- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That was the question a friend posed the other day. Here, slightly edited for clarity and further reflection, is what I wrote back to him:
My impression is that the Army is kind of all over the place these days. It reminds me a bit of the years in the mid-1950s before the Pentomic Army.
The looming budget cuts are the biggest thing shaping today’s force. The Army may be going into what Eliot Cohen once called "the Uptonian hunker," waiting for the budget cuts to hit.
The second biggest thing is the dog that isn’t barking. As far as I can see, there is very little interest in turning over the rock to figure out what the Army has learned in the last 10 years, how it has changed, what it has done well, what it hasn’t. More than a Harry Summers, where is the intellectual equivalent of a self-evaluation such as the 1970 study on Army professionalism? Shouldn’t the Army be asking itself how it has changed, and looking at the state of its officer corps? We have seen some terrible leadership but very little official inclination to examine its causes. A couple of years ago, I noticed in reviewing my notes for my book Fiasco that, to an extent I hadn’t noticed while writing it, it was the battalion commanders’ critique of their generals.
We have seen had huge changes in the way the Army fights. It isn’t just the flirtation with conventional troops doing COIN. ( U.S. troop-intensive COIN has indeed gone out of intellectual fashion, but not I think a more FID-ish COIN.) It also is:
- An Army that does indeed win first battles but still doesn’t believe that war termination is its business. (See the Bacevich piece in the Moten volume.)
- An Army whose generals frequently do not seem to be able to think strategically, and treats those who do as outliers.
- An Army that cannot fight without the presence of thousands of mercenaries on the battlefield, subject to neither local law nor military justice, and so polluting American efforts.
- An Army that has fought our first sustained overseas war (and in fact, 2 of them) without a draft. (The all-volunteer force has proven remarkably cohesive and resilient under the resulting stress.)
- The one area where the Army seems genuinely comfortable is the technological, with information systems rapidly advancing, especially the use of drone aircraft for reconnaissance.
What are your thoughts, grasshoppers? What am I missing?