Secretary Gates declares war on the Army brass.

Military analysis.
Oct. 12 2007 10:22 AM

Secretary Gates Declares War on the Army Brass

Unfortunately, he doesn't have time to fight that battle.

Robert Gates. Click image to expand.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a speech that suggested what an interesting—perhaps even great—secretary of defense he might have become, if only he had more time and a less dreadful mess to clean up.

The speech was delivered to the Association of the United States Army, an organization that's happy to hear applause lines and boilerplate; but Gates used the occasion to call for a radical restructuring of the Army—its training, personnel policies, basic strategy, and missions.

Advertisement

He issued the call about halfway into the speech, when he noted that future wars will be more like Iraq and Afghanistan—"asymmetric" conflicts that don't play into the American military's traditional prowess for large-scale, head-to-head combat.

It is hard to conceive of any country challenging the United States directly on the ground, at least for some years to come. Indeed, history shows us that smaller, irregular forces—insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists—have for centuries found ways to harass and frustrate larger, regular armies and sow chaos. … We can expect that asymmetric warfare will remain the mainstay of the contemporary battlefield for some time. These conflicts will be fundamentally political in nature and require the application of all elements of national power. Success will be less a matter of imposing one's will and more a function of shaping behavior—of friends, adversaries, and, most importantly, the people in between.

To the civilian newspaper reader, this may seem a passage of dry common sense. But to an Army insider, it's practically a declaration of bureaucratic war.

The heart of the establishment Army is the tank and infantry corps. Its key mission is high-intensity, open-field combat against an enemy army of comparable capability.

Yet here was the secretary of defense saying that this kind of warfare isn't likely to recur any time soon. More than that, he was proposing that the Army move away from the mission of fighting any kind of war. Here was the hair-raising line:

[A]rguably the most important military component in the War on Terror is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our partners to defend and govern their own countries. The standing up and mentoring of indigenous armies and police—once the province of Special Forces—is now a key mission for the military as a whole. [Italics added.]

Granted, Gates did not say "the War on Terror" is the only war that the Army has to gear up for. One of the Army's "principal challenges," he said, "is to regain its traditional edge of fighting conventional wars while retaining what it has learned and relearned about unconventional wars." But then, he added that these unconventional wars are "the ones most likely to be fought in the years ahead."

The implication was clear: The Army's primary mission—which drives its weapons procurement, its force structure, its culture, everything about it—is to be relegated to secondary status and supplanted by a focus on counterinsurgency, training, and advising.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in the New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.