William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Does America really need a larger military?
If the United States got out of Iraq, and refocused its counter-terrorism efforts to stress non-military as well as military tools, bolstered its diplomacy, improved its alliances and pushed further burden-sharing, would it still need to expand the Army and Marine Corps?
Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) thinks so, ignoring the implications of his own foreign policy intentions, which would alleviate much of the current strain on America's armed forces.
Obama's foreign policy and defense plan was unveiled earlier this week, with all of the beautiful and hopeful words and vision we have grown to expect from the candidate.
But when it comes to the military, Obama seem hesitant and confused. I know that supporting the troops is American catechism: it would just be nice if the Senator asked why there is such a crisis in the armed forces today and then followed by questioning whether we have the military we need to pursue his foreign policy agenda.
In a speech before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Monday, presidential hopeful Barack Obama described a five point plan to enhance U.S. security and restore America's reputation, influence and respect around the world.
Obama says we need to "show the world" that America is the last, best hope on Earth, offering what he calls "a new vision of American leadership and a new conception of our national security" based upon the view that "the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people."
Obama denounces the current American foreign policy as being based on a "flawed ideology" and "a belief that tough talk can replace real strength and vision" saying that the Iraq war was "based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the threats that 9/11 brought to light."
He calls for a phased withdrawal of American forces "with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31st, 2008." Obama's plan "allows for a limited number of troops to remain in Iraq to fight al Qaeda and other terrorists" and would include "an over-the-horizon force that could prevent chaos in the wider region."
Iraq, he says, was and is "an unnecessary diversion from the struggle against the terrorists." He calls instead for the United States to "refocus ... on the critical challenges in the broader region" and says that more "American forces are needed to battle al Qaeda, track down Osama bin Laden, and stop [Afghanistan] from backsliding toward instability."
There are all the requisite and conventional words about Iran and North Korea ("we must never take the military option off the table") and reducing the threat of weapons of "mass annihilation" ("rises above all others in urgency"), about a more "nimble intelligence community," and freeing the United States from "our oil addiction."
Where Obama's heart is though is in articulating a different vision, and he speaks of a "common humanity" and there's lots of talk of leadership ("by deed and example") and "reaching out to all those living disconnected lives of despair in the world's forgotten corners."
The spread of democracy and freedom are indeed America's larger purpose, but "this yearning is not satisfied by simply deposing a dictator and setting up a ballot box," he says. "The true desire of all mankind is not only to live free lives, but lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and simple justice."
Rhetorically, Obama is soothing and poetic, and he calls for a massive infusion of U.S. foreign assistance and aid to push his soft power agenda and improve the lives and circumstances of America's potential enemies.
Obama tells the story of a visit to the Horn of Africa and some time he spent with the U.S. military Joint Task Force that has been deployed there since 2003. U.S. military forces might have initially been sent to launch counter-terrorism operations, he said, but now they are spending most of their time "working with our diplomats and aid workers on operations to win hearts and minds."
Obama recounts: "One of the Navy captains who helps run the base recently told a reporter, 'Our mission is at least 95 percent civil affairs. It's trying to get at the root causes of why people want to take on the U.S.' The Admiral now in charge of the Task Force suggested that if they can provide dignity and opportunity to the people in that region, then, 'the chance of extremism being welcomed greatly, if not completely, diminishes.'"
This seems to be the military he most admires, and Obama calls for greater investments "in our men and women's ability to succeed in today's complicated conflicts," including, specifically, greater foreign language capability.
On the armed forces overall, Obama calls for "building a 21st century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people."
This includes, Barack Obama says, the current plan to expand the overall size of the U.S. military by nearly 100,000 (65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines), and "recruiting the best and brightest to service, ... keeping them in service by providing them with the first-rate equipment, armor, training, and incentives they deserve."
America's military, Obama says, should be "the strongest, best-equipped military in the world in order to defeat and deter conventional threats." He specifically supports "sustaining our technological edge."
"I say that if the need arises when I'm President, the Army we have will be the Army we need," Obama says, taking a poke at Donald Rumsfeld.
Sure in the end, Obama says that the United States must show "wisdom in how we deploy" our military, and says that "our first line of offense ... must be sustained, direct and aggressive diplomacy." When the United States sends forces into harm's way, he says they must have a clearly defined mission and "concrete political and military objectives," supported by sound intelligence and a "plan" and, of course, the consent of U.S. military commanders.
It sounds an awful lot like John Kerry, with shades of Bill Clinton. A kinder, gentler military will be valued by President Obama; the big, bad military needed for Iran and North Korea (and the completely unmentioned China) will be fed to make space for the president's non-martial trifles.
It's not as if anyone could get elected president in 2008 arguing that we need a smaller military. I just wish that the visionary Senator had followed his own instincts and asked whether our "technological edge" and "armor" and equipment -- the military we now have and the one he says we need -- points us in the right or needed direction.
By William M. Arkin | April 26, 2007; 9:46 AM ET