If the Department of Defense (DoD) finds it increasingly difficult to manage successfully a relatively limited conflict in Afghanistan, why would it be even considering the possibility of even more challenging scenarios in Eastern Europe, South Asia and the Far East? Published reports about the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) describe a list of scenarios for future conflict that includes a clash with Russia over the Baltics, interventions in response to the collapse of Pakistan and North Korea, and wars with China and Iran. The U.S. Army may be guilty of even greater hubris. Among the scenarios examined during the 2008 “Unified Quest” war game was one involving the deployment of some 20,000 U.S. troops in Nigeria in order to “secure the oil.” Another scenario was an Afghanistan-size intervention in Somalia. In the 2009 version of this war game, scenarios included intervention in a conflict in Central Asia and involvement in a civil war in Bolivia.
The problem is not entirely DoD’s fault. In the absence of an Obama national security strategy, the Pentagon believes it must plan for every eventuality. However, it should also know its own limits, particularly in the face of massive budget deficits and an all-but inevitable reduction in defense spending in the years to come. DoD needs to wean itself from the idea that the American military can go anywhere and do anything. It can do a few things very well – particularly high intensity combined arms conventional warfare. This is okay because the only threats that can really harm U.S. interests are those that involving real wars against serious opponents. Yes, the collapse of Pakistan raises the problem of control of that country’s nuclear weapons. But that is a problem for our Special Operations Forces, not the other 95 percent of the U.S. military.
What DoD does poorly and at great expense is all the other messy stuff. It is time to admit the truth. DoD needs to concentrate on the threats that will make a difference and against which we have gotten to be pretty good. If these are not likely, then we can afford reduced defense budgets and a smaller, albeit modernized military.
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