SecDef Gates thinks the time for force on force ground campaigns may be over:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.
“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,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.
That reality, he said, meant that the Army would have to reshape its budget, since potential conflicts in places like Asia or the Persian Gulf were more likely to be fought with air and sea power, rather than with conventional ground forces.
“As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanized land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations,” Mr. Gates warned.
Don’t know about you, but if feels like we’ve been down this road before. Mr. Gates’ predecessor notably regretted having to “go to war with the army you have,” rather than the one he wished he had. To me that means having a ground combat element capable of the full-spectrum of military missions, from humanitarian assistance, to training foreign indigenous forces to combined arms mechanized maneuver.
This is not to say that you’d ever seriously contemplate another nation-building mission as we’ve attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we ought to retain a nation-breaking power, and when it comes to enemy ground formations that cannot be done with air and naval power alone – someone has to hold the hill and plant the flag, even if only to haul it back down again once the enemy’s will to fight is broken.
To me the secretary’s speech sounds like we’re tailoring our missions to our budget, which is not in itself an irrational thing to do. But we might as well be honest about it, and admit that we’re voluntarily curtailing our ability to project power in traditional ways in favor of I’m not exactly sure what.