping foreign militaries.

via In one of final addresses to Army, Gates describes vision for military’s future.

So you’re a senior at West Point, having survived plebe year and basic training and officer training and a rigorous college curriculum, and you’re finally ready  to start your military career, eager to serve your country and make your mark. Whereupon the Secretary of Defense comes to campus and announces  and you’re told that the army is getting its budget and its firepower cut, that your future is in training foreign armies, and that the important assignments are all going to the Air Force and the Navy.

Hasn’t the Sec-Def ever heard of ceremonial speeches?  Or motivational speeches?  Even if this is going to be the administration’s new policy, why break the news in a speech at West Point?

At any rate, what do you think of this new military strategy?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Joe

    Based on this speech it sounds an awful lot like what Rumsfeld was proposing – a switch from traditional armor to extremely mobile and nimble strike forces, supported by air strikes and missiles from naval vessels. That is mainly the tactic we used to take Iraq. We all saw how quickly we were able to take Baghdad. Of course we all also saw the near impossibility of securing the country without large traditional ground forces.

  • Joe

    Based on this speech it sounds an awful lot like what Rumsfeld was proposing – a switch from traditional armor to extremely mobile and nimble strike forces, supported by air strikes and missiles from naval vessels. That is mainly the tactic we used to take Iraq. We all saw how quickly we were able to take Baghdad. Of course we all also saw the near impossibility of securing the country without large traditional ground forces.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Naive.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Naive.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    This guy is our Secretary of Defense?
    I love the Air Force, even that floating one they call the Navy. But this is shear nonsense. Wars can be won from the air. Our Air Force proved that in WWII, and without an Air Force winning a war is going to be much more difficult. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know eventually you need boots on the ground. It would maybe be nice if that wasn’t so, but it is.
    I don’t see the Army, or the Marine Corp, losing their usefulness anytime soon.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    This guy is our Secretary of Defense?
    I love the Air Force, even that floating one they call the Navy. But this is shear nonsense. Wars can be won from the air. Our Air Force proved that in WWII, and without an Air Force winning a war is going to be much more difficult. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know eventually you need boots on the ground. It would maybe be nice if that wasn’t so, but it is.
    I don’t see the Army, or the Marine Corp, losing their usefulness anytime soon.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Apparently Gates is under the impression that our country’s enemies are going to oblige us by fighting the kind of war we’re prepared to fight. He’s entirely right, of course, as everyone remembers the squadron of Japanese battleships that steamed into Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Apparently Gates is under the impression that our country’s enemies are going to oblige us by fighting the kind of war we’re prepared to fight. He’s entirely right, of course, as everyone remembers the squadron of Japanese battleships that steamed into Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

  • Paul

    My brothers are both West Point graduates and career veterans. In talking with them about their education and experiences, it is clear to me that they would know better than their own secretary of defense because they know military and political history. “Boots on the ground” are the necessary to occupy and thereby control territory. You can bomb and surgically strike forever, but the territory will never be “secure” until it is occupied. From the Pacific Islands to Berlin, Vietnam, and even most recently Iraq, it is clear that a determined enemy will not stop until rooted out cave by cave or door to door. Anything else is wishful thinking.

    I would liken an Academy graduate hearing this speech to a seminary graduate hearing a synodical official forecasting the day when sermons are delivered by podcast and visits to the dying are made by video phone. A virtual presence cannot replace the real presence of the pastor delivering the means of grace in person “for you.” After four years of such instruction and already having some experience be it from vicarage or cadet service as well as instruction from those who have ‘been there’ while the speaker has neither such training nor experience I would think that the graduate would ‘filter’ what they hear, already knowing better than the political appointee.

