Lt Col Rick Francona is a retired Air Force officer who moonlights as a military analyst for NBC News. You're probably seen him on program like Hardball, or various newscasts that air on MSNBC.
In a commentary posted today at Hardblogger, Lt Col Francona notes that increasing tour lengths for Army personnel in Iraq will not solve the underlying problem--we don't have enough soldiers (or Marines, for that matter). As he observes:
The problem is not the tour length; it’s the fact that we do not have a sufficient number of soldiers – or Marines for that matter – to maintain the scale and pace of operations, the “ops tempo,” currently assigned to the armed forces.
Let’s be clear about our armed forces. Plain and simple, the all-volunteer force works. We have fielded the best-trained and best-equipped military in our history. At the end of the Cold War, we drew our forces down to what are now unacceptable levels. The problem is that there are not enough of them.
Bravo. We've been saying the same things for months, pointing out that force structure decisions made under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton left us with the undersized ground forces we have today. Simply stated, Bush #41 developed a plan for cutting at least six Army divisions from our active forces, and implemented that strategy. His successor, Mr. Clinton, followed it through to completion. As a result, the Army lost upwards of 160,000 soldiers, leaving the service stretched thin as it fights simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, Lt Col Francona doesn't really examine the rationale for those decisions--and their ultimate consequences. True, in the aftermath of the Cold War, no one foresaw a Long War on Terror and excessive deployments for our ground forces. But, to our knowledge, no one has fully explained the decision-making process that prompted such wholesale force cuts. Getting rid of that many Army divisions requires approval from a lot of folks outside the Oval Office. In researching those cutbacks, we've been hard-pressed to find significant resistance to that drawdown, even within the Army's ranks. Many of the retired generals who have recently emerged as war critics were in leadership positions when the cuts were made. Someone needs to ask them where they were when so much combat capability was placed on the chopping block.
Excessive force reductions in years past don't forgive the Bush Administration's mistakes in prosecuting the Iraq War. But they do explain many of the Army's current personnel issues, and, as Lt Col Francona points out, the need to avoid similar missteps in the future.