Rumsfeld's legacy: a job half-done.

Military analysis.
Oct. 19 2004 7:20 PM

Rumsfeld's Legacy

"Military transformation"? Mission not-yet-accomplished.

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The list could go on. (Click here if you want it to.)

Military operations are now run through joint commands—i.e., as interservice endeavors. (U.S. Central Command, or Centcomm, which ran the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is one of these joint enterprises.) But military budgets are still devised, weapons are still purchased, and priorities are still set by the individual services—Army, Air Force, and Navy. (The Marines are part of the Navy, but they've been allowed increasing autonomy on these matters.) Overall military budgets have gone up and down, at varying rates, over the past 20 years—but none of the services has had its apple cart toppled.

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For instance, look at the three services' allocations in the FY 2005 military budget that Congress just passed. The Army received $114 billion, the Navy $123 billion, and the Air Force $124 billion. (The total sum, $361 billion, does not include money for other Defense Department agencies or for the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons divisions.) This amounts to 32 percent for the Army, 34 percent for the Navy, 34 percent for the Air Force.

Now look at the Pentagon's archive for fiscal year 1994, the Clinton administration's first military budget. The relative shares are nearly identical: 30 percent for the Army, 36 percent for the Navy, 34 percent for the Air Force.

In fact, go back to fiscal year 1984. It's 29 percent for the Army, 35 percent for the Navy, 36 percent for the Air Force. Go back to nearly any year in the past quarter-century, and you'll see the same pattern. This is no coincidence. This reflects an informal accord among the service chiefs on how to divvy up the budget, and anyone who disturbs this arrangement can count on unleashing a storm of backbiting dissent and bureaucratic warfare.

In short, partly for reasons beyond the control of all but the most tenacious defense secretaries (and it looks as though Rumsfeld, for all his bluster, will not join those ranks), "military transformation" has not begun to gain a grip on the bowels of the Pentagon.

But let's take another look at where the theory, to some degree, has been put into practice—in actual military tactics and operations. The question, to put it on the table again: Is this the right sort of transformation? It worked in Iraq and Afghanistan as long as the mission was to plow into opposing armies and topple a regime. However, the current mission is what the military calls "security and stabilization operations." And the doctrine of transformation seems to have no bearing on this phase of conflict whatsoever.

The point of transformation is to fight mobile, high-tech wars with fewer troops. Yet, as everyone has by now recognized, occupying, securing, and stabilizing conquered territory is a fairly static, decidedly low-tech enterprise that requires almost nothing but troops—the more, the better.

There's a false nomenclature, used by officials and critics alike, about the war in Iraq. It is misleading to say that we're in danger of "winning the war but losing the peace." We are not embroiled in some "postwar" operation. We're still embroiled in a war—the same war that started in March 2003. 

One of the saddest stories about this war was told in a Knight-Ridder piece this past weekend. Shortly before the invasion of Iraq got underway last year, a group of military and intelligence officers met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to watch a slide show that laid out the details of the finished war plan. The final slide was the shocker. Labeled "Phase 4-C" (meaning the phase for security and stabilization), the slide read: "To be provided."

It's not that Rumsfeld had no plan to win the peace. He had no plan to win the war.

This is not to put the onus entirely on Rumsfeld. The U.S. Army used to have large units specializing in civil affairs and military police. They dwindled in size and importance during the Cold War, when the strategy of war-fighting became subordinate to the business of weapons procurement. It has also been a very long time since any branch of the armed forces published a field manual on post-combat operations. At the end of an Army war game played in 2002, retired Gen. Huba Wass de Czege—one of the game's managers—wrote a memo complaining that the players finished the game before it was really over. They confused triumph on the battlefield with the accomplishment of strategic objectives. It's a common mistake in these war games, Gen. Wass de Czege wrote, which "tend to devote more attention to successful campaign-beginnings than to successful conclusions." A few months later, the real commanders would make the same mistake in the real war.