    Such was the case, I’m told, when the Secretary of Defense urged more rapid movement toward and through Baghdad, insisting that weapons caches be passed by unsecured and pressing on without sufficient boots to occupy the rear. The soldier on the ground, I’m told, knew that those weapons would be spread through the populace and a ground war would continue in the cities in territory they had already covered because insufficient troops were provided. Rumsfeld kept cutting and cutting the troops and pressing and pressing for speed in opposition to the advice of his generals – save one who has since been greatly rewarded for his allegiance to the politicians over his soldiers. The first Bush took the advice of his commanders, not wanting to commit such vast numbers of soldiers and so did not invade Iraq. The second Bush let Rumsfeld’s dreams convince him that it could be otherwise and we paid in years of struggle because we hoped to “end” the conflict more quickly.

    So back to the point: all along, most of the soldiers on the ground knew better than the political appointee. If I could learn this from my uniformed brothers, I expect that the cadets themselves would mostly know better by the time they graduate. The historical evidence is simply too overwhelming to believe that it could be otherwise.

    Besides all this, if Gates but they don’t believe him, then no harm is done. But if Gates is wrong and they believe him, then there will be American blood by the barrel. If you were a soldier, which way would you bet?

  • Paul

    My brothers are both West Point graduates and career veterans. In talking with them about their education and experiences, it is clear to me that they would know better than their own secretary of defense because they know military and political history. “Boots on the ground” are the necessary to occupy and thereby control territory. You can bomb and surgically strike forever, but the territory will never be “secure” until it is occupied. From the Pacific Islands to Berlin, Vietnam, and even most recently Iraq, it is clear that a determined enemy will not stop until rooted out cave by cave or door to door. Anything else is wishful thinking.

    I would liken an Academy graduate hearing this speech to a seminary graduate hearing a synodical official forecasting the day when sermons are delivered by podcast and visits to the dying are made by video phone. A virtual presence cannot replace the real presence of the pastor delivering the means of grace in person “for you.” After four years of such instruction and already having some experience be it from vicarage or cadet service as well as instruction from those who have ‘been there’ while the speaker has neither such training nor experience I would think that the graduate would ‘filter’ what they hear, already knowing better than the political appointee.

    Such was the case, I’m told, when the Secretary of Defense urged more rapid movement toward and through Baghdad, insisting that weapons caches be passed by unsecured and pressing on without sufficient boots to occupy the rear. The soldier on the ground, I’m told, knew that those weapons would be spread through the populace and a ground war would continue in the cities in territory they had already covered because insufficient troops were provided. Rumsfeld kept cutting and cutting the troops and pressing and pressing for speed in opposition to the advice of his generals – save one who has since been greatly rewarded for his allegiance to the politicians over his soldiers. The first Bush took the advice of his commanders, not wanting to commit such vast numbers of soldiers and so did not invade Iraq. The second Bush let Rumsfeld’s dreams convince him that it could be otherwise and we paid in years of struggle because we hoped to “end” the conflict more quickly.

    So back to the point: all along, most of the soldiers on the ground knew better than the political appointee. If I could learn this from my uniformed brothers, I expect that the cadets themselves would mostly know better by the time they graduate. The historical evidence is simply too overwhelming to believe that it could be otherwise.

    Besides all this, if Gates but they don’t believe him, then no harm is done. But if Gates is wrong and they believe him, then there will be American blood by the barrel. If you were a soldier, which way would you bet?

  • Paul

    That last paragraph should read: “Besides all this, if Gates is RIGHT, and they don’t believe him, then no ham is done. But if Gates is wrong and they believe him, then there will be American blood by the barrel. If you were a soldier, which way would you bet?”

  • Paul

    That last paragraph should read: “Besides all this, if Gates is RIGHT, and they don’t believe him, then no ham is done. But if Gates is wrong and they believe him, then there will be American blood by the barrel. If you were a soldier, which way would you bet?”

