Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Who is Going to War

As I started to write this, CNN was carrying an announcement by British General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff (the equivalent of the U.S. Army Chief of Staff), that Prince Harry will not deploy to Iraq when his battle group goes later this year. Dannatt made the decision after reviewing a number of specific threats against Harry should he deploy with his regiment as well as threats by insurgents and foreign fighters to concentrate attacks on the Prince’s regiment.

Harry is third in line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, and his older brother, Prince William. (In irreverent British idiom, William is the “heir” and Harry is the “spare.”) But royalty per se is not the stated reason Harry will not be going to war – Charles’ younger brother, Prince Andrew, flew Lynx helicopters during the 1982 war with Argentine over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands. The tenor of General Dannatt’s statement pointed to keeping the threats to all UK regiments in Iraq more or less equal, which would not be the case for Prince Harry’s unit were he sent to Iraq with them.

Back in the U.S., President Bush finally found a general willing to become the administration’s “war czar” after at least five four-star generals declined. Lieutenant-General Douglas Lute, currently the J-3 (Operations) on the Joint Staff, has agreed to accept nomination to the post (he must be confirmed by the Senate), which carries the title of “assistant to the president.” He will need that title as he will be dealing not only with four-star commanders and senior civilian bureaucrats in the Pentagon but also with other executive branch officials. Moreover, outside of a small staff (reportedly under a dozen strong), he will have no operational or line authority to “make” things happen. He is expected to be a “fixer” and coordinator – the person with all the responsibility and no authority other than what he can exert because all Washington knows that he has direct access to the president.

Yet at the same time that the administration is re-juggling the war’s superstructure, it continues to fight without a coherent strategy that effectively integrates the actions and harmonizes the goals of the Departments of State, Defense, Judiciary, and other U.S. government agencies operating in the two countries. That, in part, makes Lute’s nomination a bit odd as his military responsibilities for the last few years, at both USCENTCOM and the Joint Staff, has been in operations, not plans.

For those who like intrigue and conspiracy, it is not difficult to weave a scenario where Lute comes in, pulls together some of the strings, and security and the economy in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to improve slightly. In reality, everyone will be watching to see exactly how much access to and influence with Bush the new “war czar” has. In the meantime, Bush will have succeeded – once the Senate gives its advice and consent – in erecting another administrative layer between the fighters in the field and himself.

And speaking of fighters, a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor notes that it is no longer just mothers of military-age men and women who are wary – even skeptical – of the efforts to entice their children into the military. Pentagon surveys show a drop from 77 percent in 2003 to 59 percent last August – before the congressional elections – of fathers who said they would be supportive of their children’s choice to enter the military. The report also notes that grandparents are less inclined than in the past to approve of military service for their grandchildren.

Still, the active duty services continue to reach their recruiting goals – for now. How much longer they can do so without going bankrupt from all the cash they are giving out (estimates are one billion dollars) in bonuses, or to what level the standards for admission might have to be adjusted down (e.g., police record, non-high school graduate, score on the military aptitude test), to meet the increased number of recruits to fill out the expanded size of the Army and Marine Corps (92,000), remains to be seen.

And then there are the 10 combat brigades that have been tapped for Iraq to keep the “surge” going into 2008.


Blogger Bruce said...

I thought you were insightful. Where did you get the statistics?

9:34 PM  

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