- 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.
Tim Kane has done us all a service by compiling total numbers on deployments of the U.S. military over the last 65 years. Most notably, they’ve been plummeting in the Middle East since about 2007.
But I am not sure I agree with his core conclusion that this indicates “the strategic withdrawal of U.S. forces from the world.”
He assumes that there is a correlation between the number of people deployed and the intensity of U.S. commitment. But the decline in numbers could result from four other current trends. For example, it could be:
— The increased use of small, precise, low-impact Special Operations forces, rather than large, heavy-tailed conventional forces;
— The related greater value of those Special Operators, who have scored most of the important victories of the last 14 years;
— The heavy use of contractors in place of conventional support troops, in part because of the growing political sensitivity of deployment numbers;
— And possibly the end of Industrial Age mass as a military virtue, and the beginning of Information Age mass as a military vulnerability.
Image credit: U.S. Department of Defense data compiled by Tim Kane/Hoover Institution