  • Jacknc

    Gates is right on. The graduates should be aiming for the Special Operations career field, which will provide their greatest opportunity for a successful career. Learn from past fiascos such failure to use many more Green Berets in Vietnam rather than the divisions of infantry. CIA drones are doing a great job in Pakistan. The Army has always had too many soldiers in the DC area–cut that number in half and like wise other headquarters. Get soldiers into the field!
    Retired Army Viet Nam vet

  • Jacknc

    Gates is right on. The graduates should be aiming for the Special Operations career field, which will provide their greatest opportunity for a successful career. Learn from past fiascos such failure to use many more Green Berets in Vietnam rather than the divisions of infantry. CIA drones are doing a great job in Pakistan. The Army has always had too many soldiers in the DC area–cut that number in half and like wise other headquarters. Get soldiers into the field!
    Retired Army Viet Nam vet

  • WebMonk

    Gates’ view would work as long as we don’t actually occupy a country in the way we have occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. It depends on a very large policy change from what we currently follow, and I don’t see that happening for a number of reasons.

    As soon as the US goes to occupy a country for any time beyond a couple months, the bombing things and sending out surgical combat strikes with SF and SF-like combat teams is not the type of work needed to be done.

    For the type of work needed for longer scenarios, I don’t see any way to get around the need for a lot of boots on the ground.

    While I’m not a vet, that view is what my friend who is an Iraq/Afhganistan vet from the Marines.

  • WebMonk

    Gates’ view would work as long as we don’t actually occupy a country in the way we have occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. It depends on a very large policy change from what we currently follow, and I don’t see that happening for a number of reasons.

    As soon as the US goes to occupy a country for any time beyond a couple months, the bombing things and sending out surgical combat strikes with SF and SF-like combat teams is not the type of work needed to be done.

    For the type of work needed for longer scenarios, I don’t see any way to get around the need for a lot of boots on the ground.

    While I’m not a vet, that view is what my friend who is an Iraq/Afhganistan vet from the Marines.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Bror nails it well; the idea that the Navy and Air Force are “going to handle things” is really a modified conceit from the 1960s, when the Air Force actually suggested eliminating the Army and Navy, because obviously we could do everything with long range bombers.

    Thankfully, this advice was not followed. Again, generals don’t always get to choose the wars, hence they must be prepared for all kinds of wars.

    Including ones where “boots on the ground” are crucial.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Bror nails it well; the idea that the Navy and Air Force are “going to handle things” is really a modified conceit from the 1960s, when the Air Force actually suggested eliminating the Army and Navy, because obviously we could do everything with long range bombers.

    Thankfully, this advice was not followed. Again, generals don’t always get to choose the wars, hence they must be prepared for all kinds of wars.

    Including ones where “boots on the ground” are crucial.

  • DonS

    I didn’t read the rest of his speech, so can’t really speak to the appropriateness of the timing or venue for giving it. But, in general, we are not talking about very large deployments in either Iraq or Afghanistan. We had about 150,000 troops in Iraq at the peak, and about 100,000 in Afghanistan now — maybe 200,000 or so total in the region. This is a mix of Army and Marines.

    In Vietnam we had about 500,000 troops, when our total population was less than 2/3 what it is now. In WWII, with a population of 135,000,000, we had 15 million men in the military — probably a couple of million ground troops deployed in various theaters at any given time.

    Just a little perspective. The bottom line is that he is announcing that we will never again enter a country with the intent to remove and replace the government. Because you can’t do those things with your Navy or Air Force, or with Special Ops. It takes a lot of troops and a lot of time.

  • DonS

    I didn’t read the rest of his speech, so can’t really speak to the appropriateness of the timing or venue for giving it. But, in general, we are not talking about very large deployments in either Iraq or Afghanistan. We had about 150,000 troops in Iraq at the peak, and about 100,000 in Afghanistan now — maybe 200,000 or so total in the region. This is a mix of Army and Marines.

    In Vietnam we had about 500,000 troops, when our total population was less than 2/3 what it is now. In WWII, with a population of 135,000,000, we had 15 million men in the military — probably a couple of million ground troops deployed in various theaters at any given time.

