Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

U.S. deployment numbers have been dropping — and what that might mean

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.

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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:

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.

In other words, “Plan Colombia” works better for me than “The Short, Happy Triumph of Tommy R. Franks.”

Image credit: U.S. Department of Defense data compiled by Tim Kane/Hoover Institution

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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