Bush's Foreign Policy Successes

2 / 6
2 / 6

No. 4 Military Transformation

At first blush, suggesting that transforming the military has been a success of the Bush administration seems counter-factual. After all, hasn't the U.S. military failed to bring decisive victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq? Hasn't the verdict been delivered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus that rather than lean and mean, the U.S. military needs more boots on the ground? Less tech and more mech? And indeed both men, in tandem with the incoming Obama administration, appear intent on reversing the military's emphasis on an agile, networked force to comport with the new conventional wisdom that what we really need are more soldiers skilled at pacifying unruly natives. Looked at another way, however, transformation did indeed deliver on its promise. The U.S. military was able to swiftly depose two governments with minimal use of U.S. troops, and thus, a minimum loss of American life. In Afghanistan, the U.S. crossed 7,000 miles to run the Taliban out of power and fracture al Qaeda with an unconventional mix of precision airpower, Special Forces and C.I.A. paramilitary. In Iraq, a three week race through the desert brought down Saddam Hussein's Baathist tyranny without any of the ecological or regional catastrophes that a more protracted, conventional campaign might have provoked. What the military failed to do - "win the peace" - was arguably never possible, even if General Eric Shinseki had his way and 300,000-plus troops poured into Baghdad. Studies of successful nation-building efforts from the Rand Corperation suggested that for the U.S. to adequately police Iraq, it would have needed to have nearly 500,000 troops inside Iraq and draw on a manpower pool of close to 2.5 million - nearly 1 million more troops than the U.S. had in its entire military (including the Air Force and Navy) at the time of the invasion. Of all the vehicles to bring democratic governments to Iraq and Afghanistan - nations that have not known functional, let alone liberal, governing institutions for decades - the U.S. military was spectacularly unsuited. The only example in recent U.S. history of post-war military occupations delivering allied democratic governments (Germany and Japan) were preceded by unimaginable devastation and loss of life - destruction on a scale that would never have been countenanced for either Iraq or Afghanistan. Most commentators and theorists have gazed into the maw of post-war Iraq and concluded that the U.S. needs an Army capable of waging counter-insurgencies against lightly armed guerilla forces: a constabulary Army with a civilian infrastructure modeled on the British Colonial Office. But one can just as easily conclude that the Iraq war should simply never have been fought. One can argue that Iraq did not expose the folly of military transformation, but the folly using militarily power unnecessarily and then insisting on the unreasonable political objective of installing a democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Even in Afghanistan, where the U.S. was legitimately compelled to act, the dynamic is similar. The "failure" is not insufficient boots on the ground, but political objectives for the country, which are at odds with America's capabilities and available resources and tangential to her interests. While campaigning for the presidency, George Bush made two national security promises: to transform the military into a 21st century force and to avoid nation-building. At least he kept one of them.

Show commentsHide Comments

Related Articles