    Just a little perspective. The bottom line is that he is announcing that we will never again enter a country with the intent to remove and replace the government. Because you can’t do those things with your Navy or Air Force, or with Special Ops. It takes a lot of troops and a lot of time.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    It is a shame this country does not have, as a collective society, the stomach to really wage war the only way it has ever been won:

    By using overwhelming numbers of soldiers with massive amounts of firepower, unrelentingly applied, until the enemy is utterly wiped out.

    Harsh? Sure it is. True? You bet.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    It is a shame this country does not have, as a collective society, the stomach to really wage war the only way it has ever been won:

    By using overwhelming numbers of soldiers with massive amounts of firepower, unrelentingly applied, until the enemy is utterly wiped out.

    Harsh? Sure it is. True? You bet.

  • Cincinnatus

    If China is our rising threat, then a massive conventional force, like the one that was once stationed in or near Western Europe and the borders of the USSR, would be relatively useless anyway. I think Gates is right. A direct war (God forbid) with China, for instance, would probably be fought primarily at sea and in the air, with land action being restricted to proxy conflicts a la the Cold War. India can field far more infantry soldiers than we can anyway. At any rate, this is idle speculation, but I don’t expect the conflicts of the “future” will involve massive conventional forces. Meanwhile, conventional forces are basically useless in the military’s current conflicts and operations as well.

    And I’m happy with anything that will shrink the federal budget. Don’t worry, McCain@11 and others, we still spend more than the rest of the world combined on “defense.”

  • Cincinnatus

    If China is our rising threat, then a massive conventional force, like the one that was once stationed in or near Western Europe and the borders of the USSR, would be relatively useless anyway. I think Gates is right. A direct war (God forbid) with China, for instance, would probably be fought primarily at sea and in the air, with land action being restricted to proxy conflicts a la the Cold War. India can field far more infantry soldiers than we can anyway. At any rate, this is idle speculation, but I don’t expect the conflicts of the “future” will involve massive conventional forces. Meanwhile, conventional forces are basically useless in the military’s current conflicts and operations as well.

    And I’m happy with anything that will shrink the federal budget. Don’t worry, McCain@11 and others, we still spend more than the rest of the world combined on “defense.”

  • Porcell

    Unless the experience of history has been inverted, boots on the ground are necessary to win wars, however strong we are in the air and on the sea. America in its history has consistently ignored this reality; as a result we usually lose wars at the beginning due to a lack of boots on the ground, though eventually we wake up, as we did in WWII, and though a forced draft recruit the necessary ground soldiers.

    Sooner or later we shall be glad for every one of those superbly educated and trained WestPoint graduates and Naval Marines. On balance, I admire Bob Gates, though not for this West Point address.

  • Porcell

    Unless the experience of history has been inverted, boots on the ground are necessary to win wars, however strong we are in the air and on the sea. America in its history has consistently ignored this reality; as a result we usually lose wars at the beginning due to a lack of boots on the ground, though eventually we wake up, as we did in WWII, and though a forced draft recruit the necessary ground soldiers.

    Sooner or later we shall be glad for every one of those superbly educated and trained WestPoint graduates and Naval Marines. On balance, I admire Bob Gates, though not for this West Point address.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Feldman, I’m glad there are real men in uniform defending this nation, as opposed to people like you.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Feldman, I’m glad there are real men in uniform defending this nation, as opposed to people like you.

  • Feldman

    McCain, any real man in uniform would repudiate your senseless comment @11.

  • Feldman

    McCain, any real man in uniform would repudiate your senseless comment @11.

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    diversity-PC-hope-change-
    do NOT win wars-
    nor do drones-planes-boats alone-
    w/o ‘boots on the ground’ we are weak-do we want to go through that again…
    C-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    diversity-PC-hope-change-
    do NOT win wars-
    nor do drones-planes-boats alone-
    w/o ‘boots on the ground’ we are weak-do we want to go through that again…
    C-CS

  • Bruce Gee
  • Bruce Gee
  • Cincinnatus

    This is something I don’t understand about many who claim to be conservatives: you want fiscal sanity, a smaller and less overweening government, more local control, etc., but yet you insist, with all the flourishes of a refined jingoism, that we must have the largest armed forces on the planet, no matter the cost, so that we can wage war “by using overwhelming numbers of soldiers with massive amounts of firepower, unrelentingly applied, until the enemy is utterly wiped out.”

    More than anything else, this sounds like Stalin describing the Eastern Front in WWII. Is that what we want for our Republic?

  • Cincinnatus

    This is something I don’t understand about many who claim to be conservatives: you want fiscal sanity, a smaller and less overweening government, more local control, etc., but yet you insist, with all the flourishes of a refined jingoism, that we must have the largest armed forces on the planet, no matter the cost, so that we can wage war “by using overwhelming numbers of soldiers with massive amounts of firepower, unrelentingly applied, until the enemy is utterly wiped out.”

    More than anything else, this sounds like Stalin describing the Eastern Front in WWII. Is that what we want for our Republic?

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    It is ironic that a man who uses the handle “Cincinnatus” seems so hesitant about a strong military.

    I believe that the highest duty of government is to wield the sword to defend and to protect our nation and to punish and thwart the intentions of evil men.

    Therefore, I believe we as a nation must continue to give a high priority to making sure we have the most well trained and well equipped military in the world, and when we wage war, we wage it as effectively as possible.

    I also believe every able bodied law-abiding citizen of this nation should be familiar with the use of firearms and able to make use of them in defense of their families, their homes, their community and their nation, as the need arises. I believe every man, in particular, should know the fundamentals of how to use a handgun, a shotgun and a rifle.

    You can toss out all the red herrings you like, but you seem to have a very loose grip on the reality of life in a sin-filled world, where there are evil people who intend to do us and our nation harm.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    It is ironic that a man who uses the handle “Cincinnatus” seems so hesitant about a strong military.

    I believe that the highest duty of government is to wield the sword to defend and to protect our nation and to punish and thwart the intentions of evil men.

    Therefore, I believe we as a nation must continue to give a high priority to making sure we have the most well trained and well equipped military in the world, and when we wage war, we wage it as effectively as possible.

    I also believe every able bodied law-abiding citizen of this nation should be familiar with the use of firearms and able to make use of them in defense of their families, their homes, their community and their nation, as the need arises. I believe every man, in particular, should know the fundamentals of how to use a handgun, a shotgun and a rifle.

    You can toss out all the red herrings you like, but you seem to have a very loose grip on the reality of life in a sin-filled world, where there are evil people who intend to do us and our nation harm.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    “At any rate, what do you think of this new military strategy?”

    I think it is a reaction to the budget. The defense budget could change if people truly saw its necessity, which would require a disaster I would not look forward to witnessing. But I won’t blame Gates for understanding financial constraints. They are very real.

    I would hope he made this speech for the sake of the students who heard it, so that they don’t waste their time pursuing what won’t be there for them.

    As to the analogy with the synodical office predicting podcasts replacing pastors, if the checks for all pastors were paid by the synodical office, and the president announced the only half the number of pastors would be getting checks, I would think that was a rare moment of honesty if such an announcement were made. I wouldn’t call that a ministerial strategy, either. Going broke is not a military strategy.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    “At any rate, what do you think of this new military strategy?”

    I think it is a reaction to the budget. The defense budget could change if people truly saw its necessity, which would require a disaster I would not look forward to witnessing. But I won’t blame Gates for understanding financial constraints. They are very real.

    I would hope he made this speech for the sake of the students who heard it, so that they don’t waste their time pursuing what won’t be there for them.

    As to the analogy with the synodical office predicting podcasts replacing pastors, if the checks for all pastors were paid by the synodical office, and the president announced the only half the number of pastors would be getting checks, I would think that was a rare moment of honesty if such an announcement were made. I wouldn’t call that a ministerial strategy, either. Going broke is not a military strategy